Proving that no supposedly good deed goes unpunished, the ousting of Gaddafi has arguably led to further security problems across the Sahel as new revolutionary groups are emerging in the months following the end of the Libyan uprising, thanks in large part to an almost never ending supply of weapons. Underscoring just how widespread this problem is, on 26 January 2012, the UN released a report indicating that militant groups in Africa’s Sahel region, including Nigerian-based Islamic terror organisation, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), now have access to thousands of arms that are thought to have originated from the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s vast weapons caches. The Inkerman Group already noted this problem back in October 2011, as reports indicated that at least 10,000 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) had made their way across the Sahel, whilst other weapons from Libya were spotted as far away Somalia. Just how problematic the fall of Gaddafi is for the security of Africa still remains to be seen. Nevertheless, his ouster has already had unintended consequences in Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania, as nomadic tribes, who previously fought alongside the Libyan dictator thanks to his years of support, are now wreaking havoc across the region.
Perhaps the most infamous result of the Gaddafi’s ouster has been the proliferation of Tuareg militants, a group which is proving especially menacing in the region, having already attacked cities across northern Mali after acquiring thousands of Gaddafi arms, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Straddled between two worlds, including that of the Arab north and the black African south, the Tuaregs are a nomadic people whose way of life has been destroyed thanks to globalisation. For all his flaws, Gaddafi perhaps understood the difficulties faced by the Tuareg people, and tried to win their favour by lavishing them with gifts, jobs and political support whilst he was in power. During the uprising, he also offered them salaries in return for their military assistance. Sources indicated that as many as 800 Tuaregs fought alongside Gaddafi’s forces, however, most of them stopped fighting before the regime fell when it became apparent that they would no longer be paid for their efforts. Now that he is no longer in power, the Tuaregs are essentially left without a home or a means for financial assistance, and as such, have turned to kidnapping and terrorist attacks across Mali. Boosted by Gaddafi’s weapons, the Tuaregs have a new found confidence and have launched a new movement, National Pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), which calls for the establishment of an independent state including the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu in northern Mali. In a frightening development, at least 1000 Tuareg militants are thought to be in possession of as much weaponry as that of the Malian army. The weapons have apparently given confidence to Mali rebels who have started attacking military bases, whilst witnesses have spotted the militants hoisting their colours in northern towns as they cry “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great”. Tuareg rebels also have their sites on Kidal, and the city continues to remain on high alert after rebels threatened to take over the city.
This situation is not just scary for Malians, in an almost domino-like effect, the attacks in Mali have negatively impacted Niger and Mauritania as the deteriorating security situation has forced some 15,000 Mali citizens away from conflict-ridden Mali towns such as Ménaka and Anderamboucane into Tillabéri into western Niger, an area already suffering from chronic food shortages, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Western Niger’s small village of Chinegodar, located ten kilometres (six miles) from the border, is especially hard hit by the influx of Malian refugees. Villagers are saying that their community, which normally houses some 1,600 residents, has now seen its only source of water, a local well, run dry after more than 6,000 people from Mali moved into the area in less than one month. Meanwhile, some refugees say they have not eaten for days and are growing impatient waiting for aid.
Such news has forced various NGO’s to call attention to the plight of the people across the Sahel. In a statement released last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), stated that the “humanitarian consequences of the violence in the north of Mali are further straining a part of the Sahel that was already hard hit by recurrent droughts and food crises”. Meanwhile, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mauritania, said that 10,000 people from Mali, mostly women and children, have fled to Mauritania. Such news is raising alarms among local governments, who believe that the massive influx of Malian refuges may spur unrest as thousands struggle to feed themselves, indicating that perhaps Gaddafi’s removal, whilst it may have been good in the long term for Libya, may not have been a positive move elsewhere in Africa.
The Way Ahead:
Although there are many African leaders who have tried to downplay the risks posed to the Sahel in the wake of the ousting of Gaddafi, with Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou recently saying that Tuaregs are not as threatening as the media would have people believing. Issoufou, for his part, says that Tuaregs in his country have risen up against the Nigerien Government several times before, and his country is prepared to deal with them again. “We’ve made a lot of effort and put in place a vast program of economic and social development in the northern zones,” Issoufou said. Even the old heads of the rebellion are part of putting this programme in place”. Despite his assertions, going forward, the aftermath of the Libyan uprising looks likely to negatively impact Africa for years to come, especially as analysts are suggesting that the entire region could be under threat from the outpouring of weapons following the Libyan conflict, including Chad, and as far away as Uganda, two countries where Gaddafi had backed revolts.
(Image: World News.com)