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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Who's At The Door, Ebola or Al-Qaeda?

Links: A. French Troops Battle Terrorists In Northern Mali
           B. France Retaking Its Former Empire

You have to feel for the poor people of Mali.  The country is landlocked and would probably be a complete desert if it weren't for the Niger River.  Mali shares a border with Cote d'Ivoire
which, until recently, allowed Mali access to the second busiest port in West Africa (Dakar being first).  Unfortunately, in 2002 Cote d'Ivoire's turn came up on the African civil war Merry-Go-Round, which split the country between north and south and lasted until 2011.  The conflict has ended and Cote d'Ivoire has recovered in record time. The roads between Mali and Cote d'Ivoire are again full of trucks carrying goods between Bamako, Mali and the port of Abidjan; although, sadly the condition of the roads leaves a lot to be desired.  For roughly a decade Mali was solely dependent upon its road and rail (gulp!) links to the west: namely, Dakar, Senegal.  In 2012, Mali suffered through the Tuareg Rebellion.  The nomadic Tuareg people of northern Mali (Tuaregs are also present in southern Algeria and northern Niger), revolted in reaction to feeling marginalized by the government in Bamako and the mining activity, which they claimed damaged pastoral grazing lands.  It didn't take long for the world's favorite parasite, Al-Qaeda (in this incarnation, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb - AQIM), to join the rebellion alongside the Tuaregs.  Not surprisingly, AQIM quickly pushed the well-meaning Tuareg aside and began to threaten other interests (read: French) further south (which included the occupation of Tombouctou).  The French Army arrived in January 2013 and one month later the issue was resolved.  The French military has always come to a fight ready to win both quickly and completely.  I remember when the United States military carried the same reputation. 

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita,
President of Mali
The Tuareg Rebellion cost Malian President Amadou Toure his job; the transitional military government kept its word and respectably clean elections were held in August 2013.  Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was sworn in on September 4, and he has done a superb job to date.  The Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Liberia brought the attention of the world to west Africa.  Mali has a long border with both Guinea and Liberia, and given the state of Mali's infrastructure (and low international expectations), great concern was expressed that Mali would also suffer an outbreak.  President Keita put national sensitivities aside and asked the United States and Europe to send medical experts.  The International Red Cross (IRC) was already in place, and all necessary authority and support was given by the Malian Ministry of Health to facilitate the education and preparation of both cities and rural communities.  Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) arrived, as did the Center for Disease Control from Atlanta and the World Health Organization (WHO).  Mali already had capable, modern hospitals in Bamako and Sikasso, and the Center for Tuberculosis and AIDS Research (SEFERO).  Screening facilities and Isolation Units were set up at all border crossings and Ports of Entry.  Heeding the request made by President Obama, Mali has kept open its border posts with Liberia and Guinea (despite intense pressure put on President Keita from internal groups).  To date, Mali has registered only one positive case of Ebola, and that was the tragic instance of a now-deceased two-year old child from Guinea who was transported across the border by her grandmother after the death of her mother.  No doubt additional confirmed cases will occur, but all in all, Mali has set an example for other nations (not only third world) to follow when bordering a contagious viral outbreak.

Again, exhibiting a willingness to take advantage of every opportunity, AQIM has made its presence known again.  I've heard it said that after the nuclear apocalypse, the only things left alive will be cock roaches and Cher.  Well, lets add AQIM to the list.  These nasty, parasitic desert rats dug some deep tunnels to escape French and Malian justice, and now the resources of the government are tied up not only in combating the threat of Ebola, but also in trying to build a durable, functioning transportation network to support a growing economy.  Earlier in the year, the Chinese had come around, promising all sorts of goodies.  In fact, China and Mali had negotiated Chinese financial sponsorship of an $11 Billion new railway system to replace the existing rail to Dakar (built in 1884; last real servicing completed in 1924) and to build an entire new railway from Bamako to the port city of Conakry, Guinea.  Sadly, in the last few weeks the Chinese have started to hedge on their commitment, issuing a statement that discussions took place but no obligations were agreed upon.  Bullshit.  The Chinese economy has started to show signs of trouble, which would make reconsideration of expensive foreign projects only routine.  Eleven billion dollars is nothing to the Bank of China, but it could actually change the lives of 15 Million Malians.  What is my interest in this situation?  I love west Africa.  I'm half-French and I truly enjoy the Francophile community.  And everyone, who is willing to do their part, deserves an opportunity.

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