Can We Stop the Madness in Mali?

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I happened to hear Mike Sheuer on the news and he really hit the nail on the head when discussing the enormous gap between what France says it wants to do in Mali and how it chooses to approach the task, and how that will impact its allies.

I also discovered a recent post  on Mike Sheuer’s website following the same train of thought, so there is more detail available if you need it. I note with regret that in his analysis, Mike has not explored the additional influence of the relationship between the West and the Gulf States on this scenario. Perhaps he has covered it elsewhere. If not, I suggest Glenn Greenwald’s 19 January blog post in the Guardian.

Agreeing with someone 100% on everything is not an essential for me to find value in what they say or to respect their point of view, so I am not going to dissect Mike’s comments on Islamists, or his reference to God in the title of his post, even though I am not entirely comfortable with either. But I have provided the entire recording and the link to his post for the sake of clarity, integrity and credibility: I don’t want to be accused of trying to mislead anyone by editing the speech. In any case, the recording is only a few minutes long.

I also want to make it clear that I am strongly opposed to Operation Serval because it is causing the deaths of innocent civilians and spreading terror through an already fragile and frightened community, prompting a surge in the number of refugees and displaced people. At the same time, the military conflict is providing cover for racially motivated human rights abuses against Tuareg and Arab/Berber civilians by the Malian army and their accomplices. All of this could and should have been anticipated. I can only conclude that both the interim government in Mali and the French government were aware of these massive humanitarian risks. Certainly the UN and human rights NGOs like Amnesty [reported in the Guardian] and HRW [reported in Huffington Post] are aware.

While I am sharing links to popular news sites, I also have to comment on the distinctive lack of independent news coverage from Mali. Reliable reports are always thin on the ground there but the press is now being shackled by restrictions such as all journalists having to stay 100 kilometers away from any battle zones unless embedded with troops (and covering bland events like cargo planes arriving). This is the same distance as given in the UK Travel Advisory for tourists. Surely professional, trained reporters with previous experience of war reporting can be trusted to get a little closer to the action?  I have some ideas to share with you, exploring the possibility of a less innocent reason for a ban that effectively muzzles the media, in another post.

But the military intervention pushes on regardless. I think they need to call an immediate ceasefire and do the hard work of making serious efforts to find a peaceful political solution. I want to know how to make this happen.

This is a complicated issue and no one is going to have all the answers, but if you want to contribute to this discussion – one I think is really important and that we need to see happening everywhere – I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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Al-Qaeda’s deputy chief in Afghanistan, a Saudi, reportedly killed

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Kabul: Al Qaeda’s second in command in Afghanistan and one other unnamed militant had been killed in an air strike near the Pakistani border, NATO said on Tuesday 29 May 2012.

According to media reports quoting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF),Saudi-born Sakhr al-Taifi, also known as Mushtaq and Nasim, commanded foreign fighters and directed attacks on NATO and Afghan troops.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) described him as al Qaeda’s “second highest leader in Afghanistan”, saying he frequently travelled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, “carrying out commands from senior al Qaeda leadership”.

News Tribe

More land used for #Afghanistan opium than for Latin America coca

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Map of Afghanistan showing the security situat...

Map of Afghanistan showing the security situation by district and opium cultivation by province in the period 2007 to 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Iran’s Deputy Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Rayeesi says since the US invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent military occupation in Afghanistan there has been “a 40-fold increase” in illegal drug production in that country since 2001. This increase is causing havoc for Iran which is fighting the flow of illegal drugs into their country from Afghanistan.

“The main reason for the considerable increase in narcotics is the presence of foreign forces, especially the US and the NATO (forces) and today drug production and trade are done under the control and supervision of the Americans,” Rayeesi said on Sunday.

Afghanistan has been the greatest illicit opium producer in the entire world, ahead of Burma (Myanmar) and the “Golden Triangle” since 1992, excluding the year 2001. Afghanistan is the main producer of opium in the “Golden Crescent”. Opium production in Afghanistan has been on the rise since U.S. occupation started in 2001. Based on UNODC data, there has been more opium poppy cultivation in each of the past four growing seasons (2004–2007) than in any one year during Taliban rule. Also, more land is now used for opium in Afghanistan than for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 92% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about $4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers. In 2007 the United Nations estimated that half of Afghanistan GDP (Gross Domestic Product) came from illegal drugs production in that country.

In the seven years (1994–2000) prior to a Taliban opium ban, the Afghan farmers’ share of gross income from opium was divided among 200,000 families. In addition to opiates, Afghanistan is also the largest producer of hashish in the world.

