Today, Mali; Tomorrow, Nigeria for al-Qaida

The U.K. Times' Richard Dowden examines "what went wrong" in Mali and what it means for the rest of Africa.  

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Richard Dowden, writing for the U.K.'s Times newspaper, examines "what went wrong" in Mali and what it means for the rest of Africa. 

From being a blank spot on the map, the Sahara now looks like a springboard for the advance of militant Islam. 

Until recently Mali was famous only for its music and for Timbuktu -- our nickname for nowhere. Suddenly the French are invading this huge, poor, sparsely populated, landlocked African country, much of which is empty desert. Britain is helping them (if we can get our aircraft to fly).

Just a couple of years ago Mali was held up by Western aid donors as a success. It had been relatively democratic since the Malians overthrew a dictatorship in 1992. And despite being poor -- its main earners are gold and cotton -- it functioned better than many of its neighbours. But last March there was a coup and now its Government is ineffective. What went wrong?

First, the Government was not in fact as good as the donors proclaimed. Basking in Western aid and praise, it became complacent, corrupt and did not deliver development, especially in the poor North of the country. Sensing discontent among the population, a young army captain, Amadou Haya Sanogo, seized power last year. Although he was forced to accept a civilian president and prime minister and prepare the country to return to democratic rule, he remains a powerful but unaccountable player.

Second, the North of the country, the Sahara desert, has been home to Salafist rebels pushed out from Algeria in the late 1990s and targeted by militant Islamist movements inspired and funded by Saudi Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalists, preaching jihad against the West.

Read Richard Dowden's entire piece at African Arguments.

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