Mali: A Scramble for Power

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Youngs Malians from the North hold a sign reading "Let us stop dreaming of a utopian country - Let us dedicate ourselves to the North of Mali" as they take part in a protest with other young Malians against the occupation of the north by Tuareg rebel fighters on 6 April 2012, in Bamako. (Photo: AFP - Issouf Sanogo)

By: Al-Mokhtar Ould Mohammad, Othman Tazghart

Published Saturday, April 7, 2012

Within the span of two weeks Mali experienced a military coup followed by a declaration of independence by the Tuareg in the north, leaving regional and international powers divided over who to support.

Tuareg revolutionaries claimed they had complete control of north Mali from Kidal to Gao last week, including the capital of their historical homeland Azawad and Timbuktu.

The general secretary of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Bilal Ag Acherif, announced the creation of the “independent state of Azawad” yesterday.

The president of its politburo Mahmoud Ag Ali spoke to Al-Akhbar after they had captured the lands populated by a majority of Tuareg and Arabs in the north on Thursday.

He said that “the announcement of the independent state of Azawad is ready. Its capital will be the historical city of Timbuktu that celebrated its third millennium two years ago.”

He added that “the Tuareg revolutionaries will put an end to military operations after the liberation of the north is complete.” They will then focus on “establishing and building the state.”

He refuted claims in the Western media that the Tuareg rebels intend to continue their military campaign, in conjunction with the Sahara branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic West, until the fall of the capital Bamako.

The independence announcement surprised many observers and became an obvious embarrassment to international and regional powers.

The governments of West Africa are still trying to decide how to deal with the military junta in the country that toppled the country’s president in March.

Should the military rebels be pressured to return to their barracks and hand over power to the “legitimate” government, or should they be given more time and indirect support in order to recapture the areas held by the Tuareg revolutionaries?

On the surface there seems to be a consensus among the “international community” to reject the announcement of Azawad independence.

The US, for example, has already announced its categorical rejection of the separatists’ demands.

The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that the declaration of independence is “null and of no value.”

For her part, EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said that “the EU has made clear throughout the crisis that it respects the territorial integrity of Mali.”

African Union President Jean Ping expressed the bloc’s “total rejection” of the Tuareg declaration of a homeland in the north and condemned this announcement in a statement saying it was “null and of no value whatsoever.”

Nevertheless, negotiations between African and Western diplomats are heating up.

On one side of the debate over how to deal with the situation in Mali there is the majority of West African countries, in addition to Algeria, Niger, and Cote d’Ivoire, who are supported by the US. They favor the new regime in Mali, hoping that it can put an end to the Tuareg secession.

They want the new junta to sign on a “declaration of principles” for a return to constitutional legitimacy and hand power back to a civilian government immediately. At the same time, they want to negotiate with Tuareg activists to form a national unity government and give the north extensive autonomy.

On the other side, there are those who call for supporting the Tuareg separatists, on the condition that they commit to fighting Al-Qaeda and expel the militant Islamist group from territories under MNLA control.

They include Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso and are supported by a strong current in the French foreign ministry.

“Dealing with the current situation cannot only be through good intentions and a declaration of principles,” a French diplomat in Paris told Al-Akhbar on Friday.

“Until now, all Western and regional efforts have failed against Al-Qaeda’s activities on the African coast, although they only have 500 armed men,” he said.

The French diplomat also explained that “for years, Tuareg activists have been expressing opinions...they are the only power that can expel Al-Qaeda from their lands if they are given the necessary political and military support...But this option was always rejected by the regional powers, who fear that the Tuareg will exploit such support to arm themselves and call for an independent state.”

He added that, “after the declaration of independence, regional and international powers have two choices. They can support the independence of Azawad on the condition that the Tuareg fight and expel Al-Qaeda or they can stand against the independent state...The second choice will push the Tuareg activists to ally themselves with Al-Qaeda against foreign intervention.”

Western powers fear that any reconsideration of borders inherited from colonialism could set a precedent that would launch an “African Spring” of secessionist movements in neighboring countries such as Libya, Niger, Algeria, and others.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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