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If I Had a Hammer…

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 16, 2021 17:12

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If you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail. And while we should thank soldiers for their service, we should also interrogate the political decisions to send them into self-perpetuating wars where other means could have prevented the problem.

I buy my grandson tools for birthdays and Christmas. To his mother’s horror, he asked for a hammer, and he spent a week hammering nails into anything he could find.

Naughty rascal. Photo Hester de Smidt - with permission

I was reminded of this bit of family history when the Institute for Security Studies published research on the persistence of the ongoing war in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Statistical analysis shows that security forces, during 2020, caused more civilian fatalities than violent extremism or communal violence.

The war in this region goes back to ancient tribal and ethnic conflicts, overlaid by French colonial rule which often played one group against the other. Decades of governmental decay led to endemic criminality and, eventually, rebellion against the vestiges of control. The rebels, needing support and doctrine, grasped the example of ISIS and have resisted French-led forces, United Nations peacekeepers, and local armies.

Civilian populations are caught in a vice. Violent extremist attacks target entire villages, but the villagers cannot rely on the protection of anti-terrorist forces and national armies. The reaction often comes too late and is often counter-productive. A French airstrike on a village in central Mali mistook a wedding party for a terrorist gathering. Reports of rape, sexual assault, aggression, illegal confiscation of goods, and coercion by security forces abound.

There is a movement to re-establish a credible government in Mali. The military government in power after a coup in August 2020 is preparing for elections for a democratic government in February 2022. Whether the interim government has addressed the fundamental flaws that led to this conflict remains to be seen, although consultations around a new constitution are taking place.

Elsewhere similar dynamics can be identified. In Afghanistan, where American troops are soon to be withdrawn, a commander believes that the mere presence of his troops causes destabilization, and he asks: “Why are we here? Are we building a nation?” 

Tactical victories by NATO and Afghan forces are often undone by failures of government. In Mozambique, people feel abandoned by their governments while foreign companies exploit the riches and employ private armies that ride roughshod over their rights.

In Iraq, the flashpoints that led to an eighteen-year-old conflict, namely the sharing of political power and wealth, still exist and will cause problems even after ISIS has been eliminated.

It is all too easy for politicians, remote from the fray, to send in troops, authorize massive weaponry to be deployed, airstrikes to be sent in. It is much more difficult to spend a little money and use persuasion and, yes, good examples to prevent conflicts from exploding.

And in the meantime, while the elephants fight, the grass suffers.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 16, 2021 17:12

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Source: CNN
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A coup in Mali, West Africa, could have ramifications far beyond its borders, threatening to further destabilize across the...

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