All posts by ntoddweinstein

Gold on the Next Frontier for War on Terror

When the term ‘radical jihadist’ is thrown around the seemingly never ending Middle Eastern conflicts pops into mind. Though in recent years a new jihadist threat has been brewing in the African Sahel. The Sahel, is a region of central Africa that closely borders the Sahara Desert, it spans across the countries of Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania (this is a non exhaustive list). The U.S. military has been referring to the Sahel more and more as “the new front in the war on terrosism”.  

The war in this region has been growing rapidly. Jihadist groups killed “ten times more people were killed in 2014.” Two main groups of jihadists are involved: the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS); and Jama’at Nasar al-Islam wal Musllimin (JNIM) which is closley linked with al-Qaeda.  

 The insurgent groups have lost ground in the Middle East, and are now expanding in Africa. This takes funding. Many African countries are large exporters of gold. These terrorist groups are readily gaining control over gold mines and making money off of them, effectively funding the groups for the long term.  

Burkina Faso has an official gold industry though black market mining produces far more gold. “Just 2% of Burkina Faso’s gold output is exported through official channels”.  Most of the informally produced gold in Burkina Faso is smuggled into neighboring countries, particularly Togo. The gold is then passed to larger countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Switzerland, and India for further processing and distribution. 

Gold has historically been an optimal currency for insurgents, because it retains its value and is widely accepted as a currency in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. 

William Linder, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who served is West Africa, states, “Violent extremists have extended their areas of control and have enhanced their ability to generate income through gold – while state actors remain poorly positioned to do anything about it. Failure to fix this problem now will only deepen and help spread the Sahel crisis.”  

While it might not be highly publicized in the media, there is already foreign involvement in the region, with some 5,100 French troops, 1,200 U.S. troops, and 15,000 UN blue helmets on the ground. With American forces leaving Afghanistan, the Sahel will soon be the West’s biggest combat zone.

Many gold mines have been shut down by the government because they are on nature preserves, and serve as a threat to the wildlife. This subsequently leaves many men jobless, and without a reliable income. One of the ways that the insurgent groups are winning over locals is by allowing them to mine in these protected areas. “In a country (Burkina Faso) with annual incomes of just $660 a head according to the World Bank, government efforts to close off mines to individual diggers – whether for conservation or to make way for big business – are unpopular.”  

In order to gain more support with native people JNIM and ISGS have framed their messages as “fighting a neo-colonial enemy bent on stealing Africa’s riches”. The radical jihadists have also fitted there narrative to local situations, “reflecting some of the concerns of the diverse ethnic groups, Tuaregs, Arabs/Moors and black African Fulani and Songhai.” 

A variable further complicating the issue is that government forces have been extremely rough with local populations, leading many people to lean toward the terrorists’ cause. “This year, more civilians in the Sahel have been killed by government soldiers than by jihadists, says José Luengo-Cabrera of the International Crisis Group (icg), a Brussels-based NGO.”  President Roch Marc Christian Kaborè of Burkina Faso privately remarked that some of his citizens would feel safer living amongst the various terrorist groups as opposed to the government’s security forces.

To make matters worse, the jihadists are gaining control in three different directions. To the south the insurgent groups threaten Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo. In the west there have been attacks in Mali in close proximity to its border with Senegal. Towards the east with Nigeria’s insurgent groups. “The jihadists already have a “de facto safe haven in northern Mali”, says General Dagvin Anderson”.

 In Mali there are growing calls for negotiations with the jihadists. The Mali government has extended an offer to talk with JNIM, the group has agreed once foreign troops have left, though this is unlikely. Though the jihadists have little incentive to negotiate while they are winning on the frontline . 

As many western forces pull out of the Middle East, the fight against radical  jihadists grows in the Sahel. There is no easy solution, and the immediate future seems murky.   

