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The Dark Sahara: America’s war on terror in Africa

Since the dawn of time, the Sahara has been a place generating both feelings of attraction and fear. The immensity of the desert, the endless sandy dunes, and not to forget the scorching Sun have certainly contributed to beget the natural curiosity for this part of the world.

Recently the Sahara has regularly been mentioned in the media but rather for its geostrategic position and natural resources, which have led the way to numerous conflicts and unrest.

In The Dark Sahara, Jeremy Keenan exposes the US’ and Algeria’s recent actions to control the area which has been historically dominated by local nomadic, essentially Tuareg, tribes.

If I were to summarise the book in one sentence, it would be: how to make a war on terror where no terror exists. That game, which is well known to US foreign policies, constitutes the dark scenario of the dark side of the Sahara.

Keenan and the Sahara have always had a special relationship. Many years ago, the researcher at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies travelled through most parts of the desert, getting to know them like the back of his hand. Since then, his work has never gone too far away from the region. His extensive knowledge of the local contexts, which is felt throughout the whole book, gives a pertinent view of what is really at stake.

It all starts with the disappearance of 32 German tourists. But what seems to be just another case of kidnapping will actually turn out to be far a more complex situation.

Manipulation from the Algerian government, disinformation from the media, unverified rumours spread by the authorities form the recipe of an ideal smokescreen. Not to mention the mystery around the one known as El Para, presumably responsible for the abduction, who conveniently dies and reincarnates when needed.

Why so much ambiguity around such a common situation? Keenan argues that it is the direct result of to two main factors: post 9/11 context in the US and Algeria’s internal affairs.

Oil and empire. Those are what the US is after Keenan asserts. The Sahara’s main assets are its natural resources and, as the author points out, African oil has been a “strategic national interest” for the US since the Bush administration and the launch of the so-called global war on terror.

In Algeria, Keenan alleges that the authorities have tried to undermine Islamist political movements since their electoral success in the late 80s. He accuses the Algerian intelligence of creating crisis in order to discredit them to the eyes of the West. For instance, he goes as far as claiming that the country’s secret service was responsible for the supposedly Islamist terrorist wave on French territory in the 90s.

Another conspiracy theory some might argue. However Keenan’s facts are not to be underestimated. They are the result of a thorough and well-documented research. The US’ recent attempts to link Al Qaeda to the Maghreb, in spite of a total absence of proof, and Algeria’s desires for military expansion confirm that theory.

It is difficult not to link those events with the weapons of mass destruction episode in Iraq. As MIT professor Noam Chomsky put it: “if you repeat it loudly enough it will become the truth.”

The US is a country that is in a constant need of an enemy. Ronald Reagan spoke of terrorists when he referred to the Soviet Union in the early 80s, and those terrorists have now become Islamists.

That story might sound too depressing to some readers who might wonder what could be done at our level. But resistance does exist. Local populations have stood up to such intrusions and will continue to do so. It is also up to us in the West to refuse our governments’ attitude.

As long as authors like Jeremy Keenan continue their work, the world will be kept in the loop of what is happening backstage. Recommended for all Naomi Klein fans, or simply those who desire to take a glimpse at what is going on behind the scenes.

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