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Mauritania: A Country Without A Government

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When Aziz orchestrated the August 2008 coup that enabled him to take the presidency, big backers like the African Union and the US were furious and froze all non-humanitarian funding and applied sanctions, while the French government condemned the act. Later, without sending their own observers (and presumably with much encouragement from France, which did a political pirouette, and AFRICOM) they relented, accepted the presidential election as “free and fair” and restored a lot of the funding. The EU was mollified, NATO commended their cooperation, and the African Union, with help from from Mauritania’s long-time Libyan ally Colonel Gaddafi, welcomed Mauritania back into the fold.

With the passage of time, the situation in Mauritania has changed, and there are now several reasons why this situation needs to be urgently reviewed.

  • If the election in 2009 was “free and fair”, why did Aziz’ administration need a completely new voter registration census (which apparently failed*) just two years later?
  • What happened to the fancy biometric identification system devised in September 2010, and supposed to be complete by 20 June 2011, and which promised to make registration a simple, efficient process?
  • How was the US$102k of the US$258k UNDP 2010-13 grant – destined to support the electoral cycle – actually used?
  • Why was additional funding needed at all, given that the ousted Abdallahi government already received significant sums for national registration, election systems etc in 2006 for the 2007 election?
  • Why hasn’t the Senate election, meant to renew one-third of the members and cancelled in April 2011, happened yet?
  • What was the result of the “electoral review” that was announced on 31 May 2011, and which was to last from 1 June to 31 August 2011?
  • Why was the registration process halted even though doing that would prevent elections in November?
  • Why were the November parliamentary and municipal elections postponed indefinitely, again without a decent explanation?

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in his home city Akjou...The result of all the above is that there is no government in Mauritania. There are politicians who were voted into office in the last elections, and they are doubtless still drawing salaries, but their mandate expired in November 2011. This is the plain truth, and supported by law, as stated in the constitution and legal statutes. Now, the illegitimate government is using the power it has retained by false pretences to change the constitution, using one of the only two methods prescribed:  a special conference of both houses of parliament.

The other option is a national referendum. Neither option is valid at this time, and therefore no changes to the constitution can be considered valid. The problem here is, the houses are supposed to debate and then vote, and they need to be representative of the electorate. This is impossible once the mandate has expired. The fraudulent government is seeking to bestow legitimacy on itself retrospectively by altering the constitution after their mandate expired. In fact, there was no debate. As usual, the parliamentary session was called, then immediately postponed. When it reconvened a now-familiar pattern developed: some drama erupted so that the opposition MPs withdrew in a boycott, and the changes were pushed through with only a vote and no debate.

The government was arguably more active after what can only be described as a soft coup than it was during its legal term. In November 2011, it approved an electoral commission in a statement which said the Mauritanian national dialogue held on October 19th recommended organising municipal and parliamentary elections before March 2012, based on a ruling from the Mauritanian constitutional council. That deadline has passed and the elections have not taken place.

I am reminded that, after the international community reacted strongly to the 2008 coup, Aziz went on a charm offensive, claiming that his actions were a response to “anti-constitutional” oppression by the previous government.

Given the unconstitutional acts of his government and the brutal repression waged by his regime against peaceful unarmed protesters, that last part really takes the cake, and it brings me to my last question for this article:

  • Why is international funding not being frozen with a clear demand to complete registration and hold elections, with international observers present, by a set date?

It is important to note that while the IMF and World Bank are a law unto themselves, the source of funds from the United Nations, European Union, European Commission, United States government, etc being handed to this military junta are the taxes paid by ordinary people like you and me. If the people in power in our respective countries won’t do the right thing of their own volition then we will have to make our voices heard to force them to take immediate and affirmative action. And I don’t mean some wishy-washy rhetoric about “we hope” or “it would be advisable” or “we urge”. No. I mean they need to say “This is our people’s money and we only derive our authority from them. We are freezing all funds immediately, and you have to:

  • immediately return all the money we sent you since November 2011;
  • resume the census within 7 days;
  • remove your ambassadors, envoys and government representatives within 10 days;
  • let our observers in to monitor both the census and the elections by the end of April;
  • complete the census by the end of June;
  • and hold elections in August.”

If necessary, they should freeze any foreign bank accounts held by Mauritanian officials in countries that are members of all organizations that have supplied funding until and unless it is returned.

What they can’t do is continue to treat this former government as if it was a democratically elected body fulfilling the mandate of the people.

What might delay mean? Certainly it will mean that Mauritania will become increasingly insecure, and that opportunities for corruption, cronyism and exploitation will increase.  Civil society, already in a constant state of agitation and distress over a whole host of issues and grievances, will become increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to exercise their democratic rights through an election. The opposition will become increasingly marginalised and their sense of frustration will likely make them hostile. New coalitions could form, and a period of escalating political instability, protests, and attempts to gain or seize power could arise.

