Friday, January 21, 2011

War Organizations replacing Peaceful Ones in North and West Africa

Peace Corps withdrew its program and volunteers in Chad during 2006, its Mauritania Program in 2009, and now its Niger Program as of January 17, 2011. The only Peace Corps Programs remaining in Maghreb and northern Sahelian States are Morocco, Burkina Faso and Mali. Considering that ‘experts’ on the War on Terror have drawn maps depicting northern Mali as the ‘hotbed of terrorism’ I do not give Mali too long before it joins the Peace Corps’s dustbin of incomplete missions. Abductors, whether they are coming from northern Mali or other parts of West Africa, are kidnapping people and then transporting their hostages to the cercles of Abeïbara, Kidal, Tessalit and Tin Essako. What is ironic about this is that Peace Corps Mali has never placed volunteers in these locations because of lack of infrastructure, security and concerns over the personal health of their volunteers. While these certainly are legitimate concerns, they add to the irony as Abeïbara, Kidal, Tessalit and Tin Essako are where one can find some of the poorest communities in all of Mali.

I can vouch for this from my travels and stays in these regions during 2006-2007. From my own conversations and observations with local people, I can say the people that live here are not terrorists but instead antagonistic to a government that offers them no relief during drought and famine, kills their animals and family members during rebellions, bars NGOs and other relief organizations from operating there, but, has no qualms accepting gifts and payments from multi-national corporations to conduct mineral exploration and extraction. Is it so shocking then that AQIM and other extremists have found someone who will listen to them here? Isolate a people, make them vulnerable to climatic and economic shocks, destroy their shrinking natural resource base, and offer them no alternatives of survival. This has happened not only to northern Mali but to many parts of Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. Watch how soon they seek out the enemy of the people who impoverish them, whether it is a local official, a national government, a multinational corporation or a military superpower.  

Oh yes … wait! The military is where Western nations have stepped up their presence in the region. The United States and European Union, in their efforts to stamp out global terrorism, have committed money, Special Forces, advisors, equipment and intelligence gathering to aid, assist and help allies, like, the Malian national government. A government that has a nasty record of human rights abuses against the very communities that are depicted as a ‘safe haven for terrorists.’ Mauritania has its share of abuses with the Reguibat and Saharwis in the North, Niger until the recent coup d’état of 2010 isolated and impoverished their remote Tuareg, Toubou and Mahmid Arab communities in the North and East. Chad’s problems and human rights’ violations are too numerous to even mention here. I will mention, however that Hassan Habré was recently brought up on charges at Den Hague for his autocratic rule from 1982-1990.

In all fairness, these military buildups in the region and lockdown of space have a humanitarian component to them. This relief effort is secondary and not given the importance that fighting terrorism through hard power has, but there are efforts to build schools, hospitals, vaccinate animals and inoculate children. In terms of implementation, though, the communities that have prospered are not the cercles of Abeïbara, Kidal, Tessalit and Tin Essako. They are instead the communities to the south. This is familiar. Oh yes, they implement these humanitarian missions in the safer regions where Peace Corps and other aid organizations operate. So … this lop-sided effort brings ‘food parachutes’ in the south and bullets in the north. But of course all this is smoothed over in national statistics and bureaucratic channels. It makes one wonder when, not if, local communities of the north will start complying fully with the extremists that moved in and set up shop.     

 A message for AFRICOM (African Command, a branch of War on Terror) and SOCEUR (Special Operations Command, another vital branch of the War on Terror): If you really want to end terrorism in the region then drop the hard power tactics, be patient with the incidents that trickle through after the policy change, and role up your sleeves and start working on the problems of poverty and state integration in the northern Mali, the northern and eastern regions of Mauritania and Niger, and throughout Chad. Lest we omit, this needs to involve the local communities that have experienced the marginalization of their governments, aid organizations, and your own foreign and unwelcomed presence on their lands. It’s hard, I know. After all, the people you and your recent friends in the Sahelian militaries are shooting at look like Osama bin Laden. But trust me, they are not.

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