Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

In March of 2012, the government of Mali was overthrown in a coup d’état staged by members of the military who sought more control of the fight against Tuareg rebels in northern parts of the country.

Ever since, Mali has been left in political and military turmoil as the radical Islamist rebels successfully took over large parts of the country’s territory.

Recently, fighting between government forces and the rebels, some of who are affiliated with the North African arm of al-Qaeda, have intensified. Last week, rebel forces pushed farther south and captured the village of Konna, which had been the dividing line between land controlled by the government and the Islamists.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, government forces, with the aid of the French military, successfully ousted rebels from Konna and wiped out a rebel command center in the area. French troops focused on striking rebel positions from the air, though one French pilot died in an operation on Friday.

France had stated earlier that troops would not be sent into Mali to aid government operations against rebel resistance. However, that position changed last Friday as Mali’s President appealed to President François Hollande for urgent help.

“I remind you that France in this operation is not pursuing any special interest other than securing a friendly nation and has no other objective,” Hollande said on Saturday, justifying his decision to deploy troops to the former French colony.

He framed the fight in Mali as one against extremists and terrorists, pledged to help Mali militarily for “as long as necessary” until troops from other African nations arrived and added that the mission would protect thousands of French citizens living in Mali. Several French nationals are reportedly being held in captivity in the country.

Hollande’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that a takeover of the whole country by rebel forces would pose “a threat to the whole of Africa and Europe.”

Troops from an intervention force were slated to arrive on Monday, authorized by the Economic Community of West African States. The United Nations Security Council has endorsed the African mission, after pledging a peacekeeping mission of its own in December.

Rebel forces in the north have been widely castigated on the international stage for supporting terrorist activities and imposing tough Sharia laws that infringe on human rights. The fighting in the north has also produced heavy casualties for both sides.

Prime Minister of Great Britain David Cameron also pledged support to the French and Malian operations, but stopped short of sending troops into the region. The U.S. military will also be providing assistance in the form of intelligence, transportation and potentially drones.

Located south of Algeria and east of Mauritania, Mali was a colony of France until gaining its independence in 1960. For three decades following independence, Mali fell under authoritarian rule with little economic growth. In 1991, a new constitution was drafted after a popular revolution demanded popular elections. The first elections were held the following year and the country of 15 million enjoyed relative peace and stability until the coup last March.