There hasn’t been much of a change in the overall situation during the last weeks: the northern half of Mali — an area about the size of France — is occupied by a range of rebel groups. While neighboring states and the international community are deeply concerned over the Islamist policies of some of these groups, the Malian state has proven to be incapable to act, due to a coup d’etat which send the government into a deep crisis.
There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about what lies ahead. The regional organization ECOWAS and especially its member Niger would like to send an intervention force to set things straight in the north and south.
But that doesn’t sit well with Mali’s top military brass, who fear that an ECOWAS force in the capital would curtail their influence on the nominally civilian transitional government in place. They would appreciate some support to oust the rebels in the north, though.
Northern neighbor Algeria is largely silent on its objectives, but its clear that an intervention force in North Mali is seen critically in Algiers, as the area is traditionally interpreted as their own sphere of influence there. The Algerians would in any case vehemently oppose any large French involvement, but without French air and logistics support, the ECOWAS troops will have no chance to seriously challenge the seasoned desert fighters of the rebels.
Some governments, like that of Burkina Faso to the south of Mali, are still trying their hand at negotiations. But these face some huge obstacles, as the largest rebel group — Ansar Dine — has strong links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Serious negotiations under these circumstances are unlikely, especially as the Malian government is not the most legitimate either.
A series of attacks on police and military posts is shaking the Ivory Coast. Among the targets of the various attackers were a border post, a police station and a military camp in the capital Abidjan. In the latter attack, 10 soldiers died and the assailants made off with “significant” amounts of weaponry.
The government was quick to put the blame on forces loyal to former Pres. Laurent Gbagbo, who was ousted last year by rebel, French and U.N. forces after refusing to step down after an election. Gbagbo himself currently faces trial in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. More than 150 of his allies have been charged in Ivorian courts for war crimes committed during the brief but fierce civil war following the elections.
No supporters of incumbent Pres. Alassane Ouattara are facing charges though, despite ample evidence that both sides committed crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings to mass rape. This extreme form of one-sided justice is widely seen as the main reason for the continuing instability in West Africa’s one-time economic powerhouse.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The mutiny of Rwandan-supported troops in eastern Congo still shakes the region. In a move which sounded nice in theory, heads of state from the Great Lakes region decided to solve the crisis by sending in a “neutral” force, designed to engage the mutineers and other “negative forces,” as well as securing the borders against arms smuggling.
It all fell apart on a summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala, where the details of this force were supposed to be fleshed out. The main sticking point is the question which countries should contribute the troops. The Congolese government understandably objected to Rwandan soldiers, seen as part of the problem, not of a potential solution. Angolan and South African contributions were in turn turned down by Rwanda, as it sees these states potentially threatening its economic interests in the mineral trade in the region.
The proposal to just enhance the mandate of the U.N. force already in the country met with little love from the U.N. itself, as there is little chance that the main troop contributors to this mission (Pakistan and Uruguay) would like to see their soldiers taking up more active (and dangerous) roles in the conflict than they have anyway.
On the whole, it became clear that the deployment of the force is likely many months away, if it will happen at all. A political solution to the underlying reasons for the larger conflict is still not discussed with any enthusiasm by the actors involved though.
The Kenyan army has started its attack against the southern Somali town of Kismayo. This port, the largest south of Mogadishu and a huge price due to the charcoal business running through it, is the last bastion of the Al Shabaab militia, which used to dominate most of Somalia and is aligned with Al Qaeda.
After a ground offensive of African Union troops, among them the Kenyan contingent, Al Shabaab has lost much of its territorial control. It is unlikely though that taking Kismayo will destroy the group. Instead, losing the last large town could speed up its transformation into a classical terrorist/criminal network with substantial economic interests in the real estate market in Kenya and links to other African outlets of Al Qaeda.
Not all is bad in Somalia though. Security in Mogadishu has greatly improved over the last months and the political process to finally end the decades long civil war is finally making some progress as well.