Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Malian Crisis: A golden chance for Algerian Geopolitics

With the situation in Mali progressing slowly towards a certain resolution that will be dictated by French military might, it becomes clear that what ought to be pondered is no longer the potential defeat or success of the intervention in Northern part of the country, but rather the future stakes that each regional and international player will bring back home. While French presence has been empowered more than ever by a loyal and grateful Malian government, Algeria on the other hand is still on the crossroads of defining its future role in Mali.

The Malian stability cannot in any way be guaranteed by a short term military intervention, and the French support of today may no longer be an option given the growing reluctance of the public opinion to afford another burden on the national economy, or to indulge in another armed conflict. The guarantor of Malian stability will with no doubt be Algeria, the regional player that has long been at the vanguard of anti terrorism in the Sahel region. With such responsibility comes a great deal of advantage, an advantage that Algiers knows well can be exploited to enhance its influence and reach not only in the Sahel, but also in the Sub-Saharan region all while accommodating French interests.

What the Malian crisis has shown is that the Malian military are far from being fully equipped to handle the challenges posed by domestic threats. The inability of the central government to provide security and stability throughout the vast territory accounts for a blatant lack of personnel and logistics among police forces and military troops. On the other hand, Algeria, the oil rich neighbor “most likely was the biggest military spender in Africa in 2009 and is the world’s ninth largest importer of weapons”. Moreover, Algeria’s military budget accounted this year for 10.3 Billion $ worth of equipment to modernize the military and boost security capabilities.[1]

Instead of letting French presence shape the regional politics and military agendas in Mali, Algeria is far more concerned with dictating terms on its borders through influencing its neighbor by the provisioning of support and military assistance. The French presence in Mali might seem like a much welcomed initiative, yet as the urgency of the security threats in Mali fades down, the French troops and intrusion will turn into a target of criticism, speculation and even confrontation given the social, religious and political environment surrounding the region’s state of affairs.
In order to enforce its agenda on Malian soil, Algeria will have to distance Paris and Bamako, creating an ideological rift that will make future support of Bamako relevant to the absurd. The way to go about such maneuver is to play the imperialism card, both on a domestic level and on a regional one.

Algerian diplomacy ought to conduct extensive talks with Malian authorities in order to warn them from a potential attempt by Paris to set foot in the region for exploitation purposes. As Mali’s resources are being slowly tapped into, and as the revenue from gold mining reaches new records due to the financial setbacks in the EU economy, it becomes a plausible theory that French presence is motivated by resources agreements and predatory agendas, a theory Algerians know all too well how to shape given the years of antagonistic politics they engaged Paris in.
The currency French authorities have on the table is military coverage and security provision, a currency quite affordable in Algerian soil. Thus, using a regional security umbrella pioneered by Algerian troops will uproot any need for French presence. Algeria has multiple incentives to engage in such scheme, from geopolitical ambitions for expansion and influence, to security advantages since it will have the ability to go after AQMI deep in Sahel soil.

On another note, Algeria has all to win from establishing itself fiercely in the Sahel due to the increasing popularity of Touareg dissidences. Given the precarious nature of ethnical distribution in Algeria, it is all too probable that revolts and proclaimed partial independence in the Sahel might fuel similar ambitions in Algeria, a prospect that the central government in Algiers has been combatting for decades now. A greater presence in the Sahel using Mali as a springboard will allow greater monitoring of rebellious movements and quicker responses to crisis before they extend to proportions that are threatening Algerian national security in its military and social aspects.

Finally, establishing itself as the primary player in the Sahel, Algeria gains de facto the role of the point contact in any initiatives including western interaction with the Sahel and Sub Saharan Africa. This gives any nation great leverage in shaping and dictating terms on the table of negotiations, in influencing the flow of trade and natural resources exploitation and in gaining benefits from future economic incursions by the US, EU or China in the rich mineral market of the Sahel.

[1] Algeria Increasing Military Spending, Defence Web, http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28518&Itemid=118