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Money for Mali

Some confusion at State – and fast cash from the White House.

8:05 AM, Feb 14, 2013 • By ROGER KAPLAN
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In any case, it is unclear whether the MNLA, whom the Malians consider responsible for starting the war last year, has the capability either to police the north or to represent it politically. The north contains a mix of peoples, some of whom get along and some of whom hate each other, and for cause; the Tuareg represent only a minority, one that certainly has deep historical roots in the region, but so do others.  There is no way to know how representative the MNLA is of the Tuareg.  It may have deep tribal support, or it may be an émigré organization with a website and a few machine guns mounted on 4x4’s.

Tuareg civic and religious leaders in Timbuktu and Gao and Kidal, where there are strong concentrations of Tuareg, have spoken of the French as liberators and stated that solutions to the north’s longstanding problems must be found within a Malian framework.  Darker-skinned peoples in the north (and for that matter in the south) identify the Tuareg with slave practices, some of which, particularly sex-slavery, reportedly were resumed in areas under the control of both secular and jihadist Tuareg fighters.  These of course must be verified, as do reverse outrages by the advancing (black) Malian troops against Tuareg inhabitants. 

Northern Mali, according to spokesmen for the MNLA, never should have been included in an independent Mali. Be that as it may, there is not a government in the region that considers the partition of Sudan two years ago a useful model of governance. Of course this neither proves nor disproves that the concerned populations are happy with the old colonial borders inherited by the present governments. Secessionist movements are not lacking; best known are the Western Sahara national movement and the Berberist national movement in Kabylia, a region of Algeria. But in a climate of deep hatred and with accusations of grave abuses in the air, the north’s first requirement is a neutral power—if there is one—that can restore basic security.

Maybe all this is too confusing for bookkeepers at State and Defense and for retired FSOs with strong feelings, hence the invoicing mix-up and excited op-ed. The White House apparently had little hesitation about paying military expenses for friends in need. Keeping them in business a bit longer will at least buy all the concerned parties some time to take steps to prevent a free-for-all that would have consequences well beyond northern Mali.  And it may even give us time to sort out what we ought to know about a distant place of which, by all evidence, we have much to learn.

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