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Gadaffi, Mali and the Tuaregs: The law of unintended consequences

Wednesday 22 August 20126:25 pm
Lindsey Hilsum
When Nato supported the revolution which overthrew Colonel Gaddafi last year, I doubt they considered the impact his demise would have on the West African state of Mali. But the Tuareg rebellion, which led to the Al-Qaeda takeover in northern Mali, was an unforeseen result.

Gaddafi started to recruit nomadic Tuaregs for his Islamic Legion in the 1970s. Known as the “Kurds of Africa” because they are spread over five countries and have no nation of their own, the Tuareg were good fighters and they needed the money. Over the years, they fought for Gaddafi in several of the conflicts he fomented in Africa. It didn’t mean they had privileges – in Libya as elsewhere, local bureaucrats saw the nomadic Tuaregs as a nuisance, and often denied them papers and education. But they became seen as Gaddafi’s men. After Gaddafi fell, several hundred Tuareg escaped across the desert, anti-aircraft weapons and heavy machine guns mounted on the back of their pickups. They drove through Niger and into Mali to restart a decades-long struggle for “Azawad”, an independent Tuareg state in northern Mali. They called themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
Many of their grievances were legitimate – over the years, Mali’s politicians had grown rich off the proceeds of corruption, while the north of the country descended into poverty and lawlessness. But their uprising did not turn out as planned. For a start, many other people – Arabs, Songhai, Bella – live in northern Mali, especially in the towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. They didn’t want Tuareg rule.

Then, the MNLA allied themselves with jihadis, including Al-Qaeda in the Mahgreb, who had been using the deserts of northern Mali as a base for kidnapping and drug smuggling. In March, the jihadis and the Tuaregs drove out the Malian army. But the MNLA seemingly had no plan for governing their new territory and were ill-disciplined and disorganised. By the end of June, the MNLA were in disarray and jihadis seized the moment – they crushed the MNLA.
Tuareg who fled south became victims again – other Malians blamed them for causing unrest and chaos, and allowing the Islamists to take control. Some were set upon, so they fled to Burkina Faso or Niger. Now Tuaregs are fleeing into Mauritania to avoid the strict form of sharia the Islamists are imposing in the north.
For more on the refugee situation in Mali, see the UN Refugee Agency’s portal
As yet, western governments have not intervened to push the Islamists out of northern Mali. Many in the capital, Bamako, think it is time Nato came to their aid. After all, they reason, Nato intervened to oust Colonel Gaddafi, so surely it has a responsibility to protect Malians from the unintended consequences of Nato action.
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Mer relevant info om vad som kommer hända i norra Mali:
Force inevitable if Mali talks fail: Nigeria
DAKAR — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said that regional troops would definitely intervene in Islamist-occupied northern Mali if negotiations with the extremists failed to yield a solution.
"Diplomacy or negotiation is the first, military intervention is extreme. When negotiation fails that is the time you can talk about military intervention," said Jonathan, who is on a 24-hour visit to Senegal.
He said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would also need a United Nations mandate before stepping in.

"ECOWAS will definitely intervene militarily, but ... first and foremost we are negotiating," said the Nigerian leader after talks with President Macky Sall.
"We must stabilise the government ... I believe through negotiation we will be able to resolve the crisis, we don't necessarily need military intervention ... but if that fails we will have no option."
Mali this week formed a new unity government on orders from ECOWAS in the hopes it would be better able to deal with the country's crises, and make an official request for military back-up from the regional troops.
The country is being run by interim authorities who took over from a military junta which ousted democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, plunging the once stable nation into turmoil.

The ensuing political chaos allowed Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels to seize control of the vast desert north, an area larger than France or Texas, where they have enforced strict sharia law.

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