Tag Archives: Africa

“With Nelson Mandela behind us…who could be against us?”

13 Dec

The world has been buzzing with the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela last Thursday, with an incessant stream of stories on his life, his legacy, and his impact on crucial issues of civil, political and human rights. He was a champion of the equal provision of rights for all people regardless of race, class, and religion, but following his presidency, he also took on a role as a champion of the rights of people affected by HIV/AIDS. This week marked the 17th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Africa, which was appropriately held in Cape Town, South Africa. Conference participants reflected on the impact that Mandela made on the fight against HIV/AIDS, talking more openly about the epidemic at a time when it was still shrouded in silence.

Perhaps even more striking was the impact that Mandela made on the fight against stigma towards HIV/AIDS. From sporting a t-shirt reading “HIV Positive” upon meeting activists with the Treatment Action Campaign and Médecins Sans Frontières in Khayelitsha, South Africa in 2002, to inviting celebrated HIV-activists like Annie Lennox (I love her way too much) to the launch of his 46664 HIV-awareness campaign in 2003, to his acknowledgement in 2005 that he had in fact lost his own son to an AIDS related illness, Nelson Mandela ushered turning point after turning point in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigma that stymies the efforts of AIDS activists everywhere. He was quoted as saying, “let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV.”

Anyone working in the global effort to curb the spread of HIV and educate populations on its causes and reach can tell you that stigma is often the most difficult barrier to break down in providing effective outreach. This phenomenon is by no means specific to African countries – it exists all over the world – but 97% of those living with HIV reside in low to middle income countries, and adequately providing sufficient resources to curb the spread of HIV in these countries is a colossal task. I remember first arriving in Tanzania some years back, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to join the fight by teaching HIV-prevention education in rural primary schools and local community centres. I was shocked to see and hear first-hand some of the misconceptions and myths about HIV and the general resistance to even acknowledging this devastating epidemic.

There are currently 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV (and that only accounts for those who have been tested…to say that the actual number of cases is significantly higher is a gross understatement) and over 25 million have already died from AIDS-related illnesses*. Though many still believe that HIV is a myth, or that it is a virus spread from the West to perpetuate some form of neo-imperialistic population control in the developing world. Many cultures believe themselves to be immune. Many believe HIV is spread through lies and rumors, through witches and sin, through curses and (ironically) condoms. There are millions of people in this world who do not want to get tested because they would rather not know their status. This is not only because of the devastating affect of HIV on a person’s health, but also because many communities still stigmatize and reject individuals based on their HIV status.

Educating the world about HIV/AIDS is essential to stopping it. So much emphasis is placed on radical new ARV treatment therapies that we forget that HIV is a 100% preventable virus – spread through sex, blood, and birth from an HIV+ mother. Educating oneself and one’s community about the facts of the epidemic can help to prevent the stigma and breed generations of people working together, regardless of status, to put an end to the spread of HIV.

Nelson Mandela recognized this. Just as he knew that no peoples of this world should be discriminated against based upon the color of their skin, Mandela knew that those living with HIV need the support, acceptance and love of their neighbors – and their country – in order to receive proper care and prevent the virus from spreading further. Though as the conference in Cape Town discussed, “vulnerable groups such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and prisoners are still being criminalized and marginalized in most countries, and are often unable to access basic HIV services.”

Madiba has left the world with an immense legacy of compassion, vision and the relentless pursuit of equality for all human beings. Let us honor that legacy by educating ourselves about HIV/AIDS in our countries and around the world, and recognize that stigmatizing an individual based on their HIV status is no different than discriminating against them based on the color of their skin.

*Quick Fact: Few people seem to understand that HIV is a virus that depletes the immune system over a number of years, most of which are marked by no symptoms, which is why getting tested is the ONLY way to know one’s status. AIDS, on the other hand, is a stage of HIV that comes about once a person’s T-Cell count (the ones that keep us immune to illness and disease) drops so low that our bodies are unable to fight off infection. To say someone has died of AIDS is to say that that person died as a result of opportunistic infections that took advantage of a body with no immune system to protect itself. Next time you hear somebody say “You’re going to get AIDS” or “I don’t want to get AIDS by engaging in Behavior X, Y, or Z,” let them know that this erroneous understanding of a complex virus is detrimental to the fight to end it. Educate yourself. Find out more.

