ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "Une intervention militaire au Mali serait une catastrophe"
by Pierre Barbancey
Translated Tuesday 31 July 2012, by Henry Crapoand reviewed by
Jean-Louis Triaud is a historian specializing in sub-Saharan African Islam. He’s professor emeritus at the University of Provence. As he sees it, using armed force in Mali against the Islamist militias would mean opening a wound in West Africa.
How could Tuareg groups join forces with jihadist groups?
Jean-Louis Triaud. Ansar Dine’s leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, has spent time in Saudi Arabia. That’s probably a telling connection, there. Also, he has been one of the Tuareg movement’s main leaders for about ten years. Then he became the quasi-official point-of-contact with the Malian government. He’s a major player who wanted to take back control. To do that, he created his own organization, which he conceived under the influence of the Islamic models he has encountered. Meanwhile, al Qaeda for the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) is very present in southern Algeria, so it isn’t far away. All of them support each other’s independence and are in cahoots with each other, too. For religious reasons, of course. On top of that, there’s been all the trans-Saharan trafficking for years, and they’re all trying to get their share of it. Religion is a refrain that’s well-suited for anti-Western rhetoric, which definitely reflects some people’s reaction to the gap between the West and Africa, for example.
What do we know about the possible links between the MNLA, Ansar Dine, Mujao?
Jean-Louis Triaud. Mujao and Ansar Dine are in competition with each other and they have their differences. Their ethnic and social bases of support aren’t exactly the same. The MNLA is fraught with tension. It’s not sure what to do with the Islamists. Some favor dialogue with them; others favor confrontation. It’s a fragile situation and subject to change. And we clearly see the basic difference between the MNLA and Ansar Dine, one of whose spokesmen said that he was only interested in the law of Allah. So, they’re in a struggle for control of these regions, for power.
There’s more and more talk of African states from the region intervening militarily. Is that a solution?
Jean-Louis Triaud. As it stands, that would be fairly disastrous. Nigeria, for one, is a country of forests and savannahs. It’s hard to imagine Nigerian troops in the desert, and that’s also true of the other militaries from West Africa. I don’t quite see how one can commit to any wars in the Sahara, which are extremely long wars by nature, because the people who know their terrain will have the means to evade any raids conducted from outside the area. This will not be Afghanistan because the history and conditions are different, but still, there’s the same temptation to resolve something by force, thinking that it will be over in two weeks, when it’s going to turn into a quagmire. Under Sarkozy, French Services armed the MNLA so it could crush Ansar Dine and the Islamists. That’s an extremely dangerous strategy as well that is potentially counter-productive. There are too many local and social ties for the MNLA to really want to settle a score with the other groups. That kind of possibility would mean an open wound in West Africa that could attract lot of young people enthusiastic about a new utopia who would join the Islamist camps. That would be a catastrophe.
New Destruction in Timbuktu
Islamists from the organization Ansar Dine, who control the north of Mali, destroyed two other mausoleums in Timbuktu, located at the great Djingareyber Mosque, which dates from the 14th century. Around ten activists showed up in an armored van, armed with pickaxes. They fired shots in the air to chase away onlookers and started destroying the tombs. This destruction is in addition to incidents that have already targeted other major historic and religious sites in Timbuktu. Ansar Dine claims that Sufi sanctuaries are examples of idolatry. With its allies, it has demolished at least eight of the sixteen listed mausoleums in Timbuktu, as well as a number of tombs.