Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is Mali Afghanistan?

Last night, I was asked once again is Mali Africa's Afghanistan?  Hell if I know.  Well, I didn't say that, but it really depends on what you mean by "Afghanistan."  Mali experts will say no, because all experts hate when their place is considered to be very comparable to another, especially one of the objectively worst places on earth (not just violence, but corruption, economic situation, etc., Afghanistan always ranks at the top or bottom of those lists).  I am an expert on neither country, but have followed Afghanistan for much longer since the books in progress focus on outsiders mucking around in Afghanistan.  Plus ten days there in 2007 make me an expert, right?

So, when I think is Mali like Afghanistan, I tend to say no because:
  • Who is the Pakistan in this analogy?  Maybe Libya played the role of outsider feeding/fostering unrest, but not anymore.
  • Indeed, the neighbors seem to be constructive.  Imagine a world in which India and Pakistan and Iran were working together to support the government of Afghanistan and the NATO effort?  Yeah, unrealistic, but Mali, as far as I can tell, is getting help from multiple countries in the region to regain control of the north.
  • Does Mali have poppies or the equivalent?  Afghanistan has been greatly complicated by the reality that poppies are one of the very few profitable exports with efforts to substitute/eradicate/minimize raising all kinds of problems.  
  • While the various groups that seized the north share some identities with the people who reside there (Tuareg, Muslim), they apparently wore out their stay quite quickly and don't have the reservoir of support that the Taliban has had among certain tribes within the Pashtuns. 
What makes Afghanistan and Mali similar?
  • Limited trust/capacity at the center.  Afghanistan has Karzai, and Mali has a new military regime promising to have elections soon.
  • A crappy "security sector."  Afghanistan's police systematically abuse the populace.  Mali's military seems to be killing folks who have little to do with the various separatist groups.
So, yes, there are a few similarities, but violence, state collapse, and intervention do make Mali Afghanistan.  Mali's road will be tough and bumpy, and it may not head where people hope it is heading.  But it ain't Afghanistan.  When we apply analogies, we really need to think not just about the apparent similarities but the core properties and see how many of them apply.  In this case, a few but not that much.

1 comment:

Anthony Hopper said...

I don't know much about Mali's culture/history. As a novice/non-expert (whatever term fits best), I think it would be interesting to compare/contrast Afghanistan's tribal/familial system with the one in Mali. What role do tribal affiliation play in each country? How strong are these roles? How are they similar or dissimilar? How many distinct tribes/family groups are there in each country? It is certainly possible that the majority of Malians (and Afghans) identify first with their tribe/family, secondly with their region, and only thirdly with the country of Mali. If that is the case in either (both countries), it will be difficult to construct/preserve a strong central government regardless of how trustworthy the government officials might be...