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Liberia students all fail university admission exam

26 Aug

Liberia students all fail university admission exam

I don’t have any substantive commentary to add to this headline: it is so bizarre as to be worth a repost, and it allows me to actually mention education (for once), but beyond that, I really have no idea what to make of this. Usually I’d associate absolute numbers like this with the sort of brazenly doctored statistics of authoritarianism – zero crime, perfect literacy, entire electorates, etc. – but I can’t see why anyone would contrive this. If anything, this seems a moment ripe for a little less transparency: surely someone could have bribed or flattered their way to a passing grade?

Fighting Fire With Fire: The UN in DRC

3 Aug

I am curious to get some other views on this development. Back in March, the United Nations issued UN Security Council Resolution 2098, which authorizes the use of a new UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is the “first-ever ‘offensive’ combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to ‘neutralize and disarm’ the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” As of Thursday, August 1st, the invitation for the M23 and other rebel groups throughout the region to lay down their arms peacefully before the FIB is fully launched has officially expired.

It may be an appealing option to some: send in a force of 3,096 armed troops from Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa with the sole mission of disarming any armed individuals who are not members of national or UN security forces. The aim is to ultimately bring peace to the tumultuous Great Lakes region by reducing the level of weaponry in the hands of rebel groups. However, many have expressed concerns about the level of danger that the first offensive combat force coming out of the United Nations will cause, particularly for civilians and aid workers operating in the region. A May 23rd letter signed by 19 NGOs was sent to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pleading that the FIB be kept under close surveillance to ensure it is operating solely within its mandate, to prioritize the protection of civilians, and to fully commit to the inclusion of community voices throughout the process.

Atrocities carried out on civilians run rampant in the Great Lakes region, perpetrated by both rebel and government forces alike. It is thus understandable that introducing more arms into the region is a powerful cause for concern. NGOs and aid workers on the other hand, now have added cause for concern. With the United Nations and MONUSCO now associated with an offensive armed force in the eyes of rebel groups operating in the area, the connotation could easily spread across the aid-community. Personally, I have stopped applying for jobs based in DRC, for the same reason many NGOs likely fear reprisal for actions they have nothing to do with. As IRIN reports, “several observers have questioned whether MONUSCO’s existing role of protecting civilians, particularly in displaced peoples’ camps, will be possible in areas where the Brigade attacks armed groups, as this could result in retaliation against all UN military and civilian personnel as well as against other aid workers and civilians.”

Meanwhile, other armed groups are strengthening in the region. The DRC-based Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) could further exacerbate UN efforts and serve to spread the FIB’s mandate into neighboring countries as well. The Ugandan government hopes that the FIB will ultimately assist in the disarmament of ADF rebels, but where will the FIB’s mandate stop? With new rebel groups emerging from Eastern DRC and its neighboring regions each year, how long will FIB be charged with ‘protecting’ the local populations. I see this move as a dangerous and volatile solution to a dangerous and volatile problem. Peace talks have perpetually failed, and though the FIB may be seen as the only option remaining, I don’t believe that introducing more armed groups is really what the region needs. The situation reminds me a bit of the death penalty – deterring murder by murdering – and the United Nations does not look fondly on that deterrent. Now the UN is effectively situating itself as a lethal force to wipe out lethal force in the eyes of regional armed groups, and that image will be very tough to shake. Looking back at the onset of genocide in Rwanda, I am of the opinion that military force SHOULD have been enacted by the UN, but exacerbating the subsequent history of violence pervasive throughout the Great Lakes seems to be quite a risky move in this particular situation.

I am interested to hear the opinions of others, but I will first say that I was very moved by the way Stephen Oola, transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, framed the issue with reference to Uganda in particular. I am glad someone can see the forest for the trees:

According to Makerere’s Oola, Uganda needs to do some soul-searching if it is to defeat the rebellions that continue to destabilize the country: “We must sit down as country in judgment of oursel[ves], through truth-seeking and national dialogue, to ask the right questions. Why are they fighting? What should be done to end their rebellion? How do we address the impact of the cycle of violence that has bedevilled this country from independence?”

The path of military personnel has been wrought with complication, confusion and a failure to recognize the unique needs of a heterogeneously populated region. I am not sure if the UN’s new ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach is the best idea. Thoughts?

