Since the toppling of the democratically elected government in Mali on March 22 last year by renegade soldiers and the seizure of power in the Northern part of the country by Al-Qaeda-backed Islamist fundamentalists, the sub-Saharan African country has known no peace. The Islamic radicals linked to the North African Al-Qaeda branch are demanding for the Islamic State of Azawad out of Mali.
As a result of the insurgency, the Malian situation is fast degenerating to a full-scale civil war. Consequently, Malian leader, President Dioconda Traore, has called on the United Nations for urgent assistance to save the nation. His call has clearly underscored the need to help Mali dislodge the rampaging Islamic rebels that have taken over the Northern part of the Sahelian nation.
France, Mali’s erstwhile colonial master, has responded with massive air strikes in her effort to restore the territorial integrity of her former colony. She has also stepped up the campaign with a ground military offensive. Also, in keeping with the decision of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore peace in Mali, Nigeria, in her usual Big Brother posture to sub-regional and continental socio-political affairs, last week, deployed 906 soldiers and some war planes to Mali to help quell the insurgency. Nigeria’s contingent is our contribution to the 3,300-strong force from 15-member states of ECOWAS involved in the campaign.
The deployment of ECOWAS Security Force to Mali is sequel to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085 of December last year. Apart from acting in line with the UNSC Resolution 2085, the ECOWAS offensive is to halt further infiltration of terrorists into the West African sub-region. Also, the United Kingdom (UK) and Norway have pledged to support ECOWAS in the quest for the enforcement of peace in Mali in line with the position taken by the sub-regional group, the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN).
Other contingents being expected in this effort to save Mali include the African-led International Support Mission (AFISMA) and the European Union (EU) Training Mission (EUTM). While we applaud all efforts to ensure that the Malian crisis does not escalate to full blown war, it is necessary to appraise Nigeria’s participation in peacekeeping operations in West Africa in particular, and Africa generally. What, for example, has Nigeria gained from all her efforts in keeping peace in the sub-region and the African continent?
Our recent quest for the presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was vitiated by four West African countries – Guinea, Liberia, Togo and Sierra Leone – that withheld their support. There is no doubt that the country occupies a pride of place in the sub-region and Africa, and the whole world looks at us for leadership when crises of this nature crop up in the continent. The nation served on the peace mission in the Congo.
We made enormous contributions to the independence struggles of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola, to the extent that Nigeria was listed as one of the frontline states in emancipation of these countries from colonial bondage. We also made enormous human and material sacrifices to the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. Now, we are spearheading the continental peace mission in Mali. But in all these, Nigeria has not been fairly treated by many African countries. Our good gestures have not been reciprocated in equal measure.
That is why the country’s foreign policy should be reviewed from time to time in keeping with the needs and exigencies of the times. Nigeria’s foreign policy should be tailored to serve our national interest. While Nigeria cannot afford to sit on the fence or opt out of ECOWAS military campaigns when Mali or any other African country is boiling, our leaders ought to be mindful of our internal problems that are begging for urgent attention. Government should not lose sight of our own domestic problems in the bid to champion the African cause. We have enough security challenges to grapple with at home.
All said and done, we believe that our charity must begin at home before spilling over to those outside. While recognising that the insurgency in Mali may have spillover effects throughout the continent if it succeeds, Nigeria’s intervention in conflicts like this must, at all times, be guided by our national interest.