Today, Mali; Tomorrow, Nigeria for Al-Qaida

Richard Dowden, writing for the U.K.’s Times newspaper, examines “what went wrong” in Mali and what it means for the rest of Africa. 

From being a blank spot on the map, the Sahara now looks like a springboard for the advance of militant Islam. 

Until recently Mali was famous only for its music and for Timbuktu — our nickname for nowhere. Suddenly the French are invading this huge, poor, sparsely populated, landlocked African country, much of which is empty desert. Britain is helping them (if we can get our aircraft to fly).

Just a couple of years ago Mali was held up by Western aid donors as a success. It had been relatively democratic since the Malians overthrew a dictatorship in 1992. And despite being poor — its main earners are gold and cotton — it functioned better than

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