This post is a follow up on a previous posting addressing mainly Algerian press reporting on supposed Qatari support for militant movements in northern Mali (‘RE: Canard Enchaîné, Qatar in northern Mali and Algeria‘). It particularly looks at the involvement of the Qatar Red Crescent in this context, which was taken by some observers as evidence (or non-evidence) of supposed Qatari ‘involvement’ in the conflict. This blogger viewed this as part of Algerian propaganda on the conflict mixed with natural paranoia in Malian circles over the role of powerful external actors in the conflict. Similar reports and suspicion about the presence of the Algerian Red Crescent appear to have fit into a similar narrative, especially for those supportive of the MNLA which has put out a large good deal of messaging accusing Algeria of undermining its activities or of supporting the Islamist terrorist and rebel groups in the region. There does not appear to be support for the view that Qatar has sponsored all or some of the main rebel and terrorist groups in northern Mali; and while Algerian involvement in the conflict behind the scenes or via established links to various elements in the region is probable it is unlikely that it is using humanitarian groups as agents of influence. In both cases, though many scenarios are possible and there is no reason to discount such possibilities.
On 02 July 2012, al-Arab published an article (‘Monitoring $5 million in relief programs: A Field Office of the Qatari Red Crescent in northern Mali’) describing the work of the four Qatari Red Crescent workers whose activities in Gao have been fuel for a number of rumours about Qatar’s supposed role in Mali, which has been a favourite subject of the Algerian and French press over the last few months. Al-Arab’s article lays out the men’s activities during the June confrontations in Gao. There is little in the media reporting from the region or elsewhere that suggests the Qataris are up to any specific plot to back one or more of the factions active in northern Mali.
The report states that the Qataris arrived ‘form a concept of the health status quo in the region and identify the most urgent needs,’ in Gao-area hospitals and clinics. It notes that in the week previous to the Qataris’ arrival, ‘more than five cases of measles were discovered’ in the area and that the mission was also intended, in part ‘to avoid outbreaks of epidemics and a true health disaster’ in Gao. Noting that Gao has very limited medical resources, it reports that the red Crescent workers concluded a memorandum of understanding with the ‘People’s Committee of Gao’ to provide humanitarian assistance. They also met with the local agriculture commissioner. It also mentions that the Qatari Red Crescent is looking at plans for a two year development and rehabilitation programs in the Gao area. It concludes by noting that UN agencies, as well as Malian Islamic associations have requested Muslim humanitarian groups to contribute to relief efforts in northern Mali, given the nature of the conflict.
Around the same time all this was happening, talk and images of Algerian Red Crescent workers in Gao, dually fuelling suspicion in Mali and pro-MNLA circles in a manner similar to the images and reports of Qatar’s presence. At the time of the kidnapping of the Algerian diplomats from the Algerian consulate in Gao, Algerian Red Crescent leaders condemned the action and mentioned their intention to push for humanitarian action in Mali.
The French-language Algerian daily Liberte carried a report on 21 July 2012 (Humanitarian assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent in northern Mali’), detailing the activities of a humanitarian aid caravan that organisers claimed would move aid ‘for a long time in the three major regions of the north of the country which have falled under the yoke of armed groups’. According to the report the caravan left Bamako on the evening of 09 July 2012, headed for Gao. A second convoy left for Kidal from Bordj Badji Mokhtar in Algeria. A third convoy, Liberte reports would leave for Timbuktu later. On Gao, the report describes the scene of the arrival of the Algerian group. The Algerians arrived with two trucks, ‘stuffed with food,’ including ‘a portion of 3600 tons of rice gifted from Agleria airlifted to Bamako,’ and medicines.
In Gao which is under the yoke of MUJWA, “We’re hungry!” are the words of welcome in chorus launched in Bambara by the locals during the passage of the caravan of the CRA. “It really gives you goosebumps!” Retorted each time says a midwife, member of the mission of the CRA. During the long and exhausting journey of more than 1200 km (from Bamako-Gao) the arrival of the ARC’s caravan has not failed to produce many similar scenes [. . .]
It goes on to describe the dire humanitarian situation in other parts of northern Mali, aid delievered by the Algerian Red Crescent, quotes local medical officials regarding the cholera problem and the International Red Cross/Crescent (ICRC) representative’s stressing of the organisation’s neutrality and so on. Clearly the reporting and rumours of various ICRC chapters acting as agents of foreign powers is a cause for alarm and puts humanitarian efforts at risk. It would not be out of the realm of belief for Algerian or western aid workers to be debriefed or otherwise contacted by governments looking for information on conditions and the like in rebel-held territories, however. And the Algerian secret services are known to infiltrate various Algerian organisations. Anything remains possible.