Mali, Minsk and Hong Kong
Mali is far away, both for the German public and for the opinion-makers in this country. The events in Belarus dominate the headlines of the media in Europe: accusations of vote rigging, popular protests against an autocratic ruler, demands for new elections or even the removal of the autocrat. Vladimir Putin is blamed for the conditions in Belarus, because he holds his protective hand over Lukashenko - according to the view of the West and its opinion-makers.
But all that is circulated by the Western media about Belarus and Putin applies just as much to the situation in Mali. “There had been mass protests against the now deposed President Boubacar Keta since June.” Where was the West’s support for the protesters in Mali, where the extensive coverage of the Western media? Unlike in Belarus, no millions went to support the opposition.
Mali’s citizens also “accused the president of manipulating the March and April parliamentary elections. This had already taken place in 2018, but was cancelled at the time for security reasons. When it was finally scheduled for 2020, the opposition candidate, Soumala Cissé, was deported just days before the election. Despite similar violations, which are strongly condemned in Belarus, the election result in Mali was nevertheless internationally recognized.
All this happened under the eyes of the Values West, which has been in the country for years with a strong military presence. It is not known that Western representatives had used their political weight in Mali to the extent that they were trying to respect the rule of law and civil rights, as is now being attempted for similar reasons in Belarus or Hong Kong. So the West held its hand over Keata as protectively as it is blamed on Lukashenko’s Putin.
China was met with unanimous outrage from the Western media when hong Kong’s elections were postponed for security reasons because of Corona. There has been criticism from all sides and new sanctions. When demonstrators stormed and devastated Hong Kong’s parliament in 2019, the Western press had a lot of sympathy for the demonstrators. The Chinese security forces, on the other hand, were strongly condemned for their “brutal” actions.
When demonstrators tried to storm parliament in Mali’s capital, Bamako, this year, “police and the military responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.” While a wave of indignation had been set in motion against China, nothing happened in Mali on a similar occasion, no outcry of outrage, no sanctions. Even the joint military operations with the Malian army continued unrestricted.
The situation in Mali and the Sahel as a whole is not easy to see through. This is partly because Western politics does not have much interest in reporting on events that might damage one’s own reputation and, moreover, perhaps cause unrest in one’s own society. Unlike in Belarus, Western states are active in Mali and the Sahel - and thus also partly responsible for the events there.
On the other hand, the Western media have little interest in topics from which no excitement or emotionalization can be inferred. Media, especially the private ones, live on the attention they can generate through excitement. This attracts interest from media consumers and pours money into the coffers. The more interest, the higher the circulation, the number of readers and thus the revenue from advertisements and calls.
However, the media’s lack of interest in Mali and the Sahel is also explained by the fact that most rapporteurs and commentators do not understand what is going on there. You can only explain what is happening in the Islamic world from the point of view of religious conflicts and Islamist terror. Processes that do not correspond to this pattern are either excluded or adapted to the prevailing view by new theories or “expert opinions”, which also make them more and more contradictory.
Most rapporteurs do not obtain their information from their presence on the ground, but receive it from third parties whose interests are not always clear, or from reports from news agencies that think similarly to themselves. This makes it difficult to look at the moods and developments in the affected societies without a bias.
When Peter Scholl-Latour reported on the Vietnam War, he was able to report first-hand from the VietKong camp for a week. He was in his jurisdiction and conducted interviews with his leader. These were authentic statements from officials on the other side. The Western media consumer could therefore hear from the mouth of the VietKong his views on what was happening and get a balanced picture, if he wanted to.
That is no longer possible today. The West, especially the US, has learned from the defeat in Southeast Asia. For the Vietnam War was lost to a considerable extent by the coverage of the atrocities of the Americans and the lies of their politicians at home. This has now been prevented.
Today, there are virtually no authentic reports and statements from the side that is being fought by the vest of values for the Western media consumer. All the reports he receives about what is happening in conflict zones are mediated by Western media and Western intelligence services.
For nearly 20 years, Western states in Afghanistan and other Islamic world states have been waging “war on terror.” The media consumer in this country has always received only the information and opinions that Western “terrorism experts”, Western news agencies, Western media, Western politicians and Western intelligence services have sent him.
Direct reports from the war zones were almost always “embedded”. In other words, reporters were only given to see from the military what the Western public should know. Supervised reporting for supervised thinking.
