European military trainers are working with the army in Mali and Germany is to dispatch two cargo planes. But Germany will have to get more involved, says DW editor-in-chief, Ute Schaeffer.
Ute Schaeffer, DW chief editor
At last, there's a European consensus: 250 military instructors are to train Malian soldiers and prepare them for the fight against the Islamists. It's taken months for Europe to reach this decision - meanwhile, Islamists were imposing Sharia law and spreading fear and terror throughout the villages in the north of Mali. Over the last few months, the people of Mali have had to endure murder, mutilations, torture, executions, rape and plunder. And Mali was always regarded as a tolerant country which was a model of democratic development.
Politics no longer had an adequate answer for this kind of violence. The French were the ones who recognized this, while the rest of Europe gazed at its navel and worried about decision-making processes. In addition: the French public backs this mission, which is sanctioned by its European neighbors and the United Nations.
Mali isn't just another state in the desert
And Germany? In an election year, politicians would prefer to avoid the topic. They fear a debate in the media and the German public - another reason why the government has so far only dispatched two cargo planes. Any large scale mission would have to be backed by parliament - and that would make it a hot topic for both media and public.
On the other hand: Perhaps this is a debate that cannot be avoided. Perhaps we should just be bolder in dealing with it. Almost a quarter of a century after German reunification, at a time of asymmetric conflicts with global implications, there's a need for a German contribution to international security in Africa too.
But we find it hard to deal with our neighbors to the south. We don't know enough about them. For the German media, Mali is just some state in the Sahel region.
Yet Mali has the potential to turn into bomb under the whole region: should Mali fall, the Sahel goes up in flames - and that's a region that Germany, too, should finally realize is one of its immediate neighbors.
Mali is a huge country, with borders to seven states, many of which must be regarded as fragile and which are plagued by similar problems: poverty, inadequate government institutions, terrorist groups and organized crime.
Two things need to be noted: the risks of military engagement are high - especially for the French troops on the ground, together with the 3,300 soldiers of the ECOWAS West African community of states. But the risks of not doing anything decisive now are even more serious. The hostage-taking at a natural-gas field in the south of Algeria is a sign of that. It was probably organized by the Maghreb branch of Al Qaeda, which is demanding an end to the French military mission.
Wait-and-see is the worst of all solutions
Does Europe want to stand by and watch as tolerant Mali is turned into an Islamist theocracy? Does anyone seriously believe that waiting, hesitating, and turning a blind eye will solve the problem? European foreign politicians and the intelligence services know better. Africa has the potential to develop a belt of Islamist terror, spanning from the south of Algeria and Mauritania via Mali and Niger to northern Nigeria.
So far, the local Islamist groups have not coordinated their operations and there's been little networking. But that could change if they get the chance. It's therefore important to deprive them of possibilities to retreat and regroup. Their links have to be broken and the sources of their income have to be cut off.
That's exactly what military intervention now can deliver. And that's why Germany, too, should step up its support. What's happening in Mali concerns everyone - it's not just an African problem.
What is needed is a commitment that is bold and long-term - a mission which will help to create a secure environment for citizens, prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and then create allow a return to normality. Otherwise the danger remains that terror groups in the Sahel might team up with radical Islamists in East Africa - in the Horn of Africa and Kenya - with devastating consequences for European and global security.