The unseating of the government in Mali was nothing other than an intelligence failure of epic proportions, not only by the Malian intelligence services but also by the member-states of the AU.
The aim of any intelligence service is to identify potential and real threats to the national interests and vital interests of the state. These threats are then targeted for intelligence collection, interpreted and disseminated. Furthermore, these agencies need to be able to make intelligence predictions based on the database of knowledge they have built up over time. It is apparent that if this was done, it was done very poorly.
In early March 2012, it was already evident that the Malian forces had lost the initiative in the north of the country. The garrison at Tessalit was under siege by the Tuareg-led separatist movement known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Awawid (NMLA). The NMLA claimed it is fighting for “independence” from Mali. Reinforcements were unable to break through to the garrison.
The NMLA had apparently been boosted by “freedom fighters” from Algeria, Chad and Nigeria. Additionally, the Malian government claimed that the MNLA had been boosted by “drug dealers, Al Qaeda factions and other Islamists” – a claim no doubt made with the hopes of getting increased foreign (US and French) support as these are matters that lie close to the heart of the US government – and Mali was a French colony.
Cut-off from reinforcements, outgunned and ultimately defeated by the NMLA in Tessalit, morale in the Malian forces was bound to take a downward turn as soldiers began deserting.
On 20 March 2012, the AU’s Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) met in the capital of Mali to discuss the ever deteriorating security situation in the Sahel region. On 21 March, the demoralised Mali forces toppled the government of Pres Amadou Toure – in the capital – by means of a coup. How the unfolding dissatisfaction in Mali military ranks was something the AU – and its numerous member-state intelligence services – had not foreseen defies belief.
For some time the Malian army has been fighting the NMLA. They have, also on numerous occasions voiced their concern at the lack of equipment, arms and ammunition with which they are supposed to fight the NMLA with. They also voiced their concern that Pres Toure had adopted a too soft approach towards the NMLA.
Pres Toure, however well intentioned he may have been, forgot that one cannot negotiate from a position of weakness – a situation that was very evident in the north of Mali. Ironically, the leader of the coup, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, is now voicing his desire to negotiate with the NMLA separatists. The coup has however created a power vacuum and presented the NMLA the initiative in their fight against the Malian forces and it can be expected that their determination has been increased.
Given the fragility of the Sahel region with its famine, poverty, Islamic terrorism, porous borders, droughts, uncontrolled flow of weapons, along with the NMLA insurgency in the north, it is surprising that this situation was not viewed by intelligence services as a threat to both the national and vital interests of the state.
The deposed president’s seat had hardly gone cold when the fingers began pointing.
Some African government officials were quick to lay the blame for the NMLA’s insurgency the subsequent coup at the door of NATO and its allies for their involvement in Libya.
Whereas it is true that the NMLA insurgency intensified after the collapse of Gadaffi’s Libya – many of the Tuaregs fought against Gadaffi’s forces and returned to Mali after the “regime change” - it is somewhat disingenuous to blame NATO for such an intelligence failure. It will be interesting to see how the new Libyan government views this situation as the Touregs can rightly be seen as their allies.
The fact that the Malian intelligence services (if they were not part of the planned coup) along with the AU member-states’ intelligence services were unable to identify the dangers of a pending coup or anticipate a coup, shows that there was a massive intelligence failure. No amount of finger pointing can and will dispel that fact. Nor will it dispel the threat the Mali coup poses to regional stability.
The domino effect of the “Arab Spring” poses a very real danger to African governments. They need to take note of what happened – and what is happening in their own countries. But, as long as they remain complacent and ignore the dangers developing in their own countries the danger will keep growing.
If other African intelligence services remain reliant on open source information (OSINFO) and believe that just because they are not seeing things and accept that all is well in their countries, they too can look forward to their own intelligence failures in the future.