Through this controlled information, not only the media consumers, but also the opinion-makers themselves have lost their political ability to assess themselves. Political judgment about social processes is becoming increasingly athing in Western societies.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, not only did a political system disappear, but also what had ideologically identified socialism: the materialistic worldview. The fact that this approach has been largely lost, especially in Western societies, is reflected in the quality of analyses and reports.
Today’s reporting is largely characterized by emotional partisanship and the evaluation of events according to the bar of moral-idealistic ideas. The working out, disclosure and classification of social foundations and developments, the presentation of historical and social contexts is a discipline that is hardly mastered by most rapporteurs, but also by so-called experts.
For example, events in Mali and the Sahel are mainly attributed to the work of jihadists and Islamists, without explaining what the difference is between the two. Do Islamists and jihadists have different motives and targets, or all the other groups such as al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) or Jamaat Nusrat al-Isl’m wa-l-Muslim (JNIM), mentioned by the rapporteurs?
It is not even clear whether they call themselves that or whether they are given these names by others. This creates an unmanageable mess of actors. This confusion is not due to the circumstances, but mainly to the confusion of those who try to interpret the events. They themselves have no orientation on how to address such social issues and phenomena.
One does not understand the peculiarities of Islamic societies and does not recognize the foundations on which these societies rest and the developments taking place in them. Most Western rapporteurs look at and judge these events with their Western thinking, their Western standards, their Western theories about politics and society.
Because they have no other understanding of social developments, they interpret the events there primarily superficially as religious conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites and then again between Christians and Muslims.
One can see the clashes between the supporters of FC Bayern and Werder Bremen as conflicts between football fans. Since in Bavaria the Catholic faith is more pre-existing, but in northern Germany it is more like an evangelical faith, it can also be portrayed as religious conflicts. This depends on the competence of the rapporteur, his ability to analyse properly, but also on interests.
From Islamists and jihadists
This confusion is to be illustrated by reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the conditions and developments in Mali and the Sahel. The destabilisation of North Africa after the assassination of Gaddafi led to a “split of the country by Tuareg fighters and Islamists,” according to the Western rapporteur in Mali.
What Tuareg fighters are is clear, since there is a clear classification by tribal affiliation. But is it becoming more difficult for the Islamists also mentioned in this context? Who is that supposed to be? To the ethnic characteristic (Tuareg) not only a religious but also a seemingly political as a new characteristic (Islamist) is added, which is supposed to indicate differences or different interests between the actors.
A contrast is created from tribal affiliation and religious affiliation, which is also colored politically. The rapporteur creates this contrast. However, the fighters he calls Islamists may as well be the Tuareg itself. Because these are both Tuareg and Muslims. However, the rapporteur does not seem to be aware of this.
How does he want to distinguish the two from faraway Germany? The Tuareg are perhaps still easy to recognize as such on the outside. But how do you recognize Islamists? Are there any clear external identifiers for this, or do they have membership cards that they carry like identity cards on the lapel? Simple practical questions that the rapporteurs do not seem to be asking themselves. They adopt the image of religious conflicts and thereby solidify them.
The march of the Islamists in Mali, but especially the “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQMI), was bloodily crushed by elite French troops in 2013. However, if the reports had previously been Tuareg fighters and Islamists, the rapporteur has now also discovered al-Qaeda among the insurgents. And in a post from 20.8.20, Thilo Thielke from Cape Town states: “Islamists who are close to the terrorist network al-Qaeda are competing with those of the Islamic State.”
Since the 2013 reports did not mention either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, the question arises as to the origin of this information. Does the rapporteur have first-hand information, that is, from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State itself? How are they to differ on the one hand from the Tuareg and then also from Islamists and jihadists? What seems unquestionable at first look becomes increasingly unclear on closer examination.
After the suppression in northern Mali was crushed by French troops, “some of the armed Islamists have fled into desert hideouts, others are hiding between the population.” However, this submersion in the population is only possible if the people in hiding - unlike the soldiers - are not regarded and treated by the population as strangers.
As the influence of the so-called jihadists grows, the insurgency fight by the army and foreign troops feeds the resistance. The harshness with which the French troops persecute Islamists in the Sahel is likely to be partly responsible for this. Sometimes the word scalp hunter falls.” This information does not come from Islamists, jihadists or the inhabitants of the Sahel as affected persons, but from Bundeswehr officers as witnesses to the events.
Behind the terms
But what are the motives and interests of those who are increasingly opposed to Western soldiers? For it cannot be overlooked, and it is not concealed in the Western press, that uprisings and wars have increased dramatically in the Sahel. “Without the support of foreign troops … Mali’s army would probably be overrun by the Islamists within a very short time.”
