At the beginning of the year we pointed out that some hold the view that China is on a “collision course” with radical Islamic militants in both the Middle-East and across North Africa. This analysis emerged in the aftermath of the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in November last year where around 170 hostages were taken by the militants and 19 were killed in a mass shooting – among them prominent Chinese officials. Jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun has since claimed responsibility for the assault which it carried out in co-operation with al-Qaeda. Unsure how China would deal with what could be interpreted as a targeted attack on their ambitious plans in Africa, the world speculated on how they would respond. It appears that a slow, shaky collision has begun. China has steadily built up its UN peacekeeping contingent in Mali since the attack and in December passed its first piece of ‘counter-terrorism’ legislation allowing that allows its military to venture overseas on counter-terrorism operations. With violence in Mali spreading, the conflict in the north of the country has now taken the life of its first Chinese peacekeeper and injured five others, two of them seriously. Ansar Dine has claimed responsibility for this particular attack.
So why is China getting involved in the first place? Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has spoken publicly about his view that China is both a positive force for peace and development in his home country. It is generally assumed you cannot have one without the other and therefore the argument usually follows that, even when looked at cynically, China has simply positioned its troops in Mali to better secure its investments there. Now, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a very good way to kick-start economic recovery and development so there is every chance that this arrangement can be just as beneficial for Mali as it is for resource-thirsty China. However there are no guarantees that the benefits of any infrastructural, commercial or industrial investments will trickle down to the local population. When social, political and environmental consequences are factored in this kind of arrangement can easily become highly detrimental to the host population.
Surely all foreign investors – not just the Chinese – have any interest in bringing peace to Mali? Well its appears that the powers that be have found a way to make the risk profitable. Not wanting to get into lengthy detail about the ins and outs of investing in Mali, one could assume that the presence of the war in the country would be enough to most people off. Despite this and the proliferation of the conflict throughout Mali over the past year or so a $67 million investment in a gold mine was made this week giving the project in Yanfolia near the Guinea border the green light. Arguably, the conflict is still overwhelmingly centred in the north of the country with the north/south divide more prevalent than ever. It is therefore difficult to ascertain whether the conflict has actually diminished, with the associated investment risks going with it, or that stability and reconstruction are now unnecessary and costly precursors to resource extraction. If the financial benefit for the international community is no longer inhibited by war what interest do they have in pursuing peace?
Of course, the war must stop and Vieux Farka Touré made this statement the focus of his song “Kele Magni” which translates roughly as “the war must stop” or “the war is no good”. Back in The Financial Times documented Vieux’s Queen Elizabeth Hall performance back in September 2013. Then the mood was triumphant; Vieux like many Malians was celebrating the success and assuming the finality of the French military intervention. As David Honigmann reported at the time:
“”War’s not good,” [Vieux Farka Toure] noted, introducing “Kele Magni”; “now they’ve stopped the war.” And appropriately the song, on record contemplative, here bounced with bass and drums in a joyous celebration.”
It has become apparent that the French did indeed stop the nation from collapsing. However despite a UN deployment and free-and-fair elections, three years on from Vieux’s declaration that the war was over violence is recurring and resurgent. Listening to it now the song becomes more a depressive plea; its been long, much too long. The war must end. In an interview in October 2013 Vieux descibes his hometown of Niafunke during the war and how he wrote songs like “Kele Magni” to fulfil his responsibility to “let people know” about what wass happening to their country. The radio interviewer describes the French defeat of the militant forces as a ‘rout‘. Unknowingly at the time this has become an apt portrayal. We now know that al-Qaeda and its patchworker of associate organisations was not a defeated after all, only withdrawn in disorder after sustaining heavy losses. It has been an opportunity for a change of tactics to a more wide-spread guerilla campaign – the one we see today.
So if the war must stop, who will stop it? We must have faith that there are people in Mali that are willing to fight for it. Its musicians always will. But who within all these foreign interventions? Amongst the Chinese MINUSMA peacekeepers was a soldier named Si Chongchang wounded whilst carring out his mission to bring stabilisation to the people and politics of Mali. Speaking from his hospital bed in Dakhar, it is perhaps right that he should have the last say: “When I recover, I hope to go back to join my comrades and finish what we started.” We must hope that in that mission, he is successful.
Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.
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