Mali: Could the Azawad secede?

With oil found, and now unity between the Azawadi Haratines, Arabs and Tuaregs, could Mali split? Can the Azawad dream become reality?

Mali has struggled to contain Azawadi secessionist aspirations for years. Four times since 1900 the Tuareg have taken up arms against the central government in Bamako, three of them since 1960 when Mali gained independence from France.

1916 - 1917
1962 - 1964
1990 - 1995
2007 - 2009. 

Now disagreements and suspicions between the black peoples of the Azawad, the soudanais or Haratines, and the white population of Arabs and Tuaregs (or nomadic Berbers) have been settled by the formation of a combined secessionist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA). Bolstered by the discovery of oil in 2006 and by the return of hardened Tuareg fighters from the Libyan conflict, the BBC reports that a serious situation is rapidly developing in north-eastern Mali.

The MNLA has demanded that Bamako agrees to the opening of negotiations before 5 November, reports the BBC, which states that an experienced senior Malian figure, Interior Minister General Kafougouna Kona, has left for the region. I presume the broadcaster's correspondent refers to Kidal in the northeast, a region which borders both Niger and Algeria.

There are some 600,000 Azawadis living in the extended dried out river valley region of the ancient Azawad river, a northern arm of the Niger river (first encountered by a Westerner when British explorer Mungo Park hit upon it in the eighteenth century).

The Republic of Mali is the remnants of a once great empire, fabled for receiving Portuguese ambassadors and for sending emissaries laden with gold to the courts of the kings of Aragon and France. 

Today it remains a vast country of 1,240,192 sq km stretching from Mauritania and Senegal in the west, to Ivory Coast in the south, and Niger in the east. The north of the country is mostly desert, with Kidal city lying 1,195 km from Bamako.

Now the Azawadis have settled their differences and been strengthened by arms and troops, can Mali contain their demands? Could war resume? And will the Azawadi dream of an independent state become reality at last?

This would not be an Islamist insurrection, for the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb is another group entirely. Portrayal of it as being anything other than the manifestation of an aspiration for liberty by a marginalised and thwarted distant people would appear to be unjustified and inaccurate.

Could a new nation be born, deep in the Sahara in central NorthWest Africa? And would this nation be a pluralist concoction, or dominated ultimately by the Berber?

Tifinagh, an ancient hieroglyphic script, is used by the Tuareg to differentiate themselves from other peoples. A modern derivative of this Sinai-Phoenician alphabet could easily become the national language of the Azawad. 

General Kona will have his work cut out to undo decades, if not centuries, of conflict between the Bambara-speaking Mandinka majority and the marginalised peoples of the Azawad. The outcome of his talks with the MNLA will determine whether conflict leading to independence or some form of acceptable autonomy results.

Check out all commentaries here.

Update 1 April 2012:
The MNLA have taken swift advantage of a minor officers' coup in Bamako earlier in the year to seize the Azawad's second city of Gao. Timbuktu is in their sights, the Azawad's largest city could be selected as any new state's capital. Should Azawadi forces hold onto Gao against an inevitable government onslaught, their chances of declaring a unilateral declaration of independence in 2012 would be high. Troops from the regional economic club ECOWAS stand by, however. Could the West African region as a whole thwart Azawadi aspirations?

No comments:

Post a Comment