Sub-Saharan Sub-Culture: Goths in Kenya

27 Jul

I recently came across a fascinating article from Think Africa Press – a really interesting source of in-depth news, opinions and current events analysis coming out of Africa – entitled “A Day in the Life of a Kenyan Goth.” Of course, as a young professional and scholar focused on East African youth development AND as a former youth who was associated with the term ‘goth’, I couldn’t resist giving it a read (Note: I use this term loosely, because my friends and I – who came to school sporting black pants, chains, spikes, black NIN and Marilyn Manson shirts, black nail polish and black makeup – never cared for the term, but were labeled with it for lack of a better one). Quite entertaining, and a nice departure from the usual op-ed on the struggles of African youth in the face of poverty, conflict and failing education systems.

gothWhile the issue itself is not specifically education-centered or an offense to human rights, I find Rowan Emslie’s piece to provide a remarkable insight into the burgeoning influence of globalization on East African youth, and worth a read and a few remarks. East Africa as a whole seems to me to be a region where pro-Western sentiments and an interest in Western culture seem to be much less frowned upon than in other locations throughout the developing world where influence of tribalism AND often conservative Islamic culture are simultaneously quite pervasive. Far from Huntington’s oft-criticized (for good reason, I think) theory of a clash of civilizations, this Western influence takes many forms that are agreed upon to be positive influences: modern medicine, democratized education systems that stray from elitist colonial education (is that influence in itself a contradiction?), and of course, Coca Cola (a saving grace on many a hot day in East Africa), to name a few. Traveling through East Africa as an American is generally quite positive (just don’t tell anyone if you happen to be Dutch), and the influence of a variety of cultures that permeate the Swahili context are omnipresent. That’s what makes Swahili culture so vibrant, so dynamic, and at least in my opinion, so fluid in a rapidly changing world, giving East Africa the ability to adapt relatively quickly to global trends and even serve as models for the continent as a whole.

This influence of Gothic culture is particularly striking to me, not only because of my personal past affiliation with this subculture, and not only because I never personally came across any examples of it in my time in East Africa (not surprising with an estimated gothic following of around 300 individuals in Kenya), but because of the association made in the article between goth culture and Al-Shabaab, the Islamist Somali militant group whose influence and ongoing campaigns of violence continue to surface in pockets throughout the region. The police officers in this story who forced David to shave his head to avoid any future confusion were clearly caught off guard by the shocking appearance of a subculture that is, in reality, perceived as a shock all over the world (though in a more conservative society like Kenya, I cannot imagine ever wearing my NIN and Marilyn Manson shirts and getting away with it…). But to associate this small movement with a terrorist organization that wreaks havoc on lives all over the Horn and East Africa is very troubling to me, despite my best attempts at maintaining a culturally sensitive position.

This limitation on youth subcultures and alternative youth expression is a huge impediment to the process of self-discovery that youth undergo all around the world. The influence of Western cultures and alternative modes of expression are simply another avenue that youth may explore when riddled with confusion, struggles with identity formation, and the typical angst bubbling up in any teenager. The lack of such alternatives leave youth with few options to constructively formulate their own sense of self, and limited options are precisely what drive scores of African youth and youth all over the world alike to align themselves with gangs, extremist movements and armed groups like Al-Shabaab every year. For the Kenyan police to place limitations on this or any mode of youth engagement with alternative cultures leaves teens trapped in their feelings of isolation and confusion that go hand-in-hand with adolescence, leaving youth with no outlet for the highly tumultuous and volatile inner-turmoil that all humans experience.

What I believe this ultimately comes down to is a global fear of foreign influence, of the impacts and effects of globalization, and even more, of new trends that are often difficult to understand. When goth culture began permeating Western societies (like punk culture, hippy culture, mod culture, hip hop culture – the list goes on…), it was certainly not met with open arms. That is what makes subcultures subcultures. My point is, while I am not claiming that what worked for me will work for everyone, I can say that my ability to express my own identity crisis as a teen through weird dark colored outfits and some nail polish that allowed me to transcend concrete gender categories, I feel, benefited me in the long run. It enabled me to gain a firm and healthy understanding of what it feels like to be viewed as different. It enabled me to gain a sense that I was a unique individual and I could express myself however I so choose throughout life, and that I could choose my own path and still thrive in my environment. Ultimately, dressing like an ‘outsider’ or a ‘freak’ taught me how to think for myself.

