Straying briefly away from the types of analysis I’ve been engaged in so far, today I’m going to present a couple maps that shed light on developments in North Africa and the Sahel.
Firstly, coming from a report made to the IAEA in 2009, is a map of possible uranium deposits in Mali:
The Arms Control Wonk explains the significance of uranium for the region at large:
“With national borders in the Sahara and Sahel existing largely on maps alone, a main focus of French concern has got to be Niger, the centerpiece of uranium production in northern Africa. As in Mali, Tuaregs in Niger have pressed the government for a greater share of the proceeds from mineral extraction, including from uranium production. Recent local accounts suggest that Tuaregs in Mali may have linked with Al Qaeda to tap money flowing into Mali, Niger, and Mauritania provided by Saudi-funded Wahabis, and that the rise in insurgency backed by Al Qaeda might be explained by Tuaregs’ once again demanding money from the government and other potential sources. In Niger…Touaregs made a deal with the Niger government in 1995 to cease fighting in exchange for between 10% and 15% of the proceeds from uranium-mining operations. Two years later, a breakaway group resumed violence against the state. This was followed by a peace accord, and that in turn by renewed conflict over water shortages, working conditions, and ecological degradation. Finally, in 2007, a new Tuareg separation movement was formed, which demanded greater compensation from uranium revenues and better environmental protection.”
So, Mali may very well have uranium reserves, at least if we’re listening to the Malian government circa 2009. Uranium in next door Niger has only led to a furtherance of the same type of conflicts that Mali is suffering from, but now there is the added wrinkle of Al Qaeda. At a fundamental level, however, the situation does remind me of an infamous quote from Laurent Kabila of Congo fame. To paraphrase Kabila, “Rebellion was easy. All you needed was $10,000 and a satellite phone.” In other words, rebellion and insurgency become very easy when a relatively small amount of seed money can get you enough followers to take advantage of natural resources – that satellite phone will come in handy when selling minerals to buyers abroad.
Another map, coming from Al Arabiya details French intervention in Mali so far:
While I am certain the details of this map will very quickly be out of date, it does provide a decent picture of where the conflict in Mali stands at the moment.
A final map, from The Guardian, looks at the wider issues in North Africa and the Sahel:
This map quite effectively demonstrates that the Mali crisis is not happening in a vacuum. It shows an entire region embroiled in conflict. While this map is only a snapshot of the region and not wholly complete, the collision of arms, smuggling, militancy, and weak states are a particularly troubling scenario.
Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.