The crisis in Mali

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United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria on Monday 29 October meeting with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in an attempt to gain his support for an American and French backed military operation to remove the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from Northern Mali. The AQIM originally gained control of two-thirds of Mali in late March of this year through a coup and has maintained control of the area since then.

The AQIM have destroyed many of Mali’s most famous treasures including ancient relics and shrines in Timbuktu. AQIM leaders declared Sharia law shortly after they took control of the region and ruled that the ancient relics were idolatrous and therefore needed to be demolished. Three sites that were severely damaged on Thursday 18 October were UN World Heritage Sites. It is not clear if repairs can be made to salvage what is left of these historic landmarks.

Additionally, the region is experiencing severe food shortages due primarily to three major droughts over the last decade including one this harvest season. The limited amount of food remaining in Northern Mali is primarily being reserved for the AQIM but some aid workers are being let in with additional rations to assist the most vulnerable. Since March, it has been reported by CNN that 320,000 people have been displaced by the crisis. Some people have fled to other neighbouring countries while most are wandering within Northern Mali in search of food and shelter.

World leaders did not begin devising solutions to the crisis until early October when on 12 October the United Nations passed a resolution that urged Western African states to assemble a 3,000 strong army to topple the AQIM militants. The UN is working with both the Economic Community of Western Africa and African Union in order to assemble this army. Additionally, if a Western African force does not form, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed a subsequent resolution acknowledging that they are prepared to send in UN forces to complete the mission but only if the Mali government requests their assistance.

More recently, the UNSC passed a resolution requesting African Union leaders to draft a plan for intervention by the end of November. Part of their plan includes a militia of 3,200 Western African forces. French President François Hollande has pledged both logistical support and training assistance for African forces. Western African countries may be able to assemble the troops but the mission is sorely lacking funding for weapons and planning. African Union leaders have asked the five principal UNSC members to help contribute financially to the cause. Off the record, African Union diplomats have told The Daily Telegraph that they are willing to negotiate with the militants in order to avoid a direct confrontation.

Following Secretary Clinton’s visit to Algeria last Monday, Algeria’s foreign minister has said that Algeria is ready to help but they will look very carefully at all of the options on the table before pledging support to anyone. Algeria shares a 1,243-mile long border with Mali and therefore Algerian leaders a very fearful of violence spilling over into their country.The weeks to follow will likely include more UNSC discussions and African Union meetings on the feasibility of a 3,200-man army invading AQIM controlled territory. Furthermore, Algeria’s final decision on whether or not to support this force will be pivotal to whether or not western states help fund the mission.

Photo credit: rsinghabout (Sankore Mosque)

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