Pros and Cons: Mali is in the middle of a civil war, but is it Canada’s war?

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

For more than a year, conflicts between the central government and Islamist factions in Northern Mali have threatened the country’s stability. The French army has already offered their aid, and Canada has also sent in a C-17 transport plane to help in anyway possible. Should Canada do more to help war-torn Mali? The response has been very controversial, indeed.

Mali needs our help, and we must respond

by George Menexis

The situation in Mali has worsened in the past few weeks. Although I’m sure sending in a C-17 transport plane was extremely useful, Canada has a responsibility to do more in order to preserve peace, not only in Mali, but in the surrounding countries as well.

Kyle Matthews is the senior deputy director of the Will to Intervene Project at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University. He believes Canada not only should have a bigger role in Mali, but that there is no choice in the matter.

“There’s something called the Responsibility to Protect, which is an international agreement that was put forward by Canada in 2005, that states when a country is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from mass atrocity crimes, such as crimes against humanity, then the international community must step in,” said Matthews.

The situation in Mali is worsening day by day. The Islamist militants the government is trying to fight have made living in Northern Mali a living hell. They’ve imposed a tough stance of the Sharia law. According to CNN, “the Islamists banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television. They also destroyed historic tombs and shrines.”

These extremists cannot be allowed the leeway of gaining more ground in Mali. This, according to Matthews, could lead to their moving into neighbouring countries.

“The Canadian government is waking up to the fact that this is not just an issue that’s going to stay in Mali, but can actually morph into a transnational terror threat that can impact Canada and the West in general’s economic interests.”

Matthews also stated that the Canadian army’s ability to speak French is a key factor to the training of African soldiers. Italian, German, and American aid can only go so far.

We can only hope that Defence Minister John Baird makes the decision, sometime this week, to further aid Mali. Canada’s French and Malian ambassadors have publicly said that they expect more help from our country, further pressuring the government to make a final decision.

In recent news, the C-17s will be staying in Mali until Feb. 15, which is indeed good news. Canada has the means and the opportunity to do so much more though. With more resources and expertise than the Malian army, their input could provide enormous support.

In the media lately, there has been many negative comments in response to Canada’s intervention in Mali, notably, award-winning journalist John Fisk who told Postmedia News: “does anybody really think these [militants] in the desert, that they’re really going to show up with a nuclear bomb in downtown Toronto? I don’t think so.”

That’s not the point, John. The point is that Canada has a responsibility to ensure the people of Mali have a future, and we should do so in anyway possible.

Why Canada should stay out of Mali

by Athena Tacet

On Jan. 10, former colonial power France decided to intervene to support the local government after interim president Dioncounda Traoré publicly asked for assistance to liberate the country from rebels.

France acted unilaterally, “which does little to help the country escape from its ‘colonial master’ image held by some in francophone Africa,” said Dr. Monika Thakur, political science professor at Concordia University. But according to Dr. Peter J. Stoett, also a political science professor at Concordia, France decided to do so to protect Mali’s government and because it was concerned about repercussions in North Africa.

As for Canada, it’s another story. The country has focused on diplomatic solutions, humanitarian assistance and logistical support. Nevertheless, it’s not Canada’s place to intervene with air strikes or troops on the ground.
“The French have the situation well in hand at this point,” said Dr. Stoett.

Unfortunately, the complexity of Mali’s unrest creates the risk for this war to last longer than expected, as it has often been the case in the past. On Jan. 22, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar called for an extension of the Canadian mission in Mali proving that small deployments often lead to greater interventions.

“French troops will be in Mali for only ‘several weeks’, [French President François] Hollande and his cronies tell us. … Isn’t that what the Israelis said when they marched into Lebanon in 1982 and stayed for another 18 years?” wrote Robert Fisk in an article published on Jan. 18, in The Independent.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has so far remained cautious about sending troops into conflict in a country where it’s difficult to prove that Canada’s national interests are at risk. The spectre of Kandahar is still present, particularly after five years of combat which killed 149 Canadian soldiers.

Finding an argument to justify foreign intervention is even more difficult given that the reasons behind France’s involvement in Mali’s affairs are not completely transparent.

“Mali’s entire military intervention is deeply flawed from its inception to execution,” said Thakur.

And believing that foreign intervention is necessary to protect the West from possible terrorist threats is oversimplifying the complexity of the picture. Have the wars on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan legitimately reduced the terrorist threat or have they conversely fueled it?

Contrary to common thought, Mali has often been praised for its democratic system, especially after being one of the first African countries to adopt the multi-party system in 1992. Although the Republic was never geopolitically strong in the continent, its natural resources made it the third-largest gold producing country in Africa.

According to a statement by the Canadian Peace Alliance published on Jan. 15, “The real reason for NATO’s involvement is to secure strategic, resource rich areas of Africa for the West. Canadian gold mining operations have significant holdings in Mali as do many other western nations.”

Let’s consider all the reasons behind Canada’s involvement.

As for the re-establishment of a democratic regime, not only will it take some time, but it will also require a serious political reconstruction from within.

“The long-term problem will be how to restore legitimacy to the government in Mali and, again, avoid the spectre of a French occupation,” said Stoett.

Economic, social and political development is the only element that will guarantee long-term stability and prosperity. For now, Canada’s military intervention will not effectively address Mali’s underlying security issues. It’s a Malian issue and, while it may be a French one, it’s certainly not a Canadian one.

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