A few weeks ago, French military forces intervened in the West African nation of Mali to save the country from totally falling into the hands of Islamist extremists. We know this because these extremists, who for months have hijacked the northern part of the country from the internationally recognized government in Bamako, south of the country, were making a push toward the capital city.
As an African, I know what manner of talks this sort of intervention generates in some quarters of the continent. Seldom do many Africans welcome with open arms a military excursion by a former colonial power into the domestic affairs of its former colony. And, of late, the French appear to have had a few of those episodes, though the forced ouster of former Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo from power, by French forces, is the most notable in recent memory. Yet, for some of my brethren who denounce military intervention on any grounds, that’s one occasion too many.
So, what then should be done when a state faces existential crisis and lacks the resources or the wherewithal to pull itself from the brink of annihilation? The answer, I’m afraid, doesn’t provide many options. I supported the French action in Ivory Coast, where an illegitimate president had overstayed his mandate by five years, refused to submit to the result of a new free and fair election which favored his opponent, and was using a militia to commit acts of intimidation and atrocity against his own people.
And now, just as then, we see a state unable to singlehandedly resurrect itself from its own morass after months of lying in such cesspool. The situation in Mali, which since last April saw a de facto delineation of the territorial integrity of what used to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa, has only caused for more alarm with every passing interval.
Although the Touaregs who occupy northern Mali may have valid protests at lack of inclusion in the government in the south, their unilateral declaration of autonomy now evidently proves ill-thought out. By joining forces with Islamist elements from the surrounding regions, they’ve found out how horrible and nasty a deal with the devil can turn—as they have since been elbowed out of the administration of their self-proclaimed homeland.
This is a double tragedy for the major parties here; the Malian state and its rebel citizens seeking recognition. Both parties now see their homeland at the verge of being swallowed whole by nomadic jihadists and opportunistic militants who have no stake in their venerated history.
Hence, a moment in the sun I thought this fiasco provided for a continent increasingly conscious to divorce itself from overt aid from erstwhile European masters. With internationally recognized charters such as the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), structures existed in the early days to prevent this chaos from turning worse. These organizations possess the muscle to save one of their own, as noted by the United Nations Security Council, which last year gave what amounted to a carte blanche to remedy the crisis.
But, while these structures might have the muscle to make change, they lack the political will to institute change. It is a dysfunction that young Africans like myself have seen too many times on our troubled continent. A leadership incapable of taking a demonstrably plausible role in conflicts in the Sudan, Libya, and the aforementioned Ivory Coast, often leave nation states at the mercy of Western powers.
It is therefore no surprise that with zero hour upon it, the Malian government was ever more forced to look outside the continent for salvation; while a clumsy and sluggish African coalition force is failing to materialize.
Yet, the task facing French troops on the ground is no small feat; they will need assistance from whatever quarters they can get it. It is not too late for a house asleep with one of its rooms ablaze to suddenly muster the morality and the will to save it. The immediate task is to restore the territorial integrity of Mali from its current usurpers, that is, the extremists who seek to amputate and rape their way into the heart of the land.
Alas, it is high time for African leadership to wake up from its slumber of convenience and indifference, and in concert with these French forces on the ground, start a process of remediation to provide an ‘African solution’ to an ‘African crisis.’