Wednesday, January 30, 2013

North Africa Now

I've been following the news on North Africa including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Mali over the last year with astonishment at the rapidity of change and also at the extent of the brutality.  I have also increasingly been reflecting on the fact that these countries are struggling with profound levels of proverty, impacts of a degraded environment due to climate change, failed and quixotic internal and international trade and economic policies, food shortages, political collapse, and population pressure.  I am stunned that a region that for so long has been stable is now in great peril.

I've covered these regions extensively on this blog and even since writing about them, great change has taken place.

As I listen to the daily shocking news, it is hard to be focused on the distant past when so much is happening in the present.  For that reason, for the next few weeks, I have decided to repost material that I think does a good job of covering current events in North Africa.  Toward that end, this morning there was excellent coverage on KQED Forum on that of Mali.  I am reposting it here:

Crisis in Mali
KQED Forum
Host:  Michael Krasny

Chris Fomunyoh,
Senior associate for Africa National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)

John Campbell,
Senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
and author of "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink"

Mamadou Diallo,
Regional manager for West Africa with Freedom from Hunger

Mark Quarterman,
Director of research for The Enough Project,
which fights to end genocide and crimes against humanity

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton,
International correspondent for NPR


  1. I watched the Euro News last night and was horrified to see that the Malian rebels had been holed-up in Timbuktu and right before they were ousted, they decided to burn tens of thousands of priceless manuscripts from one of the oldest libraries in Africa and arguably the first university in sub-Saharan Africa.

    This is similar to the destruction of the Great Libary of Alexandria or to the Taliban destroying the huge Buddha statues of Bamiyan on the Silk Road:

  2. I know, I saw the reports about the burning of the manuscripts as well. What is doubly sad is that there has been an incredibly effort to restore many of those manuscripts in Timbuktu in the last few years, an effort that was waged even when the average person in Timbuktu has very little.

    Many of the manuscripts contained information about early Islam, frankly often a very moderate and learned Islam compared to the Islam being pushed forward by groups such as Ansar Dinn now. The manuscripts also contained information such as the manufacture of ancient medicines and were considered to be of similar value to humanity as that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's a terrible loss. I don't think they yet understand the extent of the loss.

    On top of that, there is a looming humanitarian and human rights crisis, so the extent of the loss of the manuscripts will probably not be understood for quite sometime.

  3. "This is similar to the destruction of the Great Libary of Alexandria or to the Taliban destroying the huge Buddha statues of Bamiyan on the Silk Road"

    Yes. The perpetrators do not belong to the human species. They should be exterminated, just like weeds are. No negotiation. I visited mali many years ago and the current turmoil may have one positive effect if the 'West' begins to do something about the problems in the region.

  4. At this point, I think we should all say a big thank you to France for understanding the severity of this problem, of taking action, and of executing a brilliant operation.

    Thank you, France! Merci, La France!

  5. "I think we should all say a big thank you to France"

    Yes. The younger generation (younger than me at any rate) are taking their revolution seriously.

  6. "How do you mean?"

    Napolean's original justification for his expansionist policy was to spread the revolutionary ideals of 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' to the rest of Europe. The idea that the French were introducing those ideals helped considerably in that ambition until the subject people realised the ideals only applied to the French. I met young French people in Africa who believe France should spread those ideals. I suspect that a generation with that idea now have a greater say in French foreign policy.

  7. Yes, I think that France has tried hard to make amends in West Africa. Although I sometimes see the legacy of the old colonial attitude, the fact remains that the French have been very supportive of the Sahel and West Africa in the last ten years. The current approach is quite collaborative.

    Mali is clearly delighted that France was willing and able to save them.

  8. "Mali is clearly delighted that France was willing and able to save them".

    I guess the Tuareg are less enthusiastic. The news this morning is that there is still fighting in the region between Kidal and Tessalit in the far northeast. Let's hope that the French and their helpers can prevent the 'Al Qaida' (whatever that means) forces crossing the borders to Niger or Algeria, and capture or eradicate them.

  9. Yes, I am aware that the Tuareg situation is rather desperate. They are now without a homeland.

    However, it is documented that the Ansar Dine, with the support of the Malian Tuareg were chopping off people's hands, executing people for homosexuality, and raping women. Human Rights Watch has documented this. It is therefore difficult to be too sympathetic to the Tuareg.

    I'm following the situation. It is difficult to know exactly what is going on.

  10. Hopefully there will be some war crimes trials.

  11. Some towns and people were killed by French bombing:

    As a former officer in the Canadian Forces, who has studied peace keeping operations and the use of military intervention in peace keeping operations, I will say that it is very, very difficult to remove heavily armed rebel groups without military intervention. Although there should always be every effort made to minimize it, there are almost always some civilian casualties.

    I don't know what kind of military challenges the French were facing or why the decision was made to use aerial bombardment.

    It should be pointed out that lack of military intervetion can also produce very high civilian casualties as we have recently had to relearn in Liberia and Rwanda.

    Moving forward, every effort should be made to help Mali recover and rebuild.

    The issue of the displace Malian Tuareg should also be addressed. I think it should be kept in mind that the Ansar Dine are seasoned troups that have been fighting in Libya and Algeria. They are heavily armed with rocket launchers and heavy artillery. They have, for quite sometime, been attacking Malian and Tassalit military bases. They have as one of their mandates to fully implement and enforce a severe form of Sharia in the areas they overtake.

    Here's a short history of Iyad Ag Ghaly, one of the leaders behind the Ansar Dine:

  12. "I don't know what kind of military challenges the French were facing or why the decision was made to use aerial bombardment".

    I suspect that the French ground forces were too far away, even from Kidal, to be directly involved so air power was called in. Item of news this morning is that forces from Chad have joined the French/Mali government forces.

    "The issue of the displace Malian Tuareg should also be addressed".

    Perhaps the logical outcome would be to split mali into two, a separate northern Tuareg state.

    Thanks for the link on Iyad Ag Ghaly.

    1. You're welcome. It's good to know that other people care about this forgotten corner of the Earth.

  13. Oh, by the way. We have some Suquamish people from the northwestern USA visiting NZ at the moment. They are guests of the Maori for our national day. Also some Ainu from Japan. Just though you might be interested.

    1. Nice blog and photos. They're having a gathering of canoe cultures.


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