Mali’s contradictions

August 4, 2012

The fracturing of Mali and the demand for self-determination of the Tuareg people in the north continue (see May-June N&L), but with grave contradictions. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the coalition that has fought for independence and a new country, Azawad, joined forces with Ansar Dine, a Tuareg-led militant Islamist group whose primary objective is not an independent state in the north, but rather to impose sharia law over all of Mali.

The MNLA and the Tuareg people are paying the price for this alliance. Ansar Dine has taken over the historic city of Timbuktu and imposed sharia law. Now all women must be veiled and no smoking or drinking is permitted. Resistance has quickly been repressed as in the northern city of Kidal where women and children attempted a march to oppose sharia law. Ansar Dine men in pickup trucks attacked the demonstration.

In Mali itself, after a military coup deposed the elected President, the coup was replaced by interim president Dioncounda Traore. However, he was attacked and beaten, and is being treated in France, the original colonial power. The disarray within Mali now matches the disarray in the north. These events are taking place while a devastating drought is occurring across the Sahel (a belt stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea) putting the lives of millions in several West Africa countries, including Mali, in great danger.

Within West Africa as a whole, there is strong resistance to the dismemberment of Mali and recognition of Azawad. West African military chiefs have troop commitments from Nigeria, Niger and Senegal for possible action. At present they await an invitation from what remains of Mali’s government plus backing from the UN to enter Mali for “stabilization,” and then to confront the rebel-held territories in the North if negotiations fail. France and the U.S., aiming to prevent the development of any kind of radical Islamist base, are certain to enter into this fray, possibly with air power.

With this cauldron of contending rebel factions, the Mali government and military, regional powers and France and the U.S., the possibility of genuine self-determination for the Tuareg people as well as for all the peoples of Mali now has little chance of realization.

Eugene Walker

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