SENATOR Iroegbu’s story in ThisDay, the Sunday Newspaper captioned Mali: British Defence Chief Visit Nigeria, Pledges Support reveals the difference between European’s interest in Africa and Nigeria’s interest in Africa.
The UK Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. (Sir) David Richard in his discussion with his Nigerian counterpart Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim spoke unguardedly about his government security priorities in the world, Africa and Nigeria.
“He said Mali presents many challenges, but it is vital “that we resolve this issue for peace in the region and specifically in your interest too.
We will give you 150 per cent support; we have to be transparent in whatever we do. My discussion with my Prime Minister before coming here is that Britain as a whole is very committed to resolving this crisis. It is vital and in our national interest that we get it right.”
The defence chief continued: “After Afghanistan, Mali is the immediate imperative. It is important we resolve this threat of Mali especially for the sake of the African continent and the well being of Nigeria and in doing this, I must say transparency should be a key factor.
I believe as we draw down from Afghanistan, we will have more resources to support the efforts in the region (we) will come and train you… play football matches, whatever you wish and for the long term, not just in Mali, we are planning to come back to the region but before that we have to get Mali right”.
Richard said he was in the country to meet to discuss and identify areas of strength on the part of Nigerian and British Armed Forces in order to identify critical areas of support either in the future or regarding the Mali challenge.
Recognition of Nigerian war efforts
As we juxtapose the views of the Nigerian CDS on the meaning of Sir Richard’s consultation with him, it becomes apparent that Mali means two different things to the two officials.
According to Iroegbu’s report, Ibrahim commended Sir Richards on his “recognition of Nigerian war efforts and expected support of the British government for Nigeria in tackling the terrorism in Mali and West African sub-region.
“Your prompt decision to come and identify with us over the troublesome situation in Mali which is a cause for concern to nations in the sub-region, is appreciated and together, the challenge would be surmounted”.
Ibrahim also noted that even though the Africa-led intervention force in Mali is having an upper hand over the Islamic terrorists in Mali, he foresees the Nigerian troops could be there for one year in order to monitor the post crisis Mali because of her leadership responsibility in the sub-region”.
Admiral Ibrahim and General Richard are enunciating two different policies on Mali while they present their policies as complementary. Sir Richard announces that it is the position of the British Government that Mali is the immediate British African priority and that it is important that the UK supports a process that will “get it right” in Mali.
Thus the UK and the US Government have backed the French war in Northern Mali with logistics and intelligence resources. Getting it right in Mali has been the aim of the European support for the French. It is the French that have been waging the war in Northern Mali with Malian forces tagging along.
Sir Richard’s getting it right” in Mali can be read to be an approval for the strategy of supporting the unilateral decision of France “to get it right first” in Mali before the United Nations Resolution 2085 of an African led international deployment is effected.
Admiral Ibrahim is explicitly legitimizing the structuring of Resolution 2085 into two phases, the French phase and the ECOWAS phase. President Hollande and Vice President Joe Biden are in agreement on this restructuring of Resolution 2085.
However the course of the French war aimed at securing the territorial integrity of Mali may indeed end up in having Nigeria-ECOWAS Force assigned the more difficult task of combat with the Islamist Forces that have so far avoided ground war with the French.
Ibrahim may have under estimated the challenges of guerilla war with the Islamist who had defeated the Malian Forces and chased them out of Northern Mali. It will be better to make both wars, the second phase war of expelling the Islamist from the Sahel and the war of re-integration of Northern Mali into Mali one truly international effort.
This is all the more the case that the capture and occupation of Northern Mali is not a terrorist act but the developing of a base for international terrorist insurgency in Africa and outside of Africa. It is this threat of the Sahelian sub-region of ECOWAS becoming such a base that has to be eliminated. This is the French and the Western security interest in Mali. But Mali as a base is Nigeria’s and ECOWAS strategic interest.
The occupation of Northern Mali and its reconstitution as a part of a new state of Azawad is the worrisome fact- a fact of Islamist colonization of Northern Mali. When the Islamist attack and occupation of Diabally signaled a threat to Bamako, France intervened militarily to prevent the expansion of Azawad.
The United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS are yet to define the issue of Northern Mali as an issue of recolonization in Africa- an issue that is a threat to the international peace and security in Africa.
The French, UK and the US governments have on their mind the containment and elimination of Al-Quaeda. And Al-Quaeda has shown its preparedness and willingness to seek for a Sahelian Base in Africa for waging its international war against the West.
This is the larger importance of Mali and why it is strategically critical and vitae that Nigeria sees Mali in its two dimensions, as simultaneously a global and as well an African issue.