By Luisa Frey
♦ Instead of euphoria, relief swept through Tehran after the reach of a historic deal over Iran’s nuclear programme. Although the agreement is an interim one, Iran now hopes for an end to its isolation and the revival of its economy. But the FT’s David Gardner comments that sceptics will want proof Iran is becoming ‘a player for peace’ – “given Tehran’s record, it could hardly be otherwise”. Read more
♦ China’s growth still contributes more to global demand than that of any other economy The FT looks at how rebalancing will generate winners and losers in different sectors.
♦ Turkey’s decision to raise its overnight lending rate for the first time in nearly two years underscores the dilemma facing developing economies as the end to US monetary easing draws near: focus on inflation or growth?
♦ Inflation has defied all predictions in the US during the past five years and it is making life complicated for the Federal Reserve.
♦ Haïdara Aïssata Cissé, the only woman standing for president in Mali’s upcoming elections, is an outsider, but she has improved her chances by going on walkabouts.
♦ Shaun Walker at Foreign Policy thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin should be worried about Alexei Navalny, especially as people start to compare him to Mandela and Lenin. Read more
A camel (Abid Katib/Getty)
Some good news at last for François Hollande, mired in a furious scandal over a former minister’s secret Swiss bank account: a new camel is on the way from Mali.
In a dispatch worthy of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, Reuters reported from Bamako on Tuesday that Malian authorities planned to send a replacement to Paris for the camel presented to Mr Hollande in grateful thanks for France’s military intervention in Mali when he visited the country in February.
The first animal, defence minister Yves Le Drian reported earlier in the week, was killed and eaten by the family Mr Hollande had left it with in Timbuktu.
The president, who before winning the Elysée Palace liked to buzz around Paris on his three-wheeled scooter, joked at the time that the camel would come in handy for getting about the congested capital. But the complicated logistics of shipping the beast back to France apparently led to the decision to entrust it instead to a local family – who promptly made it into stew.
Reuters reported that an official in northern Mali said:
“As soon as we heard of this, we quickly replaced it with a bigger and better-looking camel.
“The new camel will be sent to Paris. We are ashamed of what happened to the camel. It was a present and it did not deserve this fate.”
Mario Monti with Francois Hollande on February 3 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Italy’s foreign policy has long been founded on supporting its western allies in times of need.
Unlike the French, Italy backed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; it has troops in Afghanistan and, unlike Germany, it supported – though with some foot-dragging – military intervention in Libya in 2011.
But electoral considerations have trumped solidarity with France over Mali, forcing an embarrassing u-turn.
Mario Monti’s foreign and defence ministers last month pledged logistical help in the form of transport planes and refuelling for the French. “We are beside you, Paris,” newspapers proclaimed. But on Sunday, in Paris, Italy’s technocrat prime minister had to explain to François Hollande that no such support would be forthcoming after all.
Franco Frattini, former foreign minister and member of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party, is particularly disappointed, having passed a resolution in parliament on January 22 – with support from members of the centre-left Democrats and the centrist UDC – that backed Italian logistical intervention.
“Because of the election campaign we run the risk of not fulfilling our European duties of solidarity,” Mr Frattini told the FT. Read more
Residents welcome Malian soldiers as they enter Timbuktu on January 28, 2013 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
French and Malian troops this week took control of the historic city of Timbuktu from the jihadist militants that had taken over the city in April 2012. The adjective often used to describe the desert city is “fabled” – but what is the fable of Timbuktu?
In the 19th century, the city was considered so hard to get to that the Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc reward for the first person to reach the city and make it back. By the time the young Frenchman René Caillié arrived there, disguised as an Arab, the centuries-old reports of riches and splendour that had lured so many explorers had disappeared into myth. Caillié described his arrival in a book published in 1830:
Timbuktu circa 1950
“I now saw this capital of the Sudan, to reach which had so long been the object of my wishes…
I looked around and found that the sight before me, did not answer my expectations. I had formed a totally different idea of the grandeur and wealth of Timbuctoo. The city presented, at first view, nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth.”