But this unrest does not only affect Mali. It now stretches in a wide band from Somalia on the east coast of Africa across the continent to Nigeria in the west. Given the different social conditions of these countries, not everything can be explained by the action of Islamists or jihadists. There must also be other circumstances that are commotioning people into turmoil.
The suppression of the insurgency and the attempts to stabilise the Sahel states by Western and UN troops have not improved people’s living conditions. The wealth of natural resources does not benefit the population. The cost of warfare eats up the budgets of the states. The region’s governments depend on investors and donors. But they determine the conditions for their investment - or they are missing out.
When Merkel visited the Sahel in 2019, she had many good intentions in her luggage, but nothing concrete. “The German government hopes that European investors will be more interested in this region in the future.” But investor interest in unstable regions is low. “Not even an economic delegation has come to the Sahel.”
In view of this situation and prospects, a strengthening of the so-called Islamist currents is not a coincidence, not because they are Islamist, but because they seem to be an alternative to the hitherto unsuccessful political practice of the pro-Western governments. As early as 2013, “the influence of Muslim associations, … recommended themselves as an alternative to traditional political operation”. And the situation has not improved since then.
“Currently, only about half of Sahel households come from their own tax revenues, the other half from international donors. A large part of the budget – between 15 and 20 percent – is spent by the states on security … If the countries do not stand on their own two feet economically, long-term stabilization of the region will hardly succeed. But “no one has a plan to reduce youth unemployment or reform the lower education system.” How can hope and confidence arise?
When the military took power in Mali, people cheered in the streets. This was preceded by weeks of protests and violent clashes. They were directed not only against the deposed politicians, but also against the foreign troops in the country. “The slogan ‘Death France and its allies’ was only a few days ago on the signs of demonstrators in Bamako … and they are increasingly being insulted as an occupying power and are being asked to leave the country”.
“The demand for the withdrawal of French troops is being heard in all five Sahel countries.” The French army is in danger of being driven out “because it is perceived as a support for the corrupt and authoritarian African leadership elites.”
Obviously, the inconsistency between the real events and their Western perspective on events is becoming increasingly clear to the Western rapporteurs. Such massive social upheavals and conflicts cannot be explained solely by a theory of Islamism. The Western depiction of religious conflicts as the cause of unrest in the Sahel is getting cracks.
Thus, the rapporteur notes that in the Dogon tribe, one of the great tribes of the Sahel, “the vast majority … is now Muslim. Others are attached to the Catholic faith”. Religion therefore seems to be less important to the tribe itself than it was previously to the Western rapporteurs. In any case, the coexistence of Christians and Muslims seems to be unproblematic there.
More and more often, the fundamental questions of living conditions now come into the eyes of Western commentators in the reporting. “The current conflicts are also a struggle for the increasingly scarce resources.” Accordingly, the conflicts are less about religious issues, as Western reporters often try to explain to media consumers. For “in particular the conflict between the farmers … and the ranchers … is escalating.”
This is not about questions of faith, but about the issues of water rights and land use that are important for survival. “In response to the growing insecurity in the country, many of Mali’s 18 largest ethnic groups formed militias in self-defense. Since then, battles over water and pastureland have escalated more and more frequently.” “The situation today is worse than in 2012 … the security situation is a single disaster, the economy is collapsing. The displeasure with this chaos eventually drove people to the barricades.”
Western rapporteurs seem to find it difficult to break away from the image of Islamism as responsible for all conflicts in the Islamic world. It was, and still is, a very simple and widely accepted pattern of explanation, which meets the most diverse interests and views in the West. Nevertheless, this picture increasingly contradicts the realities of reality, which is increasingly causing the rapporteurs to be in need of explanation.
One is surprised to find that “those jihadists who have fuelled the conflict to the best of their ability for a long time are now acting as mediators and taking advantage of the power vacuum that has arisen. … They are warriors of the Jamaa Nusrat ul Islam wa-l Muslimin, the West African offshoot of the al-Qaeda terro network. According to the rapporteur, they are the people who have ensured that the opposing tribes ‘sit together and hold peace talks’.
This gives a different picture than the one we have known so far. Perhaps it was precisely the power vacuum that arose in large parts of Mali before the pro-Western government was removed that was the precondition for the Tribes of Mali to take care of their own interests and to regulate them among themselves without the influence of foreign interests.