Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, president of the West African nation Mali since 2013, reportedly was overthrown yesterday by elements of his country’s U.S.-trained army.
The key issue from the American point of view is whether this latest West African coup, if it succeeds, will facilitate or hamper the continuing banditry in Africa’s vast Sahel. Successive U.S. administrations since Bill Clinton’s have insisted it matters to our overall security, as well as the continent’s.
The logic is that a more stable sub-Saharan Africa is good for — for what, exactly? USAID promotes gender equality and trans-sex “rights” in countries where once our main “development” agency was concerned with roads, rail, and resource usage.
It is certainly true that the destabilization of black Africa (basically everything south of the Sahara, the great sand sea of which the Sahel is the shore) by Islamist crazies would be a nuisance. Islamist radicals, sometimes with funding from political organizations or even states in the Arab Middle East, make deals with local tribes who lost out in the post-colonial arrangements. The result is misery for many. They emigrate to France, Italy, sometimes Texas.
Our Africa Command (AFRICOM), American boots and strategic minds in Africa, has sought to engage the bad guys in small operations, while training African militaries in doing the job themselves. Mali has been a case study in the limitations of this approach.
President Keita, known as IBK, won the presidential election of 2013, which followed a coup against an American favorite, Amadou Toumani Touré, who managed to escape to Guinea as an American-trained junior officer was closing in on him.
Reelected in 2018, Keita is, according to reports that few if any American reporters — including this one — have verified on the ground, variously a corrupt African Big Man or, and with no necessary contradiction, an opponent of alleged corruption in the higher ranks of the Mali military, including participating in transport and transmission services of narcotics from South America to Europe.
According to a source who insists on anonymity but is well attuned to coups in this part of the world, it scarcely matters because the Malian military is composed of morons who cannot defend their country. This judgment is harsh, but it is derived from hard experience.
Mali has been a strategic goal of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa) since at least 2011. Qaeda involvement in ancient tribal grievances in northern (north of the Niger River) Mali very nearly led to the conquest of Bamako, Mali’s capital, in 2012. At the time, the U.S. Embassy, backed by the State Department, refused to acknowledge that a model student in democratic nation-building was reeling under an Islamist-manipulated tribal war. However, it did not deny that airlifted French troops threw the invaders back across the river.
Aided by the finest desert fighters in the region, crack troops of Chad’s motorized fusilleurs (infantry), the French intervention stopped the assault at the outskirts of Bamako and took the war into the savannah on the northern bank of the Niger. Our gallant French allies were crucially aided by troops under the command of a legendary Tuareg soldier, Col. Ag Gamou, who remained uniquely loyal to the rule of law in Mali, and daredevil USAF pilots who flew arms and supplies into the northern city of Kidal besieged by fanaticized bandits.
The latter came close to eliminating Mali as a post-colonial state. They had ample arms pilfered from the arsenals of Moammar Qaddafi, whom we were busy destabilizing under the genius strategic guidance of Max Boot and other nation-building armchair Liddell Harts.
The Malians, notwithstanding a rich musical and literary tradition — the northern city of Timbuktu was a legendary center of learning and a repository of treasures until the Qaeda sickos ransacked it and forced its women into s*x slavery — are a peaceful people. However, the quarrels in Bamako between military and civilians occupy more of their alleged elites’ time than the fight against Arab–Qaeda barbarism.
The election of IBK in 2013 was supposed to prove that our “democracists” were vindicated. But the president and the country’s top brass, rather than take that cue, have spent most of the past decade arguing about how to divvy up the spoils of being a French and American client, while French Foreign Legionnaires and their Chadian rifles policed the wild dunes and oases in the north after they took back Timbuktu and Kidal.
The Tuareg and their Qaeda allies hide out in the dunes while an Afro-French intervention force keeps them at bay. The Malian grunts, with basic training from USAFRICOM professionals but little follow-up, chafe under the understandable sense that they are pawns in a game played with their lives — fighting savage desert tribesmen on short rations, basically, while the brass and the pols in Bamako live it up and humor American embassy types lecturing them on gay rights.
The French, notes the same regional source who prefers to remain anonymous but who is a keen and experienced observer of coups in this region, will be cold and ruthless; order will be restored and their mining interests protected. Other events will be episodic, anecdotal almost. But at least this means it is unlikely that Timbuktu will again fall into the hands of barbarians with unkempt hair.
Thus, for now it is not surprising to get reports from Bamako that the coup against President Keita was applauded. If he is shot by a noncom at a military base, he will be mourned insincerely. If he returns to power, he will be cheered as a savior of democracy.
The generals and the pols, regardless of what their troops and their nominal constituents want, will secure the South America-to-Europe narcotics traffic. Maybe the French, and the African Union, will insist on a return to civilian control, with or without IBK. The U.S Embassy will see to it that the interests of greater diversity in Mali are not forgotten.