In September 1960, the Republic of Mali gained independence from France, along with nearly all former colonies. Almost immediately, inter-tribal and inter-confessional war broke out. In view of the huge amount of armament in Africa, the current developments in Mali are quite natural, so are those occurring earlier in Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria. Others may join the list; any African county faces lots of problems including poverty, hunger, and diseases. This is the key reason of hostilities in the Black Continent, along with the religious factor which became dominant recently.
90% of Malians are Sunni Muslims, with some elements of pagan African beliefs; 3% are Christian Catholics, 2% Christians following various protestant trends and 5% adhere to indigenous or traditional animist beliefs. The Malians consider themselves a deeply religious nation and take pride in this; however, Mali is officially considered to be “secular Muslim state”.
Islamists will always be ones. In 2012, they destroyed Timbuktu. The latter is listed among UNESCO World Heritage sites and hosts ancient shrines of Islamic saints worshipped by Sufi Muslims. Ansar Dine, a grouping of Islamic fundamentalists linked to Al-Qaeda believes saint worshipping to be idolatry. The group members already ruined some ancient mausolea in Timbuktu.
The UN Security Council condemned the destruction of the tombs and warned that it could constitute a war crime. It means that a case could be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague. The ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dubbed the destruction of Timbuktu monuments a war crime. Timbuktu is also known as the "City of 333 saints". Ideology of Ansar Dine movement prohibits saint worship considering this idolatrous. Meanwhile, for Muslims following traditional forms of Islam, particularly the Sufis, this kind of veneration is a common practice.
Nomad Tuaregs who fled Libya after collapse of Gaddafi’s regime first conquered the almost uninhabited part of Sahara; later, they had to yield to radical Islamists. Since last April, groups associated with Al Qaeda are establishing Sharia law on territories under their control following the Taliban scenario: they destroy ancient monuments, ban Western lifestyle and organize public executions of those who disobey.
Fearing that Mali may become a second Afghanistan in the zone of French interests, French leader Francois Hollande opted for intervention. The move was authorized five days ago without the parliament’s consent; however, the Constitution does not require an agreement in this case. The French president facing decreasing popularity and being widely accused of lacking decision, first came up as the commander-in-chief.
“If I hadn't taken this decision, it would have been too late. The country would have been entirely captured by terrorists, who would have been in a position of strength not only in Mali, but also able to put pressure on neighbouring countries as well. The decision is legal and lies within the framework of international legislation and UN Security Council resolutions," Hollande declared.
The ongoing French military operation in Mali is named after the African wild cat Serval. The first offensives were launched 400 kilometers north to capital Bamako. These territories have been out of the government’s control for a year already.
“We are opposed by most cruel, fanatic and well-organized terrorist groups. We knew the operation would be a tough one; we are facing over a thousand of armed terrorists,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
France is building up its troops in Mali from 800 to 2500 now, and the neighbouring African states will soon arrive to support the French, while NATO allies are providing the transport and communication.
The United Nation grounded the military operation in Mali by the current inability to hold a dialogue with armed groups, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the journalists on Tuesday.
Tensions are high in Mali during the past weeks; extremist militants launch attacks on governmental troops in central part of the country. The French troops arrived on January 10 to help the authorities, with around 2000 militaries deployed in Mali now. Militaries from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have also joined the operation.
The conflict broke out in spring 2012 following a coup in Bamako when Tuaregs and armed Islamist groups seized the region; a large territory including Timbuktu has since been under their control.
Currently the Bamako authorities are opposed by militants of the extremist alliance which includes Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
Meanwhile, the European Union will allocate 50 million euros to support the deployment of ECOWAS forces in Mali. Deployment of 5800 African troops in Mali to help the governmental forces fight against the Islamists will total to at least $500 mln. EU already provided 20 mln euros for refugee assistance in December 2012. The situation has deteriorated since then, and additional funding is required. Another 20 mln euros will be allotted for food and first aid supplies for 150 000 people. In 2012, EU assistance to Mali made 111 mln euros.