Military Defeat is what I see as the inevitable conclusion to any ECOWAS intervention in the North of Mali, in a desert terrain the ECOWAS troops do not know, against an enemy that is far better equipped and funded than they will be.
Where will Algeria stand? The ambiguity of Algeria’s position is highlighted in the Int Crisis Group report of 18 July.
You could argue that if foreign troops take the towns of Gao and Timbuktu by force and hold them, then the Malian population will be better off: that may well be. But is it any sort of solution? The political problems would remain, there is no way that Gao and Timbuktu can be supplied with food and fuel in a conflict environment, and you can only hold non-fortified desert towns for a short while before the bombs and IEDs begin.
All civil society organisations should be seeking peaceful solutions – and should be wary of adding fuel to the flames of the arms salesmen who are pushing for war so that they can make more profits. Armed conflict in the short and medium term will be very bad news for the populations of Mali and Niger, and later southern Algeria and Burkina Faso…. Open war could easily spread to Northern Nigeria, where Al Qaeda is now supporting the extremist group Boko Haram with arms and money.
Instead of a military adventure, we should seek a pacific alternative from inside Malian society (which brought peace to Mali in the 1990s). Civil society has a traditional legitimacy that everybody recognizes, with village chiefs, griots, hunters, women’s associations, trade unions and so on. Since the turn of the 21st century, elected Mayors have brought a new decentralized dimension to Mali’s democratic governance and civil society. Municipalities have an elected mandate that is close to the people, surely more valuable than unelected ministers. Nationally elected deputies have lost their legitimacy both because the promised elections did not take place (so they are out of time, lame ducks) and also because the national political processes failed to avert the army catastrophe of March 21st.
Military intervention is the response of desperation, and it will fail. There may be nothing ‘wrong’ legally with military force, if the AU and the UN provide legitimacy by approving a military intervention: but there is absolutely no possibility of any serious Malian military support for the venture, apart from Colonel Elhaj Gamou’s 300 troops who are waiting in Niger. The rest of the Malian army has no leadership, no serious weapons or ammunition, and no discipline or morale.
Of course, a well-organised and well-disciplined force could sweep aside the disorganised forces of Bamako…. but to what end, since they would not be welcomed as ‘liberators’ and would be rejected by the Malian population? Would the remnants of the Malian army become a guerrilla warfare militia in Bamako, killing ECOWAS troops? Malians want to find a solution to their own problems, even if they see no solution at the moment. My ideas and civil society initiatives (modest as they are) seek to help them find their own solution.
The Malian army is presently non-existent as an army: in Bamako, Kati and Sévaré the army has become an undisciplined band of armed brigands and murderers. If the army did send people to the North in support of an ECOWAS intervention (which is most unlikely), they would be rejected by the population as faithless deserters, no use as protectors. Col Gamou might be acceptable to the populations of Gao or Timbuktu, but I fear he would be assassinated if he sets foot in Kidal, or Bamako. But Gamou only has 300 men (though he claims he can mobilize 2000 fighters).
On one issue only, all Malians agree: no foreign troops. All reports show Malians refusing the idea of foreign military interference, and that at least should be respected.
How will it help that Guinean, Nigerien and Burkinabé invading troops arrive on Malian soil, and are attacked by the remnants of the Malian army? That is surely the worst sort of way to add violence to chaos.
Dr. Robin Edward Poulton