What Azawad Independence Means to Mali

Opinion / Editorial –
Touareg rebels from the vast desert regions of the Sahara have laid claim to a new and independent country they are calling Azawad.  Following on the footsteps of the retreating national army, Touaregs of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) have gained the significant and historical northern cities of Gao, Tombouctou (Timbuktu), and Kidal and with them bragging rights for over 50% of Mali’s existing national territory.

Malians Deserve A Government That Prioritizes Development

Amidst alternating claims that this rebellion finds its source in the fallout from Libya’s recent civil war or that it is strengthened by the heavy presence of the Al-Queda movement in the inaccessible reaches of the Sahara, what is the real probability that such a country can succeed?  Add to this another important question around legitimacy – are the fifteen days since the coup d’état that fell former President Amadou Toumani Touré enough to establish the popular foundation any regime needs to survive?

Beyond these existentialist questions, some practical ones: What resources will this country use in a place where even water is in incredibly short supply and where refugee camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and other charities have contributed more to local production than private businesses?  What sort of international relationships could such a country aspire to with western powers upon which it would presumably be dependent for aid but who would be terrified of the perceived threat from terrorist groups harbored inside its vast borders?  Ethnically, in a region dotted with a mosaic of tribal affinities and confused by almost a century of French colonialism, would all groups be accepted into the Azawad nationality, or could another explosive situation develop beyond anyone’s control?

The recent developments in the north of Mali are disastrous for all involved.  The military that supposedly revolted against the Malian president because he was not doing enough to protect them from the northern rebels, and in so doing deserted all of the northern defensive positions leaving them ripe for Touareg conquest, has discredited itself irreparably.  How can it now be seen as a force for national protection?  The concept of the Azawad country existing independently from the rest of Mali is scarily absurd.  With so little resources on hand and zero experience in governance, it’s hard to see what revenue streams would be open to them besides harboring militant islamists or getting more involved with activities that scare western governments sick.  Let’s remember that from Gao, a modern airplane can reach France in less than two hours.  Such a close bastion of potential islamic extremism so close to Europe could hardly be allowed to gain strenth and grow.  Finally, the national elections in Mali; initially scheduled for April 29, 2012, just five short weeks after the coup was staged, are seeming unlikely to go forth in the imminent future.   In reaction to the coup, bordering countries have closed their borders to trade, with a more serious embargo in discussion before the UN Security Council.  Businesses are flailing at the very time when soaring commodities prices had given rise to record levels of mining activity and real prospects for the long-suffering economy.  It’s as if two weeks were all that were necessary to lose all the progress that Mali’s twenty years of successful democratic activity had brought.

In the coming weeks we will see what if anything the powers that be decide to do about this.  The United States was heavily involved in the Sahara region, and has been quietly planning a “cordon militaire” stretching several thousand kilometers across dusty territories where little can grow, but where a lot can be hidden.  Its special forces paid for recently installed Junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to train with American forces in the USA.  Observers suggest threateningly that Algeria will not accept the breakup of its southern neighbor, as Britain pulls its diplomats.  Senegal, immediately to the west, is still reeling from a difficult electoral process that ended this week.

The proper international reaction need not be as difficult as the distances and scale could imply.  It’s time for the international community to take an important and principled stand.   If Mali’s government can be overturned by a group of mid-ranking officers, and the north taken by a piecemeal Touareg force, surely taking Mali back from them is a realistic objective.  In addition to sanctions, ECOWAS (the Community of West African States) must stand solidly behind an international intervention force.  ECOWAS should keep its name in front, but western powers should add their military capabilities to keep the conflict short and effective.  The intervention must start with a stated goal of holding elections by the end of this year, and provide the aid necessary to that effect.  No one can afford to let another African country slip and fall.  We can less afford to let go of Mali, which before three weeks ago had been making real and positive progress.   The rule of law is a fragile thing, and we should fight to keep it intact.


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    May 11, 2012 at 2:33 am #

    Il semblerait que la misère intellectuelle dans laquelle est plongée une grande partie de ces régions accorde à un seul homme maigrement entouré de prendre la parole et d’emmener son peuple dans une vision. S’il est suffisamment performant, il bénéficiera de l’effet d’entrainement dans lequel suivront quelques journalistes tendancieux, puis quelques écrivaillons, et quelques gros bras. Puis, 10 ans plus tard, il constitue une idéologie localement ancrée, dont il mesure l’expansion au fur et à mesure de la fierté apporté du fait de ses victoires militaires. Les citoyens maliens dans les environs géographiques finissent par se raccrocher à la structure sémantique facile qui consiste à se dire qu’ après tout, ce sont des musulmans, et comme ils montrent qu’ils peuvent eatre volontaires pour construire le pays, l’on finit par se convertir à leur vision. Il me semble donc que tout ceci est un projet porté par quelqu’un ou un petit groupe, comme celui d’Ag Aghali et cette vision semble dénuée de tout projet réaliste associant les autres peuples présents sur leur Azawad à leur projet. Une vision de courte vue qui ne se saurait en rien se laisser légitimer par l’Histoire. Le peuple Touareg n’a pas fait la preuve de son intégrité, de sa créativité, de sa diversité, ni de sa tolérance lorsque cette identité touareg est liée à une revendication nationaliste.Car ceci est encore une question de revendication ethnique, et cette vision a été combattue par les prises d’indépendances. Je souhaite que les africains se réveillent en se détachant de l’insécurité qu’ils ressentent hors de leur identité subjective à concentration familiale. Il est nécessaire de dynamiser la construction des sociétés africaines. Voilà trop longtemps que tous se sont focalisés sur l’économie, et pendant ce temps, les intelligences stagnent. Rattraper, pour l’Afrique, c’est aussi refuser la politique de la génération perdue, et c’est se donner les moyens (comme A. Ouattara aime à le faire penser/espérer) de resteaurer à la fois l’Etat et la société civile. Mais des priorités semblent malheureusement trop absentes de sociétés au paysage intellectuel trop vague pour y développer de nouvelles choses en matière d’idées opérantes pour la société. Au final, je me dis qu’ils rencontrent les mêmes problèmes que nous. DONT cette aptitude particulière à prendre les paroles d’un homme pour la vision de l’Etat !

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