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Africans Must 'Own The Solution' In Mali


If the French military has its way, its role in helping to force Islamist militants out of Mali will be a short one. It hopes to hand over to a combined West African force. At the moment, it's hard to see exactly how it will all end, how Mali will be stabilized, as the crisis is a complicated one. That's how Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague described it when sat down with him at the British Embassy here in Washington.

WILLIAM HAGUE: What we're seeing in North and West Africa isn't the result of any single factor. We do have the Arab Spring. We do have what's happened in Libya. But we also have the aftermath of Algeria's long and bloody conflict with insurgents through the 1990s.

MONTAGNE: Very brutal...

HAGUE: We have the long...

MONTAGNE: ...on the government's part.

HAGUE: Well and the...

MONTAGNE: And the insurgents.

HAGUE: ...and there was on the insurgents' side. We have the long-running position of the Tuareg people and deep economic and humanitarian problems across the Sahel, tensions between Muslim and Christian communities across the region. So it's very important for us not to think that a single event caused these problems.

MONTAGNE: You know, now that France is backing Mali and Mali's government and leading Malian troops to drive both the Tuareg rebels and also the Islamist militants out of northern Mali, it has said it is a prime target of these Islamists that are not all that far from France. What about Britain and the rest of Europe?

HAGUE: I think it's important to support an ally when they've taken necessary emergency action, which France has done. It's very important, though, that we keep in mind that the prime way of dealing with this in a military and security sense is through African forces. It's African forces on the ground, not the medium-to-long-term presence of Western forces on the ground, that it's important for Africans to own the solution. Now, that is of critical importance - and that there's a political process, as well. So we don't see this just a military operation. France has stepped in necessarily, but it's Africans who really have to take the lead.

MONTAGNE: I mean, but do you think the African forces are up to the job?

HAGUE: Well, they need help. Of course, they will need help.

MONTAGNE: I mean, excuse me, but the Malian army has been trained - partly trained - by the United States, and they failed utterly to drive out these Islamists. They couldn't take them on.

HAGUE: Now, that doesn't mean that African forces with the necessary preparation and equipment can't succeed. An example to look at here over at the other side of Africa is Somalia. Look at East Africa, also with terrible problems, with Somalia being a failed state, really, for 20 years. We've made a lot of progress there in the last year. And the military part of that progress has been African forces from Kenya, Ethiopia and other African countries. A lot of their funding has come from the European Union. The political and legal permission for them doing what they're doing comes from the U.N. Security Council. We've given them very strong diplomatic and other support.

But it is the Africans who are doing it themselves. And that makes it much more politically acceptable in those countries. And it means that the countries of the region are taking responsibility for their own affairs. We have to think in a similar way about northwest Africa as we do in East Africa.

MONTAGNE: You have actually said that Somalia is - or could be - a model for how a failed state writes itself, minus the 20 years of being a failed state. How do you - specifically, how do you see that?

HAGUE: Well, look at the combination of what we're doing in Somalia. And, by the way, I'm in no way complacent about Somalia. I'm just saying we've made progress there in the last year. And the elements that have brought about progress are a legitimate government that has a democratic legitimacy. That's an important step forward in any country, in the population of any country being able to rally around their government.

Secondly, African forces doing the work on the ground - with a lot of financial and other support - and then the rest of the world giving its diplomatic and humanitarian assistance. That really characterizes what we're doing in Somalia that is yielding results. And I think that will be a better approach in most situations than putting Western armies onto African soil. As I say, it's important, the French have done what they've done, and they're right to do so. But for the medium-to-long term, Africans shouldering their own responsibilities on their own continent - which is what they want to do - is the crucial ingredient.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Hague, thank you very much.

HAGUE: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: British Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking with us at the British embassy yesterday. Today, his government announced it's prepared to deploy 40 soldiers to Mali as trainers, not combatants. Britain will also send 200 more to train troops in neighboring countries. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.