Thursday, March 10, 2011

Upcoming Fragmentation of the Sahara and Sahel

Libyan Dinar with Muammar Kaddafi

Muammar Kaddafi and Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the heads of state for Libya and Algeria respectively, have played upon the poverty and divisions among Tuareg communities both within their own countries and to the south of them (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso) for decades as a means to keep their countries stable and to destabilize their neighbors. Kaddafi’s and Bouteflika’s meddling into Tuareg society for their own political gains, however, was one of many policies that overlooked the greater problem of dissatisfaction that many Libyans and Algerians have with their governments today.

The chronic problems of high unemployment rates, rising costs of food and other living expenses, and the effective dictatorship in both countries inspired many Libyans and Algerians to take to the streets and demand regime change. Now that this has turned into turmoil for Libya and an expected future crisis for Algeria, these governments are once again exploiting the situation of poverty and state alienation that Tuaregs experience in other countries to the South. Algeria is silently supporting the Kaddafi regime through transporting Tuareg young men from their Saharan territory, but also Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to Libya. They have also facilitated the deployment of former Tunisian sharpshooters that killed people in the streets of Tunis, Sfax and Bizerte, and, military cadres of the Polisario, the Western Saharan independence movement that was ignored too long by regional and superpowers over the past ten years. Bouteflika has taken these actions in the hopes that Kaddafi will regain his country and the grassroots protests that affected Libya can be averted in Algeria.

In the meantime, Kaddafi encourages young Tuareg men to fight alongside his loyalists and mercenaries through the economic incentive of 10000 USD at enlistment and an additional 1000 USD for each day of fighting. It is believed that such an offer has attracted 2300 Tuareg, coming not only from southwest Libya but also Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The payment of 23 million plus will not make a dent in Kaddafi’s family assets, which are estimated at 117 billion. It will, however, destabilize the Sahara and Sahel despite what happens to Kaddafi. Rumors are already circulating that Kaddafi and his family are looking to exit Libya, which would very likely leave his paid mercenaries at the hands of mob justice. How the opposition, the Islamic Councils that run eastern Libya at the moment, would receive the Tuareg communities if they were to take power over the entire country is another major concern, considering Tuareg participation with the loyalists against the opposition.

The greater problem from my perspective, however, rests with the arming and organizing of young Tuareg men to fight in Libya. Win or lose, these men are going to return to Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, most likely with their arms and ambitions of striking back against Bamako, Niamey, and perhaps, Ouagadougou. Money does not solve the crises of poverty and alienation that the Tuareg have experienced for so long in the Sahel. It only brings incentives to start new insurgencies against states that have ignored their northern territories for decades. In a worse case scenario, these Tuareg fighters will organize and strike military installments at home leading once again to rebellions and violence. Although, strategies could detour because of previous experience by limiting their actions to banditry and kidnappings, what has occurred during the Global War on Terror for the past eight years in mostly the Sahara, and with a few incidents, in the Sahel. I do not doubt that early on in the Libyan crisis, Tuareg communities sympathized with the Libyans protesters. The Tuareg, after all, voice similar grievances with their national leaders. Poverty and petrodollars, however, have brought people with similar experiences into opposite trenches. One can only hope that Kaddafi abandons Libya as soon as possible before too many die in combat and animosities grow deep between the Tuareg and the Libyans wanting political change.

Translated, the title reads: “The Western Powers call for Bouteflika to step down,” and
Bouteflika says, “I don’t care, if they pull (shoot), I shoot back!”