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Mali: A War, a Declaration of Independence and Conflicting Objectives

Things have been moving rapidly in the civil war that is tearing Mali apart. On Friday, April 6, 2012, Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) proclaimed [fr] the “Independence of Azawad” [fr]. In this crisis that threatens to sweep across the entire Sahel region, several actors with conflicting objectives are playing a dominant role.

In a post published on camer.be, Valère MBEG presents the issues [fr] behind this war:

Le Mali est un vaste pays de 1.241.238 km² et une population galopante de 15.000.000 d’habitants selon le recensement de 2009, la région de l’AZAWAD couvre les 2/3 de la superficie pour une population ne représentant que  10 % des habitants avec d’énormes richesses naturelles qui sont actuellement peu exploitées en raison de l’absence de financement en infrastructures de transports qui renchérissent le coût des exploitations. Le Mali est également le troisième producteur africain d’or après l’Afrique du Sud et le Ghana, de quoi aiguiser les appétits des multinationales qui verraient bien dans l’AZAWAD un nouveau Sud Soudan avec peu de populations pour beaucoup de richesses naturelles ….

Mali is a vast country of 1,241,238 km² with a growing population of 15,000,000, according to the 2009 census. The AZAWAD region covers two-thirds of the area and has a population representing only 10% of people and also enormous natural resources which are currently underexploited due to a lack of funding for transport infrastructure which increase the cost of operations. Mali is also the third largest African producer of gold after South Africa and Ghana—something to whet the appetites of many multinationals that could easily see AZAWAD as a new South Sudan with a small population and vast natural resources….
Territory claimed by the MNLA by @twitafrika on twitpic

Territory claimed by the MNLA by @twitafrika on twitpic

Sabine Cessou wrote [fr] about the military situation on Slate afrique:

 La donne est complexe dans le désert: les rebelles touaregs du MLNA disent ne pas poursuivre les mêmes objectifs qu’Aqmi. Ils ne se battent pas pour une République islamique de l’Azawad, mais pour la création d’un État laïc.

The issue  is complex in the desert: Tuareg rebels of MLNA say they do not pursue the same objectives as AQIM. They are not fighting for an Islamic Republic of Azawad, but for the creation of a secular state.

In a posting on malijet.com, Nouhoum DICKO reviews the situation and introduces the actors [fr] on the ground:

Le mouvement islamiste Ansar dine, (l'Armée de la religion), est l'un des autres groupes armés de la région  dirigé par Iyad Ag Ghaly, principal artisan de la prise de Kidal, dont il est originaire. Celui qui fut le principal chef de la rébellion touareg des années 1990, aurait subi l'influence des islamistes pakistanais. Ansar dine serait composé de jeunes radicalisés au contact d'Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi).

Un nouveau groupe islamiste a fait irruption en décembre 2011, le Mouvement pour l'unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest (Mujao). Se présentant comme une dissidence d'Aqmi, il serait dirigé par des activistes maliens et mauritaniens. Il avait revendiqué l'enlèvement des trois humanitaires européens dans un camp de réfugiés sahraouis. Ce groupe revendique sa participation à la prise de Gao, le samedi dernier.

The Islamist movement Ansar Dine, (The Religion Army), is one of the region's other armed groups, led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, main architect of the capture of Kidal, his home district. This man, the principal leader of the Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s, would have been influenced by Pakistani Islamists. Ansar dine would be made up of of radicalized young people who have come into contact with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

A new Islamist group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Afrida (Mujao), sprang up in December 2011. Describing itself as a breakaway faction of AQIM, it would be run by Malian and Mauritanian activists. It had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of three European humanitarian workers in a Sahrawi refugee camp. The group also claims to have participated in the capture of Gao last Saturday.

The blue men of the desert by Aysha Bibiana Balboa on Flickr ( License CC-NC-BY)

The blue men of the desert by Aysha Bibiana Balboa on Flickr ( License CC-NC-BY)

The leaders of Ansar Dine wasted no time in displaying their true colours. Indeed, maliactu.net reports [fr] that:

Le leader d’Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghaly, ex-figure des rébellions touareg des années 1990, a rencontré lundi soir les imams de Tombouctou, une ville d’environ 30.000 habitants où il compte instaurer la loi islamique, selon un fonctionnaire de l’agglomération. A la faveur de l’avancée foudroyante des rebelles touareg dans le nord du Mali, le groupe Ansar Dine et des éléments d’Al-Qaïda au Maghreb (Aqmi) ont pris lundi le contrôle de Tombouctou, aux portes du Sahara, à environ 800 km au nord-est de la capitale Bamako. Tombouctou, grand centre intellectuel de l’islam et ancienne cité marchande prospère des caravanes, surnommée “la perle du désert”, est inscrite sur la liste du patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco.

