Monday, November 30, 2009

Déjà vu in the Sahel

The kidnapping of a French aid worker in northeastern Mali last Wednesday, as well as three Spanish aid workers in Mauritania on Sunday, bring AQIM—the most likely culprit at this stage— back to the fore.

Let’s just hope that these two tragic events will garner better analysis on security in the Sahel than this recent Newsweek article, which goes to great pain demonstrating that 1) the situation in the Sahel is nowhere near as bad as the situation in the Af-Pak border region (no kidding), and 2) that it is wrong to believe that the Sahel is the next hotbed of terrorism (good news: few people believe this, and are more worried about places like Yemen and Somalia). Kal from The Moor Next Door does a great job at tearing the article apart and providing rebuttal to most of its flaws, misjudgments, and blatant omissions.

And as Kal underlines, nothing in this article is new. How too much of a Western presence can backfire was raised by ICG in 2005. Even the State Department got the memo: two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson emphasized to Congress the need for a limited US footprint in the Sahel region:

“The United States can play a helpful supporting role in the regional effort, but we must avoid taking actions that could unintentionally increase local tensions or lend credibility to AQIM’s claims of legitimacy.
The countries in the region continue to demonstrate the political will to combat terrorism and trans-national crime. They have explicitly stated that the Sahel’s security is the responsibility of the countries in the region. They have not asked the United States to take on a leadership role in counterterrorism efforts and have, in fact, clearly signalled that a more visible or militarily proactive posture by the United States would be counterproductive. We fully concur that the appropriate roles for the United States and other third countries with even more significant interests in the region must be to support regional security efforts while continuing to provide meaningful development assistance to the more remote areas. Moreover, we have emphasized that while the United States will do its part, the burden must be shared.”

Granted, this may be nothing more than a way to keep DoD out of the way. But at least, and in contrast to Newsweek, Carson also offered a rather nuanced view of the threat, underlining for instance how the Malian situation differs from the one prevailing in Mauritania with regards to AQIM.

Am I being oversensitive here, or is it really a sad day when one finds more analytical nuance in a political statement than in a press article?

1 comment:

  1. No Alma, that's really depressing. Then again, I think good analysis in Newsweek is usually an anomaly. I don't routinely pick up that magazine when I'm looking for insight on the Sahel...