People of the Sahel caught between right-wing regimes & terror groups

The ‘butterfly effect’ is used to explain a complicated theory touching on mathematics and meteorology. It posits that the flap of the slender wings of a butterfly could create minuscule changes in the atmosphere that might ultimately be sufficiently enhanced to accelerate or delay a faraway tornado or alter its path. The idea might help explain recent dramatic events in the Sahel region of north Africa, notably the French military intervention in Mali and the murderous events at the In Amenas energy plant in south east Algeria.

Heavily armed Islamic fundamentalist groups relatively recently linked up with local groups in northern Mali at the beginning of 2012 and managed to take control of a number of towns. This panicked the Malian military. It panicked the French government and other western governments just as much because their economies source vital raw materials in Mali including uranium and gold.

In response to the French intervention – or so they said – heavily armed jihadists led among others by an experienced Algerian fighter, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, attacked the huge gas plan in In Amenas, taking hostage Algerian and foreign workers.

These stormy events in part can be traced to faraway Afghanistan over twenty years ago. Then the invasion by the Russian Stalinists and the response of the American CIA were more dramatic than the flutter of butterfly wings but their impact is still reverberating around the Muslim world.

The CIA financed the jihadi fighters who piled into Afghanistan including from north Africa to fight the Russian devils. Thus was born Alqaida, armed and trained by the agents of the USA. The same jihadists returned to their home countries after the Russianswere defeated but not to retire however. The overthrow of their own secular, often brutal, governments was now the objective to be replaced with the brutality of sharia law.

The groups that were spawned in Afghanistan visited atrocity upon atrocity on the people of Algeria in particular in the early ‘Nineties. The Algerian military were equally savage in putting down this threat to a regime that had become inept and corrupt. Just how ruthless is evident from the veteran journalist Robert Fisk when he wrote this week how Algerian intelligence dispatched its agents to Afghanistan to infiltrate the Mujaheddin groups there in order to gather intelligence for passing on to the the Russians with whom they were in alliance.

Fisk explains: ‘But when the Algerians came home, the army ordered their own men to remain undercover with the Islamist groups. So when the terrible civil war began, individual officers, to keep their cover, participated in the massacre of civilians. And thus they became contaminated by atrocities.’

Pity the poor people of Mali caught up in the tentacles of these forces. With 14.5 million people and a landmass 15 times the size of Ireland, Mali is one of the poorest countries on earth with many living in destitution. In the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties the structural Adjustment Programmes of the IMF forced wholesale privatisation of public services and enterprises as a price for loans. Multinational companies were the beneficiaries.

France sources a third of the uranium requirements for its nuclear power plants in neighbouring Niger. Along with uranium, gold, bauxite, manganese, tin and copper are some of the resources coveted by major powers such as the United States and China. That is why the United States has been developing its own strategic interests in the Sahel region something which the French are acutely aware. These were key factors in prompting the current intervention which is supported now by the EU.

Naturally the Irish government is falling into line behind the narrative about the intervention being in defence of democracy and human rights which were threatened by the Islamist groups. That might be more plausible if France hadn’t offered to send police to Tunisia at the end of 2010 to prop up the Ben Ali dictatorship there when it was tottering in front of the Arab Spring revolution.

The ruthless forces that contended in Afghanistan could find a basis for themselves in Algeria, Mali and elsewhere because of the alienation of sections of local populations impoverished under corrupt governments which facilitate the robbery of their resources by western capitalism and China. The Arab revolutions gave a glimpse of how ordinary people can exert their power. If the revolution continues and goes over to taking the wealth of the region and developing it democratically for the benefit of the big majority it could raise the sights of the desperate masses currently living in grinding poverty, state repression or left to the brutal methods of the jihadis. Even one significant movement that pointed in this direction could begin a new ‘butterfly effect’ but this time with consequences that would enormously enhance the lives of the masses rather than plunge them into the current murderous chaos.

The outcome of the Arab revolutions has shown that it is not enought to change the faces in government while leaving capitalism in power. Governments of the workers and the small landholders are necessary to implement the kind of socialist policies that would transform the region.