The price of inaction in Mali
Roméo Dallaire and Kyle Matthews
14 January 2013
Last week the head of the African Union, Thomas Boni Yayi, travelled to Ottawa to drum up support for an African-led initiative to restore the territorial integrity of Mali. After a coup d’état by the Malian military last March, the northern part of the country was forcefully occupied by armed-Islamist groups. Among them are Ansar Al-Din and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. The latter was behind the recent assassination of the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
Following a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Yayi said he would welcome NATO’s support. And Canada in particular could play an important role. Not only do Canadian troops speak French, an important skill in this part of Africa, but they also have far-reaching combat and peacekeeping experience. Yet Harper announced that Canada will not participate in any military intervention, and will continue to work with western allies and African countries to seek a diplomatic solution.
The West needs to acknowledge that, sadly, the Malian army is not up to the task of countering the Islamist groups’ substantial military superiority. The NATO campaign over the skies of Libya inadvertently allowed a considerable influx of sophisticated weaponry into Mali. NATO members should not wash their hands of this responsibility.
We cannot stand idle, expecting Mali to become a functioning democracy before we begin to contemplate supporting the African Union, which was granted a seal of approval by the UN Security Council this past December. Inaction will only give the extremist groups more time to strengthen their defences and recruit more jihadists — or worse, they might take over the rest of the country.
In 2005, under Canada’s leadership, all countries seated at the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect, agreeing to take action when a country is unable or unwilling to protect its population from mass atrocities. Northern Mali has become a haven for Islamic militants. If other Western countries don’t join in alongside France, these groups will grow in strength, perpetuate more atrocities across Africa, and expand their ability to strike at the West. Thus Western nations have all the more reason to support the Malian government, instead of abandoning its citizens to extensive retributions and abuses.
Leaving Canada empty-handed, the chief of the African Union reminded us that “each day that we wait is a bad thing.” France understood this warning. Is anybody else in the West listening?
Roméo Dallaire, a distinguished senior fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and
Human Right Studies at Concordia University, is a Canadian Senator.
Kyle Matthews is the Senior Deputy Director of the Will to Intervene Project at Concordia and a New Leader at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
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