When fundamentalist rebel forces overran the central Malian city of Konna on January 11, they sent shock-waves not only through Mali itself but through the international community as well. With Konna fallen, the path to the last remaining government-controlled military base in the region, in the town of Sevaré, looked clear. Having the only airstrip able to handle large transport aircraft apart from the capital, Bamako, rebel control of the base would have been a nightmare not only for the paralyzed Malian government, but also for large parts of the population, many of whom fear the harsh religious-inspired fundamentalist rule that the armed rebels have enforced over the last few months in northern Mali.
When France launched a large-scale military intervention to counter the rebel approach, much of the Malian population welcomed them. This is a fairly new sensation for France, whose military engagement on the continent has more often brought accusations of neo-colonialism rather than praise. However, while the French involvement is currently overwhelmingly supported by Malians, there is little basis for applause.
There is no doubt that the fall of Konna represented a dramatic escalation in this crisis. A further advance into Sevaré by fundamentalist fighters would have subjected many more people to conservative religious law against their will and could well have taken the country down a road of war and conflict that could consume it for years. But the fact is that France — together with regional governments organized through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and certain elements in the Malian society — single-mindedly sought out militarized “solutions” to the uprising in northern Mali almost since it began in January 2011. This approach ultimately created the “need” for France to involve itself violently...
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