17 January 2013

Energy, Imperial Geostrategy in Africa, and the Deep Politics of the Mali Crisis - Letter in the Evening Standard 17.01.13

This letter was published in today's Evening Standard

Nabila Ramdani's endorsement of France's Mali intervention, supposedly "aimed at ridding Mali of particularly sinister insurgents," overlooks key factors which have now made themselves manifest in last night’s hostage seizures in Algeria.

Firstly, 'al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' (AQIM) was, according to experts like Professor Jeremy Keenan from SOAS - the most cited academic in the world on North Africa - virtually manufactured in the region by Algerian intelligence services with clandestine US support. This short-sighted policy originated with the Algerian military junta's attempts to fabricate a justification for exterminating members of the peaceful Islamic Salvation Front after it won democratic elections decades ago. The policy was reinforced by NATO's intervention in Libya, shoring up Islamist militias with AQIM affiliations across the region.

Secondly, Ramdani naively ignores NATO's strategic interests in North Africa, described in 2007 by State Department adviser J. Peter Pham as "protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources... a task which includes ensuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment.”

Mali is believed to have significant oil and gas potential. 

A confidential US embassy cable (8 May 2006) obtained by Wikileaks observes that a "significant impediment" to "extracting and transporting oil" in Mali is "regional political instability and terrorist activities."

With reports of extensive civilian casualties due to French airstrikes, it is far from clear that they will be  beneficial for Mali, even if Ramdani concedes they may be troublesome for France. Such military action will only lend legitimacy to the most virulent AQIM components of the insurgency. 

A better approach would be to cut off AQIM at source - by reigning in Algerian military intelligence

But perhaps that's not the point.

Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

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