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28568 OCdt (I) Liam Chambers: Canada and the Conflict in Mali

Canada and the Conflict in Mali

28568 OCdt (I) Liam Chambers

Liam Chambers

So, we’ve all heard here at the college that Canada announced that 250 troops will be heading to Mali, including approximately 2 Chinooks and 4 Griffons, although General Vance says those numbers are subject to change as the conflict evolves.

If you’re anything like me then you have little idea of what has been happening in Mali, nor the nature of the mission that Canadians are being sent to do so I thought this week I would summarize what I’ve researched on the topic.

First, a quick history lesson. Mali, a former French Colony, won independence in the 1960s and had its first democratic elections in the early ‘90s, but continues to remain one of the poorest countries in the world. The Tuareg are an ethnic group in Northern Mali, on the border of Niger, who attempted two rebellions after decades of exclusion and resentment. In 2012, the rebels took control of Northern Mali, imposed their own harsh version of Sharia Law in the region and immediately began to push South towards the capital.

French Intervention

In 2013, through direct involvement with French troops and air strikes, Northern Mali was brought back under control and, while Mali is officially a democracy again, the country remains in a state of disarray due to the violent insurgents that continue to plague the nation. Since 2013, over 160 peacekeepers have been killed, making it the deadliest United Nations peacekeeping operation to date.

Canadian Modern-Day Peacekeeping

As a nation, since Lester Pearson’s actions in the Suez Crisis, we have considered ourselves a peacekeeping nation; it is the core of what drives Canadian foreign identity. What we’ve seen, however, is a lack of action and a slow decline over the past 30 years that we now need to address. In fact, the Canadian Forces haven’t intervened in Africa on the United Nations behalf since the ‘90s. Seen below is a statistic breakdown of the declining numbers.

Canadian Peacekeepers Deployed

Year  Peacekeepers

1990  1002

1995  1406

2000  401

2005  382

2010  197

2015  116

H7860 Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire (Ret.), a graduate of this college, wrote of his traumatic experiences and the downfall of not just Canadian, but UN peacekeeping in Rwanda in his book, “Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda;” a phenomenal volume that every OCdt should read if they have the chance this summer. In his book he asked Canadians:

“How do we pick and choose where to get involved? Canada and other peacekeeping nations have become accustomed to acting if, and only if, international public opinion will support them – a dangerous path that leads to a moral relativism in which a country risks losing sight of the difference between good and evil, a concept that some players on the international stage view as outmoded. Some governments regard the use of force itself as the greatest evil. Others define “good” as the pursuit of human rights and will opt to employ force when human rights are violated. As the nineties drew to a close and the new millennium dawned with no sign of an end to these ugly little wars, it was as if each troubling conflict we were faced with had to pass the test of whether we could “care” about it or “identify” with the victims before we’d get involved.”
― Roméo Dallaire

Mali, then, appears as a chance for Canada to revive its peacekeeping identity, as well as spark a new, focused purpose for the CAF. It also serves as a reminder of how grateful we should be to live in this place, and how much there is to be thankful for in our everyday existence.