Turmoil, Conflict in Saharan Africa

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Muscat, Oman – A new element has emerged in Egypt’s political unrest. Its first freely elected President Mohammed Mursi, after the ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, faces wave of political unrest. Emergence of a mysterious group with their faces hidden under black masks called “Black Bloc” has raised concerns even among the opposition group of the Mursi government. They fear the new group may spark Islamist retaliation and taint their movement.

This Black Bloc model is similar to protesters in Europe and USA against anti-globalization to keep their identities unknown and faces unseen. Failures of the present elected government to tackle massive political, social and economic problems, surging crimes and chaos, and reaching political consensus have resulted in the eruption of violence and unrest in cities in the Nile Delta and across the country.

Upheaval and turmoil in Libya for the past two years, which led to civil war and the fall of four decades of autocratic rule of Gaddafi in 2011, echoes around the entire Saharan Region, across North Africa and in the Middle East. The large number of weapons brought into Libya and weapons seized from the government during the civil war are now in the hands of militants.

The overflow of weapons and free flow of militants raises the worrisome possibility of Al Qaeda establishing a strong foothold in Libya by inspiring the militants. Porous, long desert borders, weak government, and tribal and ethnic militants are resulting in the free smuggling of weapons from country to country in the North African countries of Libya, Algeria, Mali, Chad.

Libyan fighters are believed to have joined rebels in Syria. Thousands of heavily armed fighters in southern Libya fled to Mali. Militants, by taking advantage of the weaknesses of government, have grown in strength and are causing instability in Libya, Algeria, and Mali.

A recent incident in Mali proves the strength of the militants is owing to the free flow of weapons in the region. Militants broke the government’s hold over the north and declared their long cherished dream of a Tuareg homeland, Azawad, but they were defeated by Al Qaeda-linked militants who took over and imposed the rule of Shariah.

The miltants then moved to the southern part. To rescue the Mali government, France launched a military intervention. The militants, as a retaliation, seized an oil complex in Algeria. Counter efforts witnessed the killing of dozens of western hostages including militants.

The conflicts in Mali and the entire North African continent reveal and unfold how warfare has become a global reality. Africa, particularly North Africa, is the new battle ground.

The US receives a large chunk of its oil supplies from Africa. China receives one-third of its energy (oil), and also receives minerals (platinum, copper, iron ore, etc.) and timber from Africa.

So the fight has just begun – all major powers will be involved. Hostage crises, peace keeping and rescue operations and efforts will dominate the headlines.

Mousumi Roy
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Mousumi Roy has a Masters (MA - Political Science) from Calcutta University and is a visiting professor of International Relations in Muscat, Oman

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