That experience fueled my ability to travel through my young adulthood on a path unlike most people around me, and I feel I have become a better human being because of it. I think back to the lack of understanding with which my clothes and music taste were met, and had I let those forces prevent me from expressing myself in the way I saw appropriate, I likely would have taken a remarkably different path, choosing drugs and degenerate behavior over college, community service, volunteering overseas, graduate school and ultimately (job pending) a career assisting vulnerable populations who the world seems to scorn for being different – whether that difference is a stigmatized HIV infection, status as a refugee, or recovery from servitude as a child soldier. When a new phenomenon comes about in a culture, I think it is crucial for people to try to understand the true intentions behind the movement rather than shunning it simply because it is unfamiliar.

I do recognize that many of my ‘goth’ friends took a much less savory path in their own lives, and I also recognize that American and Western cultures as a whole tend to be a bit more accepting of alternative lifestyles. I recall working with a man in Tanzania who preferred to style his hair in cornrows, but wore a hat whenever going out into the village or into town to avoid being viewed as alien to the society that raised him. But I do feel strongly that these explorations of alternative modes of identity formation and expression should be accepted, so long as they are not impeding on the health and well-being of youth and those around them. Taking away the ability for a teenager to express his or herself, whether it’s through tearing all their band posters off their bedroom wall or forcing them to shave their head because their hair looks different, can have disastrous effects. I am interested to see where this movement goes in Kenya, and interested to look further into other modes of expression being pursued in the region.

Comments and experiences, as always, are welcome.

Hindsight being 20/20…

3 May

After reading a great piece in The Guardian a few weeks back, I felt inspired to cut back a bit on my consumption of news media (yes, I recognize the irony of reading an article that inspired me to read fewer articles). This week I am trying to get back into the world, and the first piece of news I came across was on the massive failure of the international community in responding to one of the worst crises of this century, the Somalia famine.  The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa left 4.6% of Somalia’s population (and one out of 10 children under the age of five) dead. For two years, drastic food shortages wreaked havoc on the population and affected some 13 million people throughout the region as a whole. Much of this damage, however, could have been avoided.

As Aljazeera reports, “The famine was manmade…there was donor fatigue, there was a lack of political will, and the people of Somalia suffered because of the political failure to help the people of Somalia.” While the crisis was exacerbated by militia groups in control of famine-affected areas refusing to let most foreign agencies operate within their territories, the international response was incredibly slow, and for a full year leading up to the crisis, research and forecasts were ultimately ignored worldwide. Peter Greste begs the question, “why for example did it take those dyer images of dying children before significant amounts of aid started flowing in…and what will it take to make donors respond to warnings ahead of the next crisis?”

Well, the next crises are here: from a looming humanitarian disaster in South Sudan already ushering in ‘near famine conditions’, to extreme humanitarian needs compounded by the recent coup in Central African Republic, to the staggering humanitarian disaster in Syria spilling over into surrounding regions. These crises are here, and they are real, and they are not showing any signs of improvement. Thinking about this international neglect conjures images of the international community and the Clinton administration’s failure to act on warning signs, eye-witness testimony and video documentation of the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, for which Bill Clinton later apologized.

Is it acceptable practice in modern times to simply turn away while a crisis unfolds in some remote region of the world, and then apologize for our negligence after it has taken its toll on hundreds of thousands of lives? Are these crises really that easy to ignore? Without sufficient geopolitical interest in a given region, will the international community continue to turn a blind eye to these events, only to rise to a podium down the road and say “Ooops, our bad. We should have acted on the plethora of facts and evidence we had a little earlier. Sorry!”

What’s further disheartening about this pattern is the fact that as emerging researchers and practitioners, we at HREC like to believe that the information we reveal to the world will be used to abate violations of human rights and alleviate human suffering. How does research and the collection of data transcend obscurity and make its way into the international psyche to the extent that concerted action is taken to prevent these stains on our collective human experience? How do we learn from our mistakes and transform hindsight into foresight?

Mali’s First Suicide Bomber

11 Feb

On Friday the BBC ran a headline that reads Mali conflict: ‘First suicide bombing’ in Gao (note the inverted commas: they’re important).

The article went on to explain that this was actually the first known suicide attack since the French intervention in Mali began last month. Further into article came news that there had also been fighting between factions of the Malian army (red berets vs. green berets).

