SUSTAINING PEACE AND ORDER IN MALI
BY QASIM AKINRETI
In the last few days, the French forces and the African–led International Support Mission in Mali , AFISMA, have regained control of Mali from the Al- Qaeda- linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad- MUJAO.
MUJAO was supported by a coalition of militant groups – Ansardine; an off shoot of Al-Qaeda cell in the Maghreb, AQIB, and a splinter group of Al-shabab based in Somalia.
This dreaded group took the advantage of political instability in Mali and overran the Northern part of the country to establish sharia law and in the process destroyed cultural and religious sites in Timbuktu- a notable ancestral home for some Islamic groups. To MUJAO, Ansardine and Al shabab, visits to Islamic tombs and other monuments in Timbuktu were considered heresy and offensive to Islamic purity.
The recapture of key strongholds of the militants, Gao and Timbuktu as well as Kidal was quite dramatic. French-led peacekeepers with superior fire power from the air and land subdued the militant Islamic groups in Gao. But in Timbuktu, no shot was fired. It was indeed an easy ride to the heartland of the most populous UNESCO world heritage site.
Two reasons can be adduced for this. First, is the strength, military equipment and logistic support of the international forces. They brought in modern warfare equipment to secure the aerial and ground battle which the conventional Malian army lacked to fight the insurgents in the early days of the uprising. With the proliferation of sophisticated weapons from the Libyan uprising in the Sahel region, allegedly in the hands of the Islamic militants, it was quite easy to overpower the Malian army and attempt to overrun the capital –Bamako. This, to a large extent, is a threat to the fragile peace in West Africa, the continent and the world at large.
Second, the militants were too harsh on the people of Northern Mali with the introduction of the punitive aspects of sharia law, such as the cutting of hands, flogging, stoning to death, barring of women from the public and withdrawal of women from schools. The people of Mali are already used to a moderate Islamic way of life. The attempt to alter their way of life by force ultimately led to distrust from the people. They were only too willing therefore to support the efforts of the allied troops to recapture their towns.
Precisely, eleven months after the insurgency began, the task ahead of Malian, regional and continental leaders, and the international community, is how to sustain this hard-earned peace when the Malian forces ultimately take over the maintenance of peace and order from foreign troops.
In the main, the root cause of the insurgency must be addressed squarely and fairly with assistance from the international community. All parties to the initial political conflicts in Mali must be brought to a negotiation table. This will include Mali's Arab community in Timbuktu- Azawad National Liberation Front, representatives of the military, and the political parties. There must be confidence building and dialogue among the people, to prevent external forces from infiltrating their ranks, as any flimsy excuse for coup d'état would not be entertained.
Those contemplating a possible overthrow of the government should be mindful of the AU and ECOWAS' resolution not to support undemocratic government of any guise.
There must also be a firm commitment from the international community to equip, train and motivate the Malian Army to repel any foreseeable attacks from militant Islamic groups who might be strategizing to recapture northern Mali, once the dust has settled. In this respect, the 50 million dollars fund to AFISMA by the African Union must be fully paid by member states to mobilize necessary resources for Malian defence and security.
So far, Nigeria has demonstrated significant commitment in this regard. As President Jonathan disclosed at the end of the 20 th Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Tuesday, Nigeria has undertaken the reconstruction of a number of medical clinics in the military barracks of some of the Malian Defence and Security Forces, as part of the Security Sector Reform, to the tune of 5.5 million dollars. This is aside from the 32 million dollars provided for the immediate deployment and support for AFISMA troops, and the 5 million dollars pledged for further assistance. Prior to this, Nigeria dispatched to Mali relief and humanitarian supplies amounting to 2 million dollars.
Finally, democratic institutions in Mali must be strengthened through capacity building of stakeholders in the democratic process, as the country prepares for another transition programme to elect new leaders.
It is hoped that, with the support of the international community, Mali will once again rise as a bastion of democracy and a haven for tourists in West Africa.
Broadcast on Friday Febuary 01, 2013
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