• Timbuktu’s golden age One definition of the word ‘fable’ is ‘an untruth; falsehood’. But Timbuktu did experience a golden age – Caillié was just a few centuries too late to see it. As E.J.Kahn, Jr. wrote of Timbuktu, “for a while, it was a shining city of the Empire of Mali, which early in the thirteenth century succeeded the Empire of Ghana as West Africa’s paramount nation.” The root of the city’s prosperity was its geographical location at the crossroads of a caravan route between Africa’s Arab northern regions and west Africa. Situated between the Sahara desert and the fertile banks of the Niger river, Timbuktu became a busy trading hub for merchants exchanging west African goods including gold, ivory, and salt, for Mediterranean products such as glass, ceramics, and precious stones. Read more
French army troopers arrive at base camp in Sevare on January 25, 2013 (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
French and Malian forces have made rapid advances in recent days in their efforts to defeat Islamist militants in Mali. On Saturday they captured Gao, which has been under control of the Islamists since last April.
Xan Rice, the FT’s west Africa correspondent, spoke to a teacher from Gao, who did not want his name to be used, about the liberation of the town.
Here is a transcript of the teacher’s account:
“We had a big celebration when the French and Malian army arrived on Saturday. On all the main streets people were out welcoming them.
“It was ‘Long live France, long live Hollande, long live Mali’s army’. The town is secured. We also have soldiers from Niger and Chad here. We are all very happy because nobody liked the Islamists. They were strong but they lost a lot of equipment and vehicles when they attacked Konna [a central town, where the conflict started in January]. We knew that when the army came here, the Islamists would fly away.
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While parts of the British media obsess about whether or not the UK has landed a few special forces boots on the ground in Mali, a far more significant deployment has been taking place.
An armoured column of Chadian troops was rumbling on Wednesday through the Niger scrub on its way to the Mali border. The contingent is part of a 2,000-strong force that N‘Djamena has promised to deploy to help retake the northern two-thirds of the country from Islamist militias, whose offensive towards the Malian capital triggered France’s intervention.
The Chadian army has had extensive training from France and some from the US too in recent years. More importantly, the Chadians have their own history of fighting rebellions in scalding desert sands and mountains – something the smaller Nigerian contingent that has landed in Bamako as part of a hurriedly put together African intervention force cannot quite claim. Read more
- Edward Luce thinks it was more directly political than in 2009, paraphrasing: “Together, we will pursue my objectives.”
- Gideon Rachman thinks Obama has made it clear that he wants his legacy to be domestic, but it may not work out that way.
- Ezra Klein says: “Obama’s first presidential campaign, and his first inaugural address, were about moving America past our old arguments. His second presidential campaign, and his second inaugural address, were about winning those arguments.“
- In his notes from the inauguration, David Remnick felt his speech was “infinitely better, more self-assured, more politically precise than his first” and… well, who doesn’t love Beyoncé?
In the rest of the world…
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A French army officer stands guard on January 16, 2013 at the military airbase in Bamako (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
How justified was France’s decision to intervene in Mali and seek to thwart the advance of the Islamist militants inside the country?
Nearly one week after President François Hollande ordered military action, the question is one which is beginning to reverberate in media commentary. The French have been clear that they need to go into Mali to stop the spread of an al-Qaeda linked movement that has a significant foothold in the country and might ultimately threaten the west. But some figures in the US administration clearly have doubts about the wisdom of the move.
The biggest concerns have been raised in an article in Thursday’s New York Times. The NYT says US officials have only an “impressionistic understanding” of the militant groups that have established a safe haven in Mali. It suggests that some US officials wonder how much of an external threat they pose. The NYT quotes Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who last June played down the terrorist threat to the United States from Mali. He said that the al-Qaeda affiliate operating there “has not demonstrated the capability to threaten U.S. interests outside of West or North Africa, and it has not threatened to attack the U.S. homeland.” Read more
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The advance south in recent days by Mali’s Islamist rebels has caught the region and wider world on the back foot and precipitated a move by former colonial power France to the front foot.
Speaking to diplomats in Paris on Friday, President François Hollande, confirmed France’s willingness to intervene militarily on behalf of the Malian government under the terms of existing UN Security Council resolutions. Only hours later on Friday, France said it had initiated military action in support of a government offensive to take back lost ground by government troop. Air strikes followed. Read more