What galls me is the focus on a ‘historic’, histrionic suicide attack as the most important, and highly symbolic development in Mali. The description of the attack contains all of the usual tropes evoked by the ‘western media’: the sudden, furious strike of a lone assailant (in this case on a motorbike, with a belt of explosives); the reference to a mysterious, Orientalish extremist group (The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – note that J-bomb) with a genealogy to a familiar, reviled group (“an offshoot of al-Qaeda”); a quote from the extremist group, demonstrating the depth of their irrational, West-exploding hatred, and their determination to inflict more harm (“against the Malian soldiers who chose the side of the miscreants, the enemies of Islam”); and of course, the connection somewhere in there between the bomber, the irrational violence, and Islam.

The suicide bomber, in this article and in other accounts, is a deranged lunatic, indoctrinated by shrewder lunatics who exist in the shadows of underdeveloped places plotting and preaching the downfall of the West in the burniest, bloodiest ways possible. In these accounts, the suicide bomber is inevitably a product of Islam. Only Islam, it is implied, can produce this degree of fanaticism and violence, this desire to kill, even to the point of destroying the self.

Prof. Banu Bargu (at the New School) offers a very different account of the suicide attack. Bargu argues that the suicide attack is part of a larger phenomenon that she calls the weaponisation of life, or perhaps more simply human weapons, a category that covers kamikaze attacks, hunger strikes, suicide bombings, self-immolations, and a range of other forms of sacrificial violence. Beyond this, Bargu argues that the suicide attack is part of the standard repertoire of modern warfare and violence. The suicide attack is the product not of rabid ideology, but of a calculation, the same calculation that every act of violence involves: how to achieve a suitable effect given the resources available and the factors in play. For some groups such calculations lead to the conclusion that drone strikes are the most efficient form of violence, giving the most bang for your buck. For other groups – state and non-state, religious and secular – the suicide bombing or other human weapon is the most effective, efficient option. Religious indoctrination is thus one variable among many within the calculus of violence.

Casting the Malian suicide bomber as exceptional, as the first (and by implication the vanguard of a wave of such attacks) suggests that there is a difference between this violence and all others. It also conveniently keeps the focus on the extremist threat (whether real or imagined) while sidelining what to me seems a far more urgent issue: infighting and bloodshed within Mali’s military.

Treating the ‘Mali conflict’ as the product of outside insurgents trying to topple a state plays into some very convenient rhetoric about this intervention. It also overlooks the fact that there are deeper fractures in the Malian state. A coup in capital precipitated the conflict that followed. Intervening against the outsiders, and chasing them to the borders of the state may make for a rapid victory, but it does nothing to address one of the root issues of the conflict, nor to acknowledge the full range of violence at work.

Don’t worry everyone, it’s a success (according to France)

1 Feb

I wanted to keep our conversation over the French intervention in Mali going as we head into the weekend. My colleague and co-blogger Phil recently posted a great blog post on what a successful intervention in Mali should look like. Well, as of this week, it appears France’s answer is: ‘What we just did for the past three weeks’. This Aljazeera article reports how Jean-Yves le Drian, France’s defense minister, declared the intervention to be a success following the recapturing of key posts in northern Mali, essentially returning the North to Malian hands. Phil’s post and subsequent comments raised questions of the success of a military intervention, as well as the rhetoric surrounding the crisis in Mali. My comment got too long, so here we are.

I think that a successful intervention was always going to be the point at which the rebels no longer held any legitimate posts in Mali, after which security of these locations would be passed into the hands of the Malian army or perhaps ECOWAS. And as we know, interventions can still be deemed as “successful” without consideration for the aftermath, whether that aftermath is confined to post-conflict reconstruction, DDR of armed forces, development or restoration of electoral processes, etc. (“‘We’ll see’ said the Zen master…”). The 1994 US intervention in Haiti was seen as a success at the time, due to a swift execution of military goals. The subsequent failure of Haiti to recover from the electoral conflict that merited the intervention lingers to this day. So it appears ‘success’ is a difficult label to place on an intervention like this.

I have spoken with colleagues who have friends and family in and around Mali, and it seems that life is slowly looking like it may return to normal. But I think “What now?” is the question on everyone’s minds. In order to prevent an armed rebellion from recurring in Mali’s future, the root causes of the conflict must be addressed. These causes are grounded in flawed political representation that seems all too common in African nations, where you have the core of state power at one geographical end of the country and millions of people failing to garner sufficient representation (many are outright neglected) at the periphery of the nation (look at strife in Sudan, Uganda, DRC, etc.). Karen Jacobsen (2002)* discusses how governments can extend the reach of their legitimacy by serving those in the periphery, but how often is this the case?

