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From Tripoli To Bamako

Current Affairs

From Tripoli To Bamako

When Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama planned regime change in Libya, did it occur to them that it might jeopardise democracy in Mali, create a humanitarian catastrophe, and split the country?

Resolving deep-seated conflicts is rarely an easy task. The recent convulsions in Mali demonstrate the impact of unintended consequences from the Libyan crisis and the need to be particularly mindful of how conflicts are resolved, especially in Africa.

Decision makers, whether internal or external, are frequently faced with difficult choices, especially as a particular crisis quickly spirals out of control. The speed and intensity of the “Spring” in North Africa last year meant that local, regional, pan-African and international decision makers were caught on the hop.

Inaction, as in Libya, last year might have encouraged unacceptable violence to be visited against vulnerable and defenceless communities by dictatorial regimes with their backs to the wall. However, rapid and so-called surgical police action to put a lid on such behaviour or resolve other deeper national problems can also turn out later to be both lethal and dangerous in the short to medium term.

The unintended consequences from the choices made by Nato (and their African and Arab supporters) for regime change in the Libyan crisis are multiplying before our eyes, with serious global and regional costs. Regionally, it has now produced a civil war in Mali and endangered both the constitutional order with the coup and the territorial integrity of the state.  

It is not a surprise that the Libyan crisis and regime change unleashed mayhem in the delicately balanced Afro-Arab borderline across the Sahara. The country that I originally thought would first explode (again) was Chad or Sudan’s Darfur. The region contains lots of heavily armed groups, wounded ethnic, religious and racial minorities with lots of grievances.

Each are being supported by the various governments in the region, who like Gathafi, use them for their internal security, or regional proxy wars which destabilise their neighbours. Pour kerosene on this and expect, what?

Already the Tuaregs, who no longer have a safe berth in Libya because their sponsor, Gathafi, has gone, have now driven out and displaced 100,000 people from their homes and declared Azawad their own state in the northern half of the country.

Frustrated and panicked by the beginnings of this insurgency, Captain Amadou Sanogo, and his band of opportunistic simpletons, decided that inaction was not an option, and a swift and decisive “intervention” of their own, legal or not, would quickly sort out the problem.

Instead, they merely unleashed a trail of disaster, including sanctions and political turmoil, while enabling the secessionists to consolidate their gains.

Similarly, when Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama planned regime change in Libya, did it occur to them that it might jeopardise democracy in Mali, create a humanitarian catastrophe, and split the country?

Whilst not excusing Sanogo and his cohorts or indeed the secessionists from their moral responsibilities, understanding how truly fragile our countries and institutions sometimes are, is of profound importance. Powerful external shocks, such as the collapse of the Libyan state in the rapid way that it did, are liable to unleash hell, which is why it is important not to encourage such violent interventions, but allow the sort of mediation that Kofi Annan and others have perfected.

People are cautious about “surgical” actions precisely because they are rarely surgical. As in Libya and Iraq they unleash forces and emotions in finely balanced societies that run out of control, and throw up even more extreme mad men and dangerous opportunists, who exploit such chaos.  

We should be as tired in Africa of the knee-jerk responses from the liberal interventionists as we are from soldiers/coupists. Our responses need to be a bit more calibrated, given how complex and fragile our societies are. 

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Written by Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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