Introduction political and cultural practices. This new

Introduction

Introduction

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On January 2012, the “Fourth Tuareg Rebellion” was launched with the
taking of military installations and barracks in the town of Menaka, situated
in North-East Mali, a territory approximately two thirds of the country’s total
size with only a small percentage of the population inhabiting these arid and
hostile lands. This surprise attack could have been predicted as it wasn’t part
of a new phenomenon since the Tuareg people have, for many years, tried to
express their anger through several rebellion since the 1960s, each of which
shared similarities. Two months after the attack, a political coup led to the
stepping down of President Amadou Tourmani Touré whilst rebel forces in the
North have proven to become successful in their campaign for an autonomous
Azawad region against the Malian armed forces, before being themselves
dislodged by Islamist groups. The 2012 Tuareg rebellion should be understood as
a continuum of a half century of violence and conflicts which have flamed
tensions and poisoned relations between Tuaregs communities and all regional
actors which attempted to limit the ethnic group’s social, economic, political
and cultural practices. This new armed rebellion came soon after the events of
the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East and is directly linked to
Qaddafi’s downfall. The insurgency led by the MNLA in 2012 was not the first
Malian experience of rebellion of Tuareg people demanding independence,
autonomy or better access to services. It was however a turning point for Mali
with the intrusion and participation of armed terrorist group, such as Al-Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Historically speaking, we can trace the Tuareg’s grievances even before
the country’s independence when elders and tribal leaders asked France for
their communities not to be included in countries which would be eventually led
by sub-Saharan people. However, their claims went unheard which explains the
Tuareg rebellion in the Kidal region between 1962 and 1964. They rebelled
against the Malian ruling authority which tried to reorganise this complicated
cast system. In response, the Malian government violently reprimanded the
revolt which ultimately led to the migration, displacement towards neighbouring
countries such as Libya and Algeria. Such displacement occurred later on
following later rebellions against the government which is mainly due to the
nature of the group as a nomadic tribe and most importantly to the porosity of
borders in this part of the region and the world. Furthermore, the 1970s and 1980s
saw Northern Mali under the heavy weight of economic difficulties due to
draughts occurring in the region which profoundly affected Tuareg tribes.
International aid was sent to the country but failed to reach this community
and was not distributed to the Tuareg who were heavily suffering from this
ecological disaster, leaving the community with a feeling of alienation, of
being abandoned.

Since the country’s independence, the Tuareg went from a role of
opposition to the central authority, to a source of constant repeated rebellion
throughout the decades with the prime objective of secession. The 2012
insurgency of the Tuareg people however marked a turning point as the group
officially declared the independence of the Azawad soon after their northern
conquests, allied itself with extremist Islamist organisations operating in the
region and most important, the rebellion gained world attention due to its’
potentially disastrous regional consequences.

 

The MNLA, a new generation of fighters

The MNLA (Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad) is a political
and military organisation which was established in October 2011, after agreeing
on the fact that the absence of an exclusively political organisation would be
incredibly damaging, many young Tuareg, with the objective of achieving
independence in Northern Mali and defending the Tuaregs’ interest against a
“Terrorist Totalitarian state” which, according to the organisation, is guilty
of crimes against the Tuareg community and against the people of Azawad. The
organisation also accused the Malian government of using torture, deliberate
violence, arbitrary killings, rape and human rights violations against northern
tribes. Other than repeated persecutions, the organisation also accuses the
Government of failing to properly develop the North of the country. This
secular movement sought the self-determination of Azawad in Northern Mali. The
MNLA is born of a fusion of two pro-independance groups: the MTNM (Mouvement
Touareg du Nord-Mali) and the MNA (Mouvement National de l’Azawad). The MNLA
officially launched the offensive against government forces on January 2012
when it took control of key strategic military bases in the North but it was
unable to control the northern territories which explains its cooperation with
armed jihadist groups such as Ansa Dine.

The MNLA was therefore inheriting a long conflictual history between the
Tuaregs in northern Mali and the Government itself. The Tuaregs have rebelled
three times since the country’s independence in the 1960s in the hope of
reaching their objectives. However, the Tuaregs were weakened in the 1960s
after their first rebellion and the violent response of the Government against
the northern insurgents. However, the bitterness generated after the conflict,
the droughts of 1972 and the misappropriation of international humanitarian aid
by government officials eventually led to another rebellion in the 90s.

The Rebellion in the 1990s led to the signing of the Tamanrasset Accords
in 1991 and the National Pact in 1992 which aimed at developing the north and
better representation of the Azawad region within national institutions. Many
policies were adopted with the hope of appeasing the Tuareg’s anger and
frustration such as the construction of infrastructure in the north, better
political representation, further investments in the north and the
incorporation of Tuareg fighters in the Malian regular military. Many of the
promises weren’t kept which eventually led to a third rebellion in 2006 which
led to the signing of the Algiers Accord I the same year which once again aimed
at better integrating the north.

However the recruitment of many Tuaregs in Libya under the Gaