January 17, 2013
Reflexions on Maghreb, Sahel and the Mail / Sahara Crisis
I would very much like to write something in depth on this local crisis, insofar as I have done business and know fairly well the countries directly involved. However, since I am working on closing an investment, I have to be short.
First, relative to Mali itself, it seems to me important to understand that there are at least three ongoing issues that a naive reading of a map would not clarify:
(i) Mali might rather inexactly be divided into two countries (geographically and culturally, tracking the ecosystem) - the Saharan part and Sahel fringe (Niger river bend), which is the security situation tracks fairly closely.
(a) The map of Mali shows this fairly clearly, the pinched part is the major transition, the huge northern territory above is mostly Sahara - real desert - except for the productive fringe of the Niger river valley. Other than that is oasises. Below the 'pinch' one is in the lower Sahel or the Savanna (i.e. agriculturally productive regions, with higher population densisities). No surprise there are some strong ethnic differences (below the pinch, where the population weight is, rather culturally homogenous, and fairly ethnically / linguistically homogenous (and essentially 100% Muslim, although there is a small Xian minority dating from the 19th century colonial period, oddly best data shows that French colonial rule promoted conversion / solidification as a reaction to the French), particularly in comparison with southern neighbours like Cote d'Ivoire.
(ii) The Sahara is a zone that is largely unfriendly to sustained insurgency, if the watering points are controlled.
(a) the different histories of Afghanistan and this region for the late 19th century / early 20th centuries illustrate. Afghanistan was never ruled. This region was administered by the French.
(b) added to that the Arab supremecist (this is a key point to retain) Salafism does not have roots in the region (and in fact Taureq particularism runs deep - ex the Libyan Tuareg, semi foreigners - Tuareg reaction to Arab driven and generally Arab supremacist Salafist models
- It would be incorrect to say that Salafist / Jihadist thought has no local (Sahel/Mali) roots. It does, historically (c. 17th-19thc), BUT for most of the Malian non-Tuareg zone, it has little mass relevance and zero roots (contra Nigeria, where it is driven by Nigerian issues). In stark contrast to AfPak region where there were indigenous quasi Salafi movements (the Deobandis, etc).
- Maghrebi, particularly Moroccan, Sufi Tariqa (orders), like the Tijani, are influential
(c) the North South ethnic divide (which is stark, and massively population weighted to the South, tracks well to the intervention; however weak the Southern based military is in short term, there is massive popular dislike towards the North.
(iii) Politically, in region France as lead has a good intro, given the role in resolving the Cote d'Ivoire crisis, that played well into Malian needs - economic - as well as politics. It was also a legitimately positive effort, in context.
(iv) the Saharan Maghreb states, of which Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania are more and more nervous about the Libyan blowback (although it must be noted privately or publicly, everyone agrees that Qaddafi going is a long-run good thing, no in-region observer really mourns him).
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Nice to see Aqoul alive again! Still in my feed.
That the Libya-Mali trouble will have consequences for Algeria is one thing, but what about e.g. Mauritania or Niger? Deep ethnic-tribal connections through Arab Moors to the west and Touareg to the east, very weak and illegitimate governments, and brewing political troubles. And in Mauritania, unlike Mali or Niger, this goes all the way to the center of politics -- no ethno-geographical divide to limit the impact.
Posted by: alle at January 23, 2013 06:37 AM