Mr. Trump’s Significance on Rising Mexican Nationalism

Donald Trump’s trademark is arguably his volatile and hyperbolic language, with a healthy dose of his nationalistic cries of ‘America first’. While the effects of this are vast and multidimensional, one of the more muffled effects is the rising nationalism in the U.S.’s southern neighbor. While it is foolish to pin the entirety of Mexico’s recent rise in nationalism on president Trump, a large part of it can definitely be attributed to him.  “President Donald Trump has called for Americans to focus inwardly But in response, Mexico has come up with its own cry: “Hecho en México,“”Made in Mexico.”  

National Identity is crucial to any country, it allows its citizens to belong to a larger group, and it offers a distinctiveness to a person based on their location, or cultural heritage.  Psychology Today describes the importance of national identity as, “a diverse society, where members of many different cultural, ethnic, socio-economic, and language groups are all citizens; a clear national identity is needed to unite all citizens.” Mexico has historically struggled to have a cohesive national identity. Mestizo or mixed blood refers to the majority of the population that is a genealogical mix between indigiounes people and imperial Spaniards. The invasion of Spanish colonizers was a grisly and brutal reality in the 16th century.   Archaeologist Martin Robles Luengas states, “We are not pure Aztecs, nor are we pure Spaniards……Today as a Mexican you cannot complain of the Spaniards, because part of you is a Spaniard.”  This conveys the extent of  blending that has happened within Mexican culture. Many of the traditions that are prevalent in today’s Mexico are a tangle of heritages.  

Jorge Guajardo, a former ambassador states,  “Mexican identity is very much founded on the basis of defending our honor, from being trampled on by foreign forces….So we were humiliated by the Spaniards who conquered the Aztec empire, we were humiliated by the United States who stole half of our territory, we were humiliated by the French. It’s a long story of humiliation.” This feeling of humiliation is intricately woven into the current rise of Nationalism within Mexico. The desire to not be disrespected as a sovereign country, and as a culture is a large contributor to this new national attitude. 

President Trump has made some rather ungracious comments over the years about Mexico. He called Mexicans ‘rapists, and criminals’ during his 2016 presidential campaign. He called for a border wall to stop illegal immigrants crossing the  border. This discomfort was then further exacerbated by Trump falsely claiming that Mexico would fund the border wall. Mr. Trump  has gradually increased tariffs on Mexican goods as a rough incentive to clamp down on the flow of immigrants. He has terminated the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) deal. Mr. Trump pressured Mexico to stop harboring Central American migrants, when Mexico has historically been a safe haven for refugees. 

Mexico’s recent spike in nationalism has been a response to President Trump’s rhetoric about the country. There has been a push to support products manufactured in Mexico in the last few years. Many Mexicans have been shying away from large American brands such as Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonalds. Some intellectuals such as Professor Dámaso Morales Ramírez see Trump’s behavior as a ‘‘blessing’’, meaning an opportunity to reevaluate the fundamentals of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. A relationship that had gone on for too long with little accountability according to some.  Because of Trump’s antics Mexicans perception of America has declined sharply. In 2015, 66% of Mexicans held a favorable opinion of the U.S. however, in 2017, just a year into Trump’s presidency, that number dropped to 30%. Many Mexican citizens, believing that Trump has disgraced their country, mix this current feeling with the legacy of the 20th century, a humiliated nation. The result, a renewed spark of patriotism. Consequently, Mexico has elected the most populist President with a nationalistic tone in decades Andrés Manuel López Obrador (ALMO).  President Donald Trump is not known for his soothing rhetoric. He has taken the approach throughout his presidency that it is high time for America to focus on herself. This withdrawal from the world stage as well as the harsh rhetoric directed at Mexico has triggered a considerable shift in the national attitude of Mexico–a sharp rise in Mexican nationalism. The rise in nationalism on its own is not always a bad thing, but if the sentiment of this nationalism becomes inherently anti-American this feeling could stand to create major tensions between the two countries in the future.