It could bring the increased militarization of the country –  at times through unexpected means, signs of which are already evident. For example, the recent privatisation of the state TV and radio company was followed by a declaration that the broadcaster would no longer be protected by military security and would instead use a private company. However, this was preceded by a government ruling that all private security companies must exclusively employ ex-servicemen, and that this must be implemented retrospectively. In other words, the private security sector must be 100% staffed by former military members and all non-military personnel will lose their jobs. This is the equivalent of creating  a private army, funded by the commercial security service sector.

As an indicator of cronyism, there is the story in local press about the governor of Aleg province, location of a very well-attended opposition rally, being sacked, allegedly for failing to successfully implement the feed rations for farmers that were announced only last week.

In February 2012, news of the government eavesdropping on private phone conversations was reported by a member of the opposition, and immediately supported by activists and observers, who added that France had sold surveillance technology to Mauritania in 2010.

We are already witnessing events which will prolong and increase the need for humanitarian aid in Mauritania, due both to a lack of effort on essential development projects such as drilling wells for water supply, and the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees from Mali. I assume that Aziz hopes to make up any remaining shortfall in non-humanitarian cash flow by increasing the need for charity, even if this has to be engineered by importing a crisis from the country next door. It may seem harsh to speak in this way about the situation in Mali, but I am not saying the refugees should not be sheltered or provisioned. What I am saying is certain events have made me deeply suspicious about the true nature of the conflict in Mali and the driving forces behind it. I support activists and concerned citizens in the Malian diaspora, who are keen to see a ceasefire, peace talks and families returned to their homes as quickly as possible. Whether I am right about Aziz deliberately manipulating and capitalizing on the situation in Mali  or not, the fact that Mauritania has no legal government and no agenda to rectify this situation is a genuine cause for concern.

Update: 11 March 2012At 3pm on Monday 12 March 2012, the people of #Mauritania will vote with their feet in a march organised by a coalition of political opposition parties and activist groups. Aziz is rumoured to have engineered a plan to disrupt traffic to prevent people from assembling, and there is talk of free food distribution in the suburbs, between 5 and 15 kilometres from the mosque where the march to the presidential palace begins.

There is still some uncertainty about whether the big anti-slavery and anti-racism activist groups will join the march. They are hesitant about the coalition’s call for Aziz to step down, seeing it as a futile demand that will not bring about the level of change (complete removal of the military regime) that is required. Naturally, they also want to see their demands to end racism / slavery and punish offenders added to the list.

I noticed the lack of attention to the needs of largely French-speaking black African activist groups when the march was first announced, with all the initial statements and flyers being produced in Arabic only, and the lack of a clear call for national unity. I wondered how that might impact on its success. After 3pm tomorrow, we’ll know.

I have to say, since the riot police are so fond of using tear gas and sound grenades for crowd control, I often wonder why no one ever organised a rally on the beach, where the sound would have fewer upright surfaces to amplify it and where there are ready supplies of sand and water, two very effective methods for dealing with tear gas grenades (by smothering with sand or immersing in water).

Update: 13 March 2012 They ‘voted’ in their tens of thousands – a resounding “NO!” – see my photo essay post about the historic opposition protest rally here.

*The census was hugely unpopular with the black African community that represents almost half of Mauritania’s population. They claimed they were being discriminated against during the registration process, and a “Hands Off My Nationality” protest movement appeared in April 2011. Their large protests in the capital and other towns were brutally repressed by police, and there were dozens of arrests, injuries and at least two protesters were killed. Rather mysteriously, the movement began to decline at the same time as the government announced indefinite postponement of the elections. To me, it really seems as though the government was playing a rather more subtle game that anyone might have suspected. By inciting racial tension and dividing the previously unified protest movement, Aziz was able to manipulate the situation so that elections were postponed, thus enabling a soft coup for the incumbent majority to retain power.

Brookings Conference Int’l Responsibility After #Libya Transcript http…

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Brookings Conference: Int’l Responsibility After #Libya – Transcript http://snup.us/nP9
Speakers:
Edward Luck, Special Adviser on the Responsibility To Protect, United Nations;
Jared Genser, Managing Director, Perseus Strategies, and President, Freedom Now;
Richard Williamson, Nonresident Senior Fellow on Foreign Policy, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

Presider: Elizabeth Ferris, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, The Brookings Institution

Location: The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.
Time: 10:05 a.m. EST
Date: Monday, January 9, 2012