OpEd: Why Canada should stay out of Mali

Athena Tacet | Print Coordinator

74427_688518226805_1414639_38722722_1667567_nMali is in the middle of a civil war. But, it isn’t Canada’s war.

For more than a year, conflicts between the central government and Islamist factions in Northern Mali including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi) and the Touareg-led Ansari Dine, have threatened the country’s stability. Last January 10, former colonial power France decided to intervene to support the local government after President Dioncounda Traoré publically 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, 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 the place of Canada 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. Last January 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. “Canada will only be in Mali for a week.” “Isn’t that what the Israelis said when they marched into Lebanon in 1982 and stayed for another 18 years? Isn’t this what we thought when we invaded Afghanistan?” said Robert Fisk in an article published on January 18, in The Independent.

 Prime Minister Harper has so far remained cautious about sending troops into a 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 Dr. 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 multiparty 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 January 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.” So let’s think about the real reasons behind Canada’s involvement.

As for the reestablishment 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 Dr. 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; it may be a French one. But it’s certainly not a Canadian one.

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