The Aljazeera piece posted above illustrates how just because the armed groups have been defeated, does not mean that the northern territory dubbed Azawad by its recently fallen captors will be represented in Malian politics any more than it was prior to the past year. Political solutions are required that bridge the divide between North and South. So what if this fails to happen? Will anyone outside of Northern Mali notice? Yoweri Museveni’s seizure of power from an Acholi-led government in Uganda led to the formation of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in the north, who have claimed to fight for the entire northern region of the country ever since (note to rebel groups: if you want regional support, don’t kidnap everyone’s children). Those in Northern Uganda still feel underrepresented by the government in the south. If this remains the case in Mali, what comes next?

The rhetoric behind the intervention has also been debated around The League. I’ll quote our colleague Evan, who brought up an interesting point:

Does anyone else think its odd, hilarious, or devastating that no news media, not even the Huffington Post (from as far as I can tell), is even questioning why the French are intervening in Mali? Its just taken as a given that France was a colonial power of the region, and sure they still have strong economic ties to the area, but that has nothing to do with it, its because the Islamic radicals must be stopped and its France’s turn this time around. Every news source just says, “violent Islamic extremists,” and we are all programmed to think, “oh okay their the bad guys from Mordor, lets get em!” But seriously I want to ban the phrase “Islamic extremists” because it eliminates all debate or discussion around the causes of an event and we are lead to believe that “these people” are crazy fanatics who can not be understood through rationality. I really don’t know who to be more angry at, governments who use the military as an instrument to protect the economic interests of their corporations, the media for completely giving up trying to inform the public of whats going on, or us, the public, who allow this to happen because no one has invented a convenient app on our iphones to “change things.”

I think Western media outlets certainly relish the use of “Islamic extremists” as a means of summing up the nature of armed groups in northern Mali. It is a quick, newly-unambiguous term that resonates in the minds of media consumers. Start talking about Ansar Dine or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or the Tuareg people or the MNLA and readers will tune out (though the ‘Al Qaeda’ bit has certainly seemed to have some effect); say “Islamic extremists” and you’ve got their attention. It is a deplorable exploitation of short attention spans and limited curiosity in the 21st Century, but it’s also nothing new. The term “communist” could have carried just as much vehemence amongst Western media consumers in the second half of the 20th Century. Different day, different common enemy.

Evan brings up a good point regarding mankind’s separation of ourselves from the proverbial ‘Other.’ This sort of rhetoric is exactly what will prevent foreign powers from taking a more serious and concerted role in sustainable political solutions between the North and South in Mali. As Phil points out, the mentality behind these interventions always seems to be one of “We must do something; we will worry about the consequences of our actions later.” When France went in to Mali, Hollande was able to wave the flag of anti-extremism that essentially served as a free pass to intervene. I personally am not well versed in French politics, but I gather that this move was partly a political play in order for Hollande to establish himself as a firm leader who is not afraid to act when interests may be at stake. Or perhaps it truly was a moral imperative to end the abuses of human rights in Mali and stop the rebel groups before their reach extended too far. Or perhaps it was to fulfill some neo-colonial sense of responsibility to protect Mali that is embedded in the French political conscience. Regardless, the intervention was carried out, and is winding down.

But moving forward, without internationally recognized efforts to reconcile the differences between North and South, this intervention may prove to have further bifurcated the political, cultural and religious differences in Mali that led to the advance of rebels in the first place – alienating the ‘Other’ even more without heeding their needs and their right to pursue their own lives the way they wish to live them. What we seem to be faced with today is a global narrative that dictates that Islamic rule is toxic to modernity, and that the two are irreconcilable. I thought this narrative would dissipate post-Bush administration, but it seems to be alive and well today, and has certainly fueled the support for this intervention. I think this is a foolish narrative that must be reconsidered. So, with the right support and the appropriate attention paid, could Mali prove to be the breeding ground for a new understanding across political, cultural and religious divides?

In this blogger’s humble opinion, probably not. But wouldn’t that be nice?


*Jacobsen, K. (2002). Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African statebuilding. Journal of Modern African Studies. 40(4). 577-596.