Friday, September 13, 2013

Mali Civil War May Be Reigniting; Tuaregs Suddenly No Longer Satisfied with Autonomy

Last month, I reported in this space that the Tuareg rebels of the northern Mali were prepared to set aside their demands for full independence (as some sort of “Republic of Azawad) but promised that violence could be renewed if the incoming Malian president denied the region its autonomy.

But no sooner did a former prime minister, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, take office, with barely any time to articulate an Azawad policy, than violence has erupted again.  The main Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (M.N.L.A.), was calling, on September 4th, for pro-independence protests protests to coincide with the inauguration of “I.B.K.,” as Malians call their new leader.  He had promised to open negotiations with the M.N.L.A. within 60 days of taking office.


On September 11th, it was reported that M.N.L.A. rebels clashed with Malian government soldiers near Léré, in the Niafunké district of Timbuktu province, near the border with Mauritania but also right near the former border between the three provinces that make up “Azawad” and the Mopti province that forms a buffer between Tuareg and non-Tuareg parts of Mali.  Each side blames the other for starting the violence, which violates a cease-fire agreed to in June.  Three Malian troops were injured.

Where Tuaregs live.
It is unclear what position the two other main rebel groups in the north—the generally more moderate High Unity Council of Azawad and the ethnic-“Moor”-dominated Arab Movement of the Azawad (M.A.A.)—are taking on the question of peace with the central government.  Nor is it clear how unified the M.N.L.A. is on the question, or whether the renewed fighting was an intentional restarting of hostilities—and, if so, by which side.

Ansar al-Dine on parade
The current troubles—which this blog has been reporting on in detail all along—began last year when displaced pro-regime Tuareg militias from the civil war in Libya fled, bristling with Moammar al-Qaddafi’s weapons, into northern Mali and reignited the latest in a series of Tuareg uprisings which date back to the early periods of colonial rule by France.  Tuaregs made a fatal alliance with Islamists affiliated with al-Qaeda and with radicals in Algeria, notably the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar al-Dine.  Discontent in Mali’s capital, Bamako, over the government’s response to the Tuareg crisis sparked a coup d’état, which in turn created the power vacuum necessary for the M.N.L.A., MUJAO, and Ansar al-Dine to take over the northern two-thirds of the country with little opposition and declare an “Islamic Republic of Azawad.”  When, earlier this year, they attempted to spread their area of control into Mopti, with the avowed goal of placing all of Mali under shari’a (Islamic law), troops from France, Chad, and other countries intervened and put the north back into government control.  At least the cities.  Most of the hinterlands are still in rebel hands, though the Islamists have mostly melted away into the desert.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.  This, the Fifth Tuareg Rebellion (by many historians’ count), may not be over yet.  Or we may be ready for a sixth.  Without the Islamist factor, it remains to be seen how much the outside world will care this time.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the MNLA is trying to make a show of strength going into the negotiations? That wouldn't be too unusual.

    Also, note that Kidal is actually the only one of Mali's regions with a Tuareg majority, though the ethnic group is historically present in Timbuktu and Gao as well.


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