On Monday night, the leader of Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghaly, former figure of the Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s, met the imams of Timbuktu, a city of about 30,000 inhabitants, where he plans to introduce Islamic law, according to an official of the city. On Monday, through the lightning advance of the Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, the Ansar Dine group and Al-Qaeda elements in the Maghreb (AQIM) took control of Timbuktu, the gateway to the Sahara, about 800 km northeast of the capital Bamako. Timbuktu, a leading intellectual centre of Islam and ancient commercial city which prospers from merchant caravans, dubbed “the pearl of the desert”, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ibrahima Lissa FAYE, in a post entitled “Mali: Tuareg Rebels and Ansar Dine Islamists Each Claim Control of Timbuktu,” wrote [fr] on pressafrik.com:

Le chef du mouvement Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghali, semble en effet contrôler la ville après avoir fait reculer les rebelles touaregs du MNLA qui étaient entrés les premiers dans Tombouctou dimanche. Alors contrairement au MNLA qui ne s'intéresse qu'au nord du Mali, dont il réclame l'indépendance, Iyad Ag Ghali, lui, veut imposer la charia, la loi islamique, à tout le pays et à Tombouctou on signale même la présence de dirigeants d'Aqmi.

The leader of the movement Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghali, indeed appears to have control of the city after having caused the the MNLA Tuareg rebels who first entered Timbuktu on Sunday to retreat. So, unlike the MNLA who are interested only in northern Mali, where it calls for independence, Iyad Ag Ghali, himself, wants to impose Islamic Sharia law in the country and in Timbuktu, where there is even a presence of AQIM leaders.

There are major concerns among Malians regarding the respect for human rights. Rape and looting are reported in several towns under rebel control. According to a post on afriquinfos.com, at a special general meeting held in Bamako, Malick Alhousseini, president of the Collective of Residents of Northern Mali (COREN) said [fr] that:

cette rencontre se tient à un “moment douloureux de notre histoire, avec notre pays occupé, notre terroir natal aux mains des envahisseurs et des terroristes”.

Il a rappelé que depuis dimanche dernier, le Mali est un pays coupé en deux, de fait que les assaillants et les terroristes ont tout dévasté dans les localités qu'ils occupent : banques cassées, administration pillée, centres de santé vandalisés, entre autres.

this meeting was held at a “painful moment in our history, with our country occupied, our native lands in the hands of the invaders and terrorists”.

He recalled that since last Sunday, Mali has been a country divided in two, because the assailants and terrorists have destroyed everything in the communities they occupy: banks broken, administrative buildings looted, health facilities vandalized, among others.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), indicating that its objectives were achieved, put an end to hostilities for a few days before proclaiming its independence.

But there is proof of the differing objectives of the groups who participated in the fighting: according to atlasinfo.fr (the Algerian consulate in Gao, one of the conquered cities), while the MNLA made ​​these statements, another movement and six of its officials were abducted and taken [fr] to an unknown location:

L’attaque s’est produite en fin de matinée. Un groupe armé a attaqué le consulat. Il a remplacé le drapeau algérien par un drapeau noir avec des écritures arabes, emblématique des mouvements salafistes.

The attack occurred in the late morning. An armed group attacked the consulate. It replaced the Algerian flag with a black flag with Arabic writing, emblematic of the Salafi movement.

Condemning the abduction and all acts of vandalism and attacks against civilians in the liberated towns, the MNLA, in a press release signed by [fr] Bakaye Ag Hamed Ahmed, Communications, Information and Media Relay Officer, made the following statement:

Le Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad se désolidarise de toutes les organisations mafieuses s’étant introduite ces jours-ci dans l’Azawad, contribuant à instaurer un climat de chaos et de désordre, après la libération du territoire.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad dissociates itself from all mafia organizations that are being introduced in Azawad these days, contributing to a climate of chaos and disorder, after the liberation of the territory.

This imbroglio is complicated by the fact that severe sanctions have been imposed upon Mali by the Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations, following the military coup that overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré and helped precipitate events.

Beyond Mali, there are all the neighbouring states where Tuareg populations threatened with collapse are found. The demographic structures are identical: a Sahelian area in the north where the Tuaregs and other black minority populations dwell, many of whom are nomadic, and a more hospitable area inhabited by sedentary populations. In all countries, this second area is the one that absorbs the most investment and is inhabited mainly by blacks, causing resentment on the part of the first area's inhabitants, who believe that the distribution of resources is inequitable.

This complex situation is a threatening one for the civilian population, and is further complicated by Boko Haram‘s [fr] potential to do harm, the flow of arms from the Libyan arsenal [fr], the chronic shortage of water and the risk of famine.

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