France and the Maghreb are getting trigger happy

A sort of a hierarchy is developing in Western Africa in the wake of the French intervention in Mali (which was simultaneous with a US-backed raid in Somalia, it should be noted). To summarize – France has begun air strikes on people who are not citizens of their country, who are not on their territory, and who aren’t service members of a state they are at war with. Such incidents are of course quite common, but that doesn’t make them any less severe infractions against the norms the United Nations was supposed to establish. Come to think of it, the privileges of a permanent seat for the allies in World War II on the Security Council aren’t even remotely in the same sort doubt nearly seventy years later.

While France is gunning down “militants” or “combatants,” Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya have purportedly sealed their borders with Mali to isolate the Touareg rebels in the North (French language link). There’s of course the obvious tension of those Arab-dominated states shutting down an effort to create an explicitly Berber state, as well as their interest in appearing moderate to western nations such as France who have made quite clear that they don’t mind killing North African “combatants” or whatever euphemism is en vogue. Of course, doing this for show risks alienating further the Berber minority domestically just as much as it hopefully maintains their status internationally.

(Just for reference in that and the following paragraph, here’s a map of Mali, from here.)

Of course, supply lines are typically remade in the face of such bans, so I expect smuggling to endanger the typically already marginal civilian populations in southern Algeria and Libya as well as Northern Niger (which would be an ideal detour around any purported blockade on the Malian-Algerian border. The extreme poverty of the region, a byproduct of not only the harsh environment but also French colonial misrule, would make those prospects quite attractive, in spite of the risks.

And of course, there’s the lot of the Malians under French scopes. Beyond those revolting against the admittedly quite undemocratic Malian government, there’s the inevitable “non-combatant” casualties. And as the border controls are also restricting importation of fuels into the region, the poverty found in Mali just as in much of the surrounding region will only be worsened. The intervention so far has both worsened the consequences of being proximate to rebels and the obvious point in rebelling, which is a unfortunate mixture of impacts to have.

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