France has taken Mali from the cliff edge and sent the message that it will pull all stops to ensure that Al-Qaeda would not hold sway in the West African region.
It is now the turn of West African nations to rally round in support of this bold move by France for the necessary back-up, to right Mali back on track.
What events in Mali have taught domestic strategists, is that regional organizations, need to have rapid response troopers on the ready to take off to troubled spots with the minimum of delays.
For development in Mali and even earlier ones elsewhere, the response is like waiting until the fire has started before finding the water and foam, maintenance the engine, advertising for the driver, recruiting the crew, giving them the technical training before making them airborne.
This, maybe is why the call is being made for West African states to become battle ready.
“It’s time consuming and runs counter to quick results,” one analysts said the other day.
The flames of Mali’s trouble have been fanning in the wind since mid last year but many heads were buried in the design catalogue.
While only pledges were coming from many African states, the jihadists and salafists were busy destroying ancient monuments and artefacts, instituting sharia laws and killings and putting parts of Northern Mali under crude rule.
“They were comfortable with the delay on the other side,” noted one Malian politician.
The shock was when it was envisaged that the beginning of the onslaught against the jihadists will take off by September.
But the jihadists apparently drunk by their own mischief, see it as a happy-go-lucky and casted caution to the wind.
France stepped in and brought an abrupt halt to it all.
Events have shown that although the French involvement was a well thought programme it had not been a walk-through, so far as the jihadists and their surrogates were well-armed and battle-prepared.
What has so far won the day is the effective use of air power, which has fractured the spines and ribs of the jihadists and has prepared the ground for foot soldiers to undertake the mopping up operations.
For all sides though, it has been a regrettable lesson that the fight against terrorism is definitely not a one nation show. It is long drawn and financially demanding with the best option for countries to pull their resources and expertise.
In the Malian affair, it is best for West African nations to put together a road map to ensure a rapid standby force to respond to volatile situations.
Otherwise, it will be like water running downstream, engulfing everything in its path.
Of the three countries trapped in the triangle, Mali, Algeria and Mauritania, Algeria stands aloof with its over 127 thousand soldiers and a similar number of reservists.
That’s why it was able to go it alone to respond to the attack on the desert Ain Amenas refinery, although some 37 hostages from eight countries died in the affray.
For Mali though, dozens of forces will continue in play in the north for the foreseeable future.
First is Ecowas, which will have to pick up the spoils and make good a country that had been battered. It would also work on national elections which will be the healing balm to reunite the country once more.
Second, it will be the African Union which should step up its continental role of acting as the umbrella of Ecowas to plug whatever gaps appear.
It would be the challenge of its new chair, South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is itching to make her debut as the continent’s problem solver.
Her watchword, ”it’s never too late to avoid war” may sound hollow but here is her chance to polish the job started by France.
Then there is the United Nations which gave the nod to Ecowas to proceed with the war to reclaim the north.
Britain, within the European Union component are planning further transport and surveillance aspects in addition to two transport aircraft already active in service in the French-led operation in Mali.
The EU will also send some 500 military trainers by mid February. The US has already pledged logistical and intelligence support but will not send in troops.
These co-ordinations should now put West African states in high gear to beef up their 6000 -man planned deployment which is still paper-thin at the moment.
Here, the Malian proverb holds through …you can hide the baby but can’t hide his cries.