Insurrection in Mali

Some nations call for a handful of pacifist leaders, a pinch of nonviolent demonstration, and a dollop of international guarantees… other states are created from a splash of xenophobia, a sprinkle of repression, and, of course, tens of thousands of pounds of heavy weaponry. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seems to have taken the latter approach to creating Azawad, an unrecognized state that claims sovereignty over northern Mali.

“Mali… that’s got giraffes and things, right?” Yes, 95% of Americans, Mali does have giraffes and things, if by things you mean a large group of Tuareg nomads who, for the last millennium, have roamed the Sahara, tending their herds, looking for water, and generally doing nomadic things. Trouble first came when France drew up Mali’s borders: they bound together the Songhay and the Tuaregs, two distinct ethnicities with different languages, cultures, and histories. Today the Tuaregs are most prominent in northern Mali in cities like Gao and Timbuktu. In contrast, the Songhays, the dominant ethnicity in southern Mali, are more reliant on agriculture and have dominated the Malian political scene (due to their slightly larger population) since the country’s independence from France.

Tuareg nomads in the Malian desert.

Despite the fact that almost nobody had heard of them before this year, the Tuaregs have been working to secure their independence even before Mali itself was an independent nation. There were two Tuareg rebellions against the French during Mali’s colonial rule, and there have since been  four Tuareg nationalist rebellions. With six failed rebellions under their belt, one may wonder how could the Tuareg Rebellion of 2012 succeed when previous ones have failed? The answer is simple: while the rebels of 1962, 1990, and 2007 lacked access to heavy weaponry, the rebels of 2012, fresh from their work as mercenaries for none other than the late Muammar Ghadafi, have been able to buy, steal, or scavenge thousands of pounds of ammunition and assault rifles from the blood-drenched sands of Libya. With these weapons the rebels may well be able to hold off any counterattack the Malian government can muster.

So far, the official reaction of the international community has been to condemn the MNLA and express sympathy towards the Malian government. Normally the Songhays would be able to capitalize on this sympathy by securing international monetary aid, UN peacekeeping forces, and maybe even foreign intervention of neighbors like Niger, which helped Mali put down the 2007 Tuareg rebellion. The reason why all of this aid has not been pledged is because Dioncounda Traore, the President of Mali, has been ousted by junior officers in Mali’s military in the wake of the Tuareg rebellion, an act that was also condemned by the international community.

Right now, with the Syrian revolution in full swing, the newspapers have largely neglected to publicize the conflict in Mali. That is not to say that the media has completely ignored the goings on of West Africa: The New York Times has recently featured an article on Mali… in The Arts section… that takes an entire two sentences out of its description of Malian ceremonial costumes to address the contentious creation of the world’s newest country.

As things continue to go from bad to worse in Mali, it seems highly unlikely that the United States will get involved. It also seems unlikely that southern Mali could single-handedly regain control of its northern provinces. It looks like, for now, the international community should get used to the idea of Azawad as an independent nation.

 Mac Zech, Staff Writer

Posted by on April 30, 2012. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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