That UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week applauded French military intervention in Mali underscores international concern about developments in that nation which occupies so revered a place in African history. Mali is, among other things, home to Timbuktu, the ancient seat of learning. Its fabled past resonates with names such as Sundiata and Mansa Musa, dear to the hearts of those in this country and elsewhere who celebrate ancient African glories.
At this time, however, "The country is calling for, and needs, our help," said Ban Ki-moon. On various fronts—military, humanitarian and political—the UN is rallying support to bring Mali back on its feet. The country's present predicament may be said to have begun with a military coup that destroyed such democratic government as it had enjoyed.
If Mali is not yet a political and economic basket case, it must be because it has attracted some timely international attention and assistance. Most pointedly, France, former colonial power in Mali, has deployed air power and ground forces to repudiate the hitherto unstoppable advances by a vicious strain of Islamic extremists.
In areas taken over by the Islamist forces, said to be linked to al Qaeda, a violently illiberal regime has been imposed, bearing resemblance to the experience of Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is against the spread of such a contagion that France has taken the initiative to arrest the decline of Mali into bleak recognition as a dangerously failed state.
So far, the French, identified with interests and also citizens in Mali, have received logistical support from the US and from Canada. But though commitments have been made, actual military contributions from neighbouring African countries have been slow in coming. Latest reports, however, have shown Malian troops, in alliance with the French, thrusting northward to retake strategic areas held by the Islamists.
Though Mali appears to be more than half a world away from the geopolitical space occupied by Trinidad and Tobago, public opinion here should identify the French intervention as something other than a modern-day imperialist thrust. UN support for the French action does indeed confer on it some special moral authority.
A country such as T&T obviously lacks resources to make a difference as needed militarily in Mali. At the same time, this country should hardly permit itself such luxury of self-absorption as to be unconcerned with or unaware of critical developments in other parts of the world. In this respect, the T&T government, through its Foreign Affairs Ministry, and its making use of its diplomatic reach, should make clear its support for the French-UN action dedicated to the urgent resuscitation of Mali.