Mali Turmoil: How China Could Clean Up A Mess It Helped Create

by Amodani Gariba

Photo Source: Atalayar

Amid COVID-19, Mali has been in international news for months in a row.  The issue is not an uptick in COVID cases, as most people would expect. Rather, popular protests against the Malian government, which started in May, kept growing until it culminated in a military coup on the 18th of August that deposed the incumbent President – Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Prior to the coup, an ECOWAS led mediation talk between the opposition and the government stalled. The coup, which was led by soldiers who mutinied in a barracks in the town of Kati, located 15 km from Bamako, has been welcomed by the majority of Malian people but condemned by governments worldwide, including China.  In response to a question posed by a Beijing Daily journalist, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian condemned the military coup and supported mediation led by AU and ECOWAS as a way out of the crisis.  This article discusses how China’s official response to the Malian impasse ignores history and digresses from the real cause. Other than mere media talks, this article also discusses what China could do to salvage the situation. 

How The Malian Trouble Started

Following the Libyan crisis of 2011 and the fall of Qathafi, hordes of Tuaregs fled back home – northern Mali. These Tuaregs, who previously served in the Libyan army, brought back stockpiles of weapons, intensifying the volatility of the region. Mali, prior to the fall of Qathafi was a weak state. State machineries were only concentrated in major towns like the capital – Bamako. People in places far north were marginalised. This fault line became clear with the repatriation of militant Tuaregs from Libya. With the cache of weapons, it was not surprising that these ex-combatants started a military campaign for the secession of a large swathe of the north, which they named, Azawad.

The campaign had popular support due to falling confidence in the state and was easier to wage due to weapon stockpile and low Malian military presence in the north. Tuareg forces were able to rout Malian forces from the region. Save the intervention of French troops, the advancing Tuareg forces would have captured Bamako.       

Taking advantage of the fall of Qathafi, the ensuing power vacuum, and growing insecurity of the region, militant Islamic extremist groups associated with ISIS and Al-Qaeda joined the fray in northern Mali.  Their aim is the same as elsewhere – the creation of an Islamic state based on Sharia. 

It must be emphasized that the inability of the Malian state in controlling the degeneration of insecurity in the country’s north inspired a coup in 2012. This marked the beginning of the series of never-ending political crises that have rocked Bamako in recent times. 

The now-deposed President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, won a runoff in 2013 with hopes of solving the Malian insecurity problem.  Things rather turned out the opposite. Allegations of corruption and nepotism, disputed elections, a worsening economy, and bad handling of the security problems of the north soon eroded people’s trust in him. 

Mahmud Dicko, Mali’s leading religious figure, who had been instrumental in the election of Boubacar, now leads a mass opposition movement that championed Boubacar’s removal through protests. 

How China Helped Create The Malian Crisis

Just as with Syria, China could have prevented the destruction of Libya and the subsequent murder of the country’s leader – Muammar Qathafi. It simply could have opposed UN Resolution 1973, which imposed no fly-zones over Libya in 2011. The imposition of the UN no fly-zone saw NATO’s enforcement, which later on turned out to be an all-out invasion of the country, which hitherto was Africa’s most prosperous country. 

Some point to bad human rights records to justify the US-led NATO invasion of the country. However, this argument falls flat in the face of worse human rights records of some countries that voted for the resolution. The US has a history of violating the human rights of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Panama. According to Human Rights Watch, China commits human rights abuse against Muslims in Xinjiang.   

By not opposing the imposition of a No-fly zone over Libya, China helped open a Pandora’s Box which has been haunting Africa’s Sahel region. The Tuaregs who trooped back to Mali, following Qathafi’s fall are the main actors calling for the secession of Northern Mali – Azawad. Qathafi’s
downfall also opened the floodgates for terrorist groups affiliated to ISIL and Al-Qaeda, to infiltrate the region. Prior to that, Qathafi’s counter-terrorism measures kept a proper check on the proliferation of terrorist groups in the region.

Currently, these terrorist groups are the main group opposing a peaceful settlement of the crisis. the Tuaregsare open for talks, whilst the Islamists want the fight to continue. Burkina Faso aside from Mali, suffers from terrorist insurgency because of increasing insecurity in the region. It is a matter of time before these insurgents start threatening the stability of Ghana and other countries on the Gulf Guinea.

What Should China Do?

At the heart of the Malian problem is the state’s inability to control the insecurity in the north of the country – a problem China helped create, though unintentionally. By proposing mediation, china is talking of an initiative that has already failed to produce results. A sustained military campaign against insurgents leading to their defeat in the country’s north provides a lasting solution. African forces should make up the bulk of the troops for the campaign but funding should be borne by the international community. Those who created the problem must demonstrate more financial commitment to the campaign. It is in the regard that I expect a more pronounced role for the Chinese government.  

It is morally wrong for countries to neglect problems they have created from wrong the decisions they have taken in the past. The turmoil in Mali affects people in a number of ways including deaths. Countries responsible for the creation of the Malian problem must commit to a process that would bring about a lasting solution.

Amodani Gariba, 22 – Koforidua Technical University (KTU), Ghana

Amodani is a student at Koforidua Technical University (KTU) of the class of 2020. He is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He currently serves as president of KTU Debate Society. In this capacity, he helps students understand local and global issues and the impact they can have through constructive dialogue and debate. He is passionate about community advocacy and development. He is focused on pursuing politics after he graduates.

Share your views