By Hinsley Njila
A few weeks ago I wrote an article asking questions about the wisdom of the French invasion of Northern Mali on January 11th, 2013. In just over a month since the war began, almost everything we were promised by defense minister Le Drian and President Hollande (both of whom never served in the military) have proved to be wishful at best. As it turns out, we now have more French forces on the ground than we were initially led to believe would be involved; the African military contingent is largely unprepared for command responsibilities, largely unprofessional, completely inept or simply allegedly committing war crimes. Even with strength in numbers, Mr. Hollande is still not being honest about how close they are to releasing the 7 French hostages that were captured by Islamists long before the war, or the whereabouts of the intelligence officer they had attempted to rescue.
New front for the ‘war on terror’
It’s really hard to understand why the French, supported by Obama and the EU have created a new front for terrorism in West Africa, especially since they’re completely aware that terrorist groups within this region pose absolutely no threats to western interests.
An ill-advised war of this kind has the unintended consequences of creating the kinds of terrorism we saw in the aftermath of the Iraq war where journalists like Daniel Pearl were beheaded. Because the west has chosen unnecessarily direct confrontation with these groups, we’re seeing them bold enough to carry out successful terrorist acts like the recent hostage taking in Algeria where 37 people died in the failed rescue attempt by the Algerian army, and the recent kidnapping of 7 French citizens in Cameroon - with techniques as sophisticated as were employed by terrorist groups in Iraq.
With ineffective central governments, militant armies, and inter-tribal tensions – many conditions currently exist for things to get worse in a jiffy across West Africa. Terrorism is the match that will light the fire. West Africa is vastly unprepared for hijackings, rampant killings, sectarian violence and personalities like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who allegedly masterminded September 11th, and trained terrorists like Richard Reid. We simply don’t have the personnel or infrastructure to deal with these things.
Groups like Boko Haram in my view have the ingredients and makings to be a lot more dangerous than Al Qaeda, and the international community must pursue a strategy smarter than the tried and failed Bush-Cheney strategy now pursued by Mr. Le Drian, and Hollande. We’re now seeing the makings of widespread terrorism across the entire region. Hopefully Hollande is not going start sending armies across West Africa to fight a never ending ‘war on terror.’
France can still pursue its strategic energy interests in Niger, without creating a nightmarish situation for simple West Africans. Afterall, such brutish pursuits have led to nothing but the current decade old dehumanization in The Democratic Republic of Congo - esteemed by human rights groups as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
West Africa has loads of internal issues that although complex, are quite easily discernible and none of which can be successfully addressed by war – NONE. In West Africa, we’re dealing with widespread ingrained corruption, very ineffective central governments, nepotism and kleptocracy, widespread and sustained drought, declining agricultural yield and low global demand for commodities, lack of investments in infrastructure, lack of youth development and very high unemployment.
Rather than mobilize for war, France and other western nations MUST get on the side of the people by working to improve standards of living for ordinary West Africans. They must create private-public partnerships that erode conditions that allow terrorism to thrive. AREVA which saw its share jump from EUR 13,14 pre-Mali invasion to a 52 week high of EUR 15 and other French companies operating in West Africa must spend more of their profits for the good of ordinary Africans. They must spend more to educate young Africans, invest in infrastructure, and fight poverty by helping to create conditions for businesses to thrive. This is the cheaper, smarter alternative to war.
Mr. Hollande and Mr. Obama 2013 can learn a thing or two from Mr. Obama 2011 post Arab spring. Western nations must, whenever possible always err on the side of the people rather than dictators. I hope the French rethink their support for dictators across West Africa – it is a long-term recipe for disaster for everyone.