Mali: Incorrigible

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January 28, 2022: Islamic terror groups believe military takeovers make their job easier. Mali has had three coups in the last decade. The coups certainly disrupt foreign aid, including foreign military assistance in dealing with the Islamic terror problem. The military complaints have to do with corruption, in all things but particularly the supply of food, fuel, medical supplies and ammo to troops fighting the Islamic terrorists. Such corruption is difficult to eliminate. At least voters in these countries recognize the problems with corruption and will protest against that. The problem is not with foreigners; local or distant. The problems are the local culture which tolerates stealing whatever you can get away with.

The local Islamic terrorists believe a religious dictatorship will solve the problem but that has never worked either. Captured Islamic terror group records always includes complaints about corruption, and that occasionally makes the news when a terrorist leader absconds with a large amount of money. Islamic terrorism is another form of civil war, by religious zealots against an elected government or, more likely, a dictatorship or military government.

For countries dependent on foreign trade and foreign aid, ignoring what the trading partners and aid donors think is a no-win situation. The trade partners can take their business elsewhere, where there are fewer problems. For the foreign aid groups, they are faced with a global situation where need far exceeds the aid available. That has led to triage, in which recipient nations or regions that use the aid less effectively, usually by diverting much of it to corrupt rulers or rebel leaders, get less. A military coup is usually a sign of problems and threat of damaging triage.

Mali has had three coups since 2012. The first was because of separatist rebellion in the north triggered a rebellion by the military. The northern violence, made worse by the presence of Islamic terror groups, was put down by troops from former colonial ruler France. Most colonies in Africa became independent nations by the late 1960s. One thing the colonial government was good at was controlling corruption. On their own these new nations experienced high levels of corruption, ethnic (usually tribal) rivalries and Islamic terrorism. All this was the norm before the colonial powers showed up, largely in the 19th century. That was when most European nations were undergoing the Industrial Revolution and had a lot more money to spend. It became fashionable to spend it on colonies in undeveloped parts of the world, many of them with local tribal, imperial or stone age cultures. The colonial governments were more efficient and productive, but they were alien foreigners and the locals wanted them gone. A few percent of the colonial populations adopted the educational and skill standards of the foreigners and were able to more effectively deal with the wealthy foreigners. Most of the new African governments were disasters, especially in areas where there were valuable natural resources that provided more cash to steal and move to foreign bank accounts. A leading example is Nigeria, which sold over a trillion dollars’ worth of oil in its first four decades of independence. When a reform government took power and did an audit it was found the average Nigerian was worse off than Nigerians were in 1960 and did less well economically than many smaller African countries with no natural resource wealth. Oil riches were a curse and this was not a situation unique to Nigeria. It was a common pattern, and in the wealthier African nations with lots of valuable natural resources, less than ten percent of the population benefitted at all and a few thousand local families became very rich, sending most of their wealth out of the country because they knew that eventually a local reform movement would point out the theft and wealthy locals had foreign safe havens to retire to. Some of those foreign refuge nations agreed with the African reformers and allowed prosecution of the thieves and seizure of stolen assets. The thieves knew about lawyers and the justice system they worked for. Money for lots of good lawyers offered some protection from litigation so the offshore bank accounts continued to thrive, as did business for lawyers in the money havens.

Mali has gold and rich farmland in the south and semi-desert, plus poverty with ethnically different and angry locals in the north. This kept Mali from achieving peace and prosperity. In 2021 the situation got worse when there was another military coup. This one was an internal dispute among army officers upset about corrupt civilian members of the interim government. Since the May 2021 coup foreign donors have warned that most of the foreign aid will stop coming if Mali does not carry out a significant reduction in corruption, government ineffectiveness and overall instability. None of these three military takeovers were about corruption, but rather anger at the corrupt politicians stealing money meant to finance operations against Islamic terrorist and separatist minorities in the north. The colonels running the military government are unwilling to step down and are trying to make it on their own, despite the large number of UN peacekeepers and French troops dealing with the Islamic terrorist problem up north.

The May coup was led by the army colonel who had earlier been appointed deputy head of the CNT (National Transitional Council). The colonel replaced the civilian who originally held the job as CNT leader. After that the military-dominated CNT rapidly replaced many existing CNT officials with army officers or civilians known to be pro-military. When foreign donors, including France, criticized this, the army threatened to seek financial aid elsewhere.

There was no elsewhere for the Mali coup leaders, at least not one they could afford. The Mali officers’ threats said a lot about their motives, which was mainly about maintaining their power and helping themselves to a portion of foreign aid. The coup leaders did have one source of wealth, the Mali gold mines. In late 2021 protestors tried to block access to one of the largest mines but that effort only lasted a few days before the security forces cleared the roads.

