Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Azawad: The World's Newest Unoffical Country

The flag of Azawad.  From Wikipedia
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has declared Azawad, officially the northern section of Mali, independent.  To understand this event and why it matters one must understand the geohistory of the region.

Using the Lost Lands Map Technique it is clear the MNLA value northern Mali (Azawad) and not the southern half.  From Wikipedia

In December 2010 a Tunisian lit himself on fire to protest against the corruption rampant throughout Tunisia.  Because of the events unleashed by this incident the sub-Saharan country of Mali has lost control of its lightly-populated northern half to Tuareg rebels.

The tie-in involves the Tuaregs' population range.  The Tuaregs are a nomadic ethnic group which has its roots mixed from Berber tribes men and sub-Saharan Black Africans who adapted to the Saharan Desert.  Their lack of unity and no valuable land combined with European colonialism prevented the Tuaregs from gaining a geopolitical power platform.  Because of this Tuareg's are a demographic minority in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.  Their nomadic nature and unique background has set them apart from populations in the other countries.

Population range of the Tuareg.  From Wikipedia
Tuaregs have attempted several rebellions in Mali and elsewhere but have lost to both European powers and independent African countries.  Libya's former leader and pan-African advocate Muammar Gaddafi harbored many Tuareg fighters and used them as desert shock troops against tribes which "got out of line."  With the spreed of the Tunisian-started Arab Spring and then the fall of Gaddafi many Malian Tuaregs returned to their native homes and started a rebellion which quickly swept over the northern, underpopulated part of the country.

The speed of the Taregs onslaught led many Malian military leaders to accuse the democratically-elected, pro-France, American-backed government of corruption and ineptitude.  In March the military overthrew the government and a stand-off continues between the new junta and elements of the old government.  The junta is popular on a domestic level because it promises to reclaim the the lost northern lands.  However, both France and the United States want the democratic government back in power. The Western powers have cut off both military and humanitarian aid to Mali until the democratically elected government is restored.

The reason this matters to a Western-mind is the War on Terrorism.  Mali claims the MNLA has ties to al Qaeda and other Islamist militias.  The MNLA denies this and says Mali is using the al Qaeda-card to scare Western powers to back Mali in its effort to reclaim the north.  Analysts disagree on whether or not the MNLA would make Azawad an al Qaeda-haven.  However, a growing power in Azawad is Ansar Dine, an openly Islamist militia which embraces al Qaeda ideology.  Ansar Dine is a rival to the MNLA as Ansar Dine seeks to create an Islamic State of Mali not limited to the Tuareg dominated north.

Azawad is currently universally unrecognized and the fear of Islamists gaining a foothold in Africa scares many important political powers.  In order to gain independence, Azawad-leaders first need to gain control of the country from local power leaders, warlords, and Islamists.  Then it needs to show a harmless figure to other political powers.  Only then will other countries recognize it.  This is only possible if Mali does not crush it first.

3 comments:

Dina said...

Shalom. Please check out
http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2012/04/wednesday-roundup_11.html

It may be of help or interest to you.

Ryan said...

I'm familiar of the link between (Tunisia) the fall of Gadaffi and increased Tuareg aggression in northern Mali, but I don't think it's quite accurate to say the Tuareg's seized control "because" of the events in Tunisia. The new aggression is because the Malian government has not been functioning.

While I'm sympathetic to national minorities, I don't support attacking Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, and the entire northern half of the country. I can't see support coming from any country.

I expect the international community to almost entirely support the new interim President in efforts to thwart Tuareg aggression.

Michael said...

Something I've yet to see mentioned in discussions of this topic: How do people in the northwest of Mali- the part cut off from the capitol by the separatists- feel about this turn of events? Do they want to be part of a united Mali again? Do they sympathize with the separatists? Do they want to join with a neighboring country or go their own way?

Do recent events even effect them?