Mali: Timbuktu falls to the Azawadis

And a ceasefire is declared on the grounds that Tuareg-led rebels have captured enough land to create a state.

All three of Mali's major north-eastern cities have now fallen to the MNLA: Kidal, Gao and now the largest, Timbuktu. The nomadic Tuareg have triumphed and declared a ceasefire, although their Islamist co-protagonists have refused to lay down arms. ECOWAS forces are poised to intervene yet France's Foreign Minister believes there's no military solution and that only diplomacy will solve the issue. But after a century of attempting to kick out the "colonisers", as the Tuareg seem to see the established powers, talk is unlikely to roll back the forces of history.

The Tuareg are a nomadic people, remarkably homogenous and culturally similar yet inhabiting parts of five West African countries: Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Libya and Niger. The latter has uranium, while the former huge oil reserves.

Any suggestion that the Azawadis can't form a viable independent sovereign country would be ludicrous, should the rebel military succeed in every one of these states just as they have in Mali.

We might be witnessing the beginnings of a protracted multinational conflict with the possibility of the emergence of a brand new UN Member. Colonialism drew these boundaries and, fifty years after the departure of the Europeans, the map of the Sahara is set to change.

The blue men of the desert are destined to enter the global stage.

Aid angencies have expressed fears that turmoil in the north and east is compounding an already precarious situation in rump Mali in the aftermath of the recent military coup in Bamako, the nation's capital. Agency workers have fled, exposing vulnerable women and children to starvation. Does another humanitarian disaster loom? Chaos frequency ensues in the aftermath of war or in the wake of political uncertainty. As Sudan's experience demonstrates, redesigning Africa's map is a messy, costly and dangerous business. But South Sudanese independence celebrations equally proved that the local populace is typically ecstatic at the prospect of release from tyrannical oppression. The International Community will undoubtedly fret at Mali's present predicament. But carving out the territory of a modern Tuareg state from the scrub and dunes might ultimately bring prosperity to a marginalised people.

Tuareg numbers amount to:

1.79m in Niger (or around 9.3% of Niger's total)
1.45m in Mali (or around 10.0% of Mali's total)
0.85m in Algeria
0.62m in Libya
0.33m in Burkina Faso.

And some 5.7 million in all: a population roughly equivalent to that of Denmark or Nicaragua. If any weight is awarded to the concept of self-determination then should these hardy nomadic Saharan people have the right to decide their own fate?

Sources: APBBC, Vancouver Sun, Wikipedia, World Factbook.

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