The conflict the West fears most in northern Africa could ignite
the region unless action is taken to attack its roots, says a top
United Nations aid official.
“The fighting in Mali isn’t a short-term issue,” said David
Gressly, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel.
“There has to be a plan. There are
deeper issues in the region, beyond the rebellion. There is
malnutrition, drug trafficking, a lack of development, governance
problems. Even if this crisis is temporarily resolved, the
international community must look at the longer term", he said.
On Tuesday, France’s defense minister said it was
too early to pull out French troops, who are still engaged in
“very violent fighting” in the mountains of northern Mali.
now at the heart of the conflict,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL
France has spent $133 million to help Mali’s government
drive out Islamists who occupied the north of the impoverished
Meanwhile, the U.S. denounced Iyad Ag Ghali, head of the militant
group Ansar Dine, as a “global terrorist,” and added him to its
international sanctions list.
Ag Ghali, who is linked with Al
Qaeda’s North Africa wing, led a takeover of northern Mali in
January 2012, but has retreated to the mountainous area near the
Civilians have suffered most in the conflict in
which more than 430,000 people have been displaced, and more than
170,000 have fled to equally poor neighbouring countries. It’s the
second of two rapid-fire crises, Gressly said, with the conflict
coming on the heels of a major drought that left people all across
the country food-deprived, including 500,000 in the north.
“The harvest was quite good last year, so things have improved —
but the situation is very dynamic,” he said in a phone interview,
adding that it was crucial to get food and aid to displaced people
quickly before there is a resurgence of fighting in areas where
the Islamists had been driven out.
“The biggest concern is
asymmetrical (guerrilla) warfare, which could disrupt humanitarian
assistance. Where access may exist today, it may be gone
Criminal gangs and militias who make money from the
drug trade have a stake in keeping the conflict on the boil.
According to the UN and a Ghana-based commission investigating the
impact of drug trafficking in West Africa, the situation in Mali
is a “wake-up call” that lawlessness could escalate.
commission’s head, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo,
called northern Mali a “den of drug trafficking, extremism and
After a coup last year weakened Mali’s central government, and
weapons streamed across North Africa from post-Gadhafi Libya, the
region has become dangerously vulnerable to criminality and
terrorism, analysts warn.
“There are three major elements needed
now: a resolution of the issue in the north that is politically
inclusive; a broader political solution to the crisis in (the
Malian capital) Bamako after the coup; and long-term development,” Gressly
“Even in areas of government
control, high rates of malnutrition are hampering development, and
we could see another crisis developing if there’s a serious food
The UN has called for $373 million
to help Mali through its current crisis in 2013, but so far has
received only $17 million. Canada has pledged an additional $13
million in aid for Mali.