January 24, 2022: In neighboring Burkina Faso some army officers appeared on TV to announce they had staged a coup and deposed Roch Kabore as president. It was unclear where Kabore was because he later used his Twitter account to ask the soldiers back 0ff. It took a few days for it to be confirmed that Kabore was under house arrest, guarded by some of the military coup supporters.

Coup leaders told foreign media that they had been planning the coup since last August because they believe the fight Islamic terrorism was being mishandled and that a military government would be more effective. This makes the third military coup in West Africa since 2020 as Mali and Guinea have also suffered military takeovers.

January 23, 2022: In the northeast (outside Gao) mortar shells were fired at a French base, wounding an American soldier and killing a French one. This makes 53 French dead in the last decade. American and French forces have collaborated in African counterterrorism efforts since 2001. Mali and neighboring states are mainly a French effort but some American troops occasionally show up in Mali. The last time a U.S. soldier was wounded in Mali was 2018, and it was also in the north (Timbuktu).

January 22, 2022: In the northeast (outside of Gao) a mortar shell landing in a French military camp killed one soldier and wounded nine others. A local quick reaction force sent an armed helicopter to where the mortar fire came from and killed or wounded most of the attackers,

January 21, 2022: American officers at AFRICOM (Africa Command) confirmed that there were several hundred Russia Wagner Group military contractors in Mali, despite the coup government denying it.

In 2021 The Mali military government announced that it planned to spend $10.8 million a month to hire a thousand Wagner Group military trainers. These trainers will also accompany some Mali troops into combat zones but will not operate as combat units unless paid for that and the combat surcharge is more than what Mali is paying for training. Wagner Group had been busy during the last decade and still has, or recently had contingents in Libya, Syria, Central African Republic and Mozambique. Against poorly armed and trained local irregulars the Wagner personnel are effective, but against professionals. like Turks in Libya and Americans in Syria, they take heavy losses and back off. They took casualties in Mozambique because the government refused to use its own troops and sought to suppress an Islamic terrorist uprising using a small number of Russian and South African military contractors. That worked for a while but at the cost of heavy casualties among the contractors. This sort of thing is bad for business and recruiting and the contractors pulled back from Mozambique, which has brought in Rwandan.

Wagner Group is unique among military contractors in that it was created by Russian president Vladimir Putin and reports directly to him. Sort of Putin’s Private Army. Putin asked a veteran spetsnaz (special operations) officer to organize and run the operation whose name comes from the radio call sign its commander once used. Wagner does not work for free; every customer has to pay and several African governments are doing so.

Wagner Group provides media and political support to local governments that brought it in. An example of this is Russia and the Mali coup leaders both accusing the French of sustaining colonial rule. This angle serves the coup leaders and Wagner because it makes it patriotic to expel some contingents of European troops. Wagner is also foreign, but they have been hired by the coup government and thus considered serving Mali, not practicing some form of colonialism. French and foreign donor efforts against corruption are portrayed by the corrupt coup leaders as another example of French colonialism. This may seem absurd to outsiders but the coup government controls most mass media, the security forces and can justify attacking any hostile demonstration and protecting supportive ones.

January 19, 2022: In the northeast, across the border (near Gao) in Burkina Faso four French soldiers belong to the Sahel Counterterrorism Force, were wounded when a roadside bomb went off near their vehicle. This sort of thing often happens in the Gao area, which is near where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. The three borders area has been a terrorist hotspot for over four years because Islamic terror groups can just cross the border to escape heavy counterterrorism efforts. For that reason, this area has been called the Menaka Region. Previously this area was just part of the larger Gao Region, centered on one of the few cities in the north. Menaka has become ungovernable because so many Islamic terrorists and bandits now operate here. The counterterrorism forces search for and attack specific targets but the government is unable to maintain sufficient security forces here to provide a measure of law and order found in the rest of the country.

January 14, 2022: The military government called for widespread demonstrations against the sanctions recently imposed by ECOWAS (Economic Community of fifteen West African States), which was accused of doing the bidding of foreign countries, particularly France, the former colonial ruler.

January 12, 2022: In Cameroon where the Mali football (s0ccer) team was training for an international competition (the Africa Cup) game against Gambia, there was gunfire heard outside the training facility. Training was interrupted until police could deal with the armed separatists trying to shut down the hosting of foreign teams playing games in Cameroon, which is one the few countries with the stadiums and training facilities to handle international competitions. Several of the armed separatists were killed and more were arrested. The football game took place on schedule.

December 25, 2021: In the southwest, Islamic terrorists attacked an army convoy with roadside bombs and gunfire, killing eight soldiers and wounding nearly as many. The army counterattacked and claimed 31 Islamic terrorists dead. The army would not identify what Islamic terror groups was involved and some locals complained that the army killed civilians, not Islamic terrorists. This area, near the border with Mauritania and the national capital, is not noted for a lot of Islamic terrorist activity. French troops, who often work with Mali soldiers on counter-terrorism operations are accused of not stopping Mali troops from abusing or killing civilians.

 

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