- Published on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 08:01
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It is now 32 days since France deployed its troops to Mali to help liberate the troubled northern region of the West African country, which had been under the control of Tuareg rebels for almost a year.
France’s intervention, among others factors, was prompted by the desire of the Islamic rebels backed by Al-Qaeda to overrun the Malian government in Bamako. That action on January 11, 2013 jolted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries, which had been stalling for the past two years on how to rescue one of their own and restore peace in that country. It gave African countries great hope and assurance that they were not alone in the search for peace on the continent.
Before now, there have been several instances where assistance of this nature from the West even worsened the situation in Africa. One example: when a similar conflict arose in Libya in 2010, it attracted the attention of the West, particularly the United States who did not mince words in supporting the Libya war that saw the overthrowing of dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
The West has reasons for several interventions in Africa. One of the reasons why France, for instance, sent its troop to Mali was to dislodge Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups with potent weapons of war from having a base in Mali. The fear is that if the rebels, aided by Al-Qaeda terrorists, overrun Bamako and effectively establish base in that country, it can easily hit Europe. So, in essence, France, Britain, Belgium, Germany and United States who have given immense support to the Mali cause are fighting a preemptive war.
France have so far taken the lead with over 4000 troops, war planes and equipment on ground fighting the terrorists along with Mali troops. Sadly, ECOWAS member states, whose domains have been turned into a theatre of war that has manifested itself in form of civil disturbances, guerrilla, terrorists’ attacks and suicide bombings, appear not to appreciate the import of the problem, save their pledges that are proving extremely difficult to fulfill.
ECOWAS powerhouse, Nigeria clarified last weekend through the Defence Headquarters that it presently has about 500 troops on ground in Mali out of 1,200 soldiers approved for deployment by the Federal Government. This means that more than half the number Nigerian soldiers approved for deployment in Mali are not there yet. Sources close to Army authorities said the soldiers have been assembled in Kaduna but lack the equipment to embark on their assignment.
A fortnight ago, the British Defence Chief visited Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Ibrahim and eulogized Nigeria’s leading role in the sub region. Although details of their closed-door meeting were unavailable, it would not be far from Britain’s desire to see that Nigeria does not renege on its internationally expected role in the region.
Some have argued that if Chad has since sent 1800 troops, other countries that have pledged to make up the 3,800 troops for the Africa–led Military Support to Mali, AFISMA, should honour their words. There are Nigeria, with about 500 troops on ground; Burkina Faso, whose men have started deploying; Ghana, Togo, Benin, Niger, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Guinea. All of them have blamed the slow pace of deployment to several factors, chief among which is the usual poor countries’ nemesis: finance.
Even when they had been preparing for a year and Nigeria said in May 2012 that it had its Mali Force on standby, the story turned out to be different, as ECOWAS, the 15-nation bloc, met at an emergency summit on January 19 to discuss how to best help the French and Malian armies.
“The leaders stumbled on money issues,” a diplomat in the region told AFP. “Who will pay African troops, who will feed them and who will transport them? These were some of the vital questions left unanswered.”
There were also arguments about the troops’ further training to suit the terrain they would be operating in. As logical as this argument sounds, people are still unconvinced that the necessary adjustments should take so long. They are asking how long it took France’s troops to train for the same difficult terrain before they embarked on the offensive.
Probably, AFISMA is meant to take part in the second phase of the exercise, after France might have left Mali, going by its proposal to start withdrawing in March. Assuming it turns out to be the case, what assurance is there that the countries will meet their pledges on troops’ commitment?
The continent, particularly the West Africa sub region, should realise that a stitch in time saves nine. Like one of the military brasses put it, France has helped to resolve one big problem for the continent. But slow response to troop deployment may jeopardize the good intention and allow the Malian war degenerate into Afghanistan's guerrilla war that has kept American soldiers in that country for years now. ECOWAS has no resource to sustain such and end war.