France had no choice but to launch a military intervention in Mali. But the region needs more than soldiers, says DW's Thomas Mösch.
The Islamists' brazen efforts to advance toward Mali's south come as no surprise in view of the hesitant approach by West Africans and Europeans to stop Mali's demise. It could, however, also turn out to be their most foolish move.
Now, everyone is in a hurry to help the French and the Malians, while critics urge a ceasefire and immediate negotiations with the insurgents.
The German government would have preferred an intervention at a later time. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September - it would have been convenient for the government not to have to decide beforehand on Germany's role in the desert conflict - above and beyond sending a few dozen military advisers.
Negotiating is fine - but with whom? For weeks, that has been the question that no one could convincingly answer. The Tuareg, who are mainly interested in a better life and more self-determination, appear prepared to negotiate. But they no longer have a say in the north of the country.
Impossible to negotiate with Islamists
The Islamists, on the other hand, have interests the government in Bamako can hardly negotiate. The extremely strict version of Islamic law the jihadists have imposed on the North has not found supporters there; the rebels are seen as occupiers and oppressors.
The Islamist rebels also use religious reasoning to cloak their business interests: smuggling and the drug trade. It is all about crime and terror - and that is not negotiable.
Critics of the military intervention, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), cannot ignore questions about what they did over the past months to limit the damage the rebels inflicted on predominately Muslim Malian society with their radical approach.
That said: does it have to be Mali's former colonial power France? Sure, Paris has repeatedly and justifiably been criticized over the past years for smugly continuing to get involved in African politics. But the international community agreed months ago to support Mali's government and army. On Thursday (10.01.2013), the UN Security Council urged UN member countries to help the Malian armed forces. France was the only power in a position and willing to quickly provide this support.
Mali needs support
Western African nations have for months made it clear that they cannot bear that burden alone - not militarily, and certainly not financially. Also, Europeans and Americans should not forget that the revolution they supported in Libya put the Malian state into this situation in the first place. Without the fighters and weapons from Libya, neither the Tuareg nor the Islamists would have been in a position to seize the North.
Mali, however, needs more than soldiers and military equipment. Africans and Europeans must help restore democracy as quickly as possible. That includes taking seriously the Tuaregs' grievances and integrating them into the country's political and economic system. Germany with its past experience of solving conflicts in Mali's north can and should play an important role.
Mali's direct neighbors are also in dire need of long-term strategies to fight poverty. Pushing the Islamist rebels into Mauretania or Niger will help no one.