The crisis in Mali has been in the headlines recently, especially as our own nation is contributing to the effort to stop extremists in that country.
To begin with, it’s important to have a bit of background facts on the nation of Mali:
Mali is located in Northeastern Africa, and gained independence from France in 1960. It is the 66th most populous country in the world, with a population of over 15 million. Mali has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world: 54.73 years for women and 51.43 for men. As of 2013, Mali has 228,918 internally displaced persons.
From the above statistics, it is clear that Mali is a nation facing a difficult future. As if this wasn’t enough, Mali is now embroiled in a violent conflict between government-aligned forces and extremists with links to al-Qaeda.
This conflict has resulted because of a power vacuum in the leadership of Mali. This vacuum was created when military officers —angry at the government’s refusal to strike harder at Tuareg Rebels—performed a coup d’etat. This coup, while short-lived, provided an opening for extremists, which they seized to take over two thirds of Northern Mali – an area nearly twice as big as the United Kingdom.
Extremists cannot be allowed to gain the upper hand and impose an oppressive regime upon the innocent people of Mali. While much of the world has been throwing off the chains of tyranny or fighting for freedom as in Syria, Mali risks going in the other direction, backsliding into violence and terror.
Led by France, who formerly held Mali as a colony, some western nations are seeking to help the government of Mali fight against the extremists.
This is an important lesson: we cannot afford to be complacent about the state of the world. The advancement toward more freedom and democracy is not assured or automatic.
As the world has learned, if al-Qaeda-linked extremists are able to create a base in a failed state, the consequences may not be limited to that nation alone, and there is a concern that allowing terrorists to set up a base in Mali could potentially put all of us at risk.
After Iraq and Afghanistan, there is clearly a lessened desire among the western world for foreign intervention. However, as the Libyan experience showed—which included a significant and brave contribution by the Royal Canadian Air Force—there is still a need to protect innocent people from those who will do them harm, whether it be a rogue government in Libya’s case, or extremists in the case of Mali.
The people of Mali deserve to live in safety and security, for only then can they establish the foundation from which to build prosperity and hope for the future. Let us hope that the extremists can be defeated and the people of Mali can start on the path to rebuilding their society.
Spencer Fernando is the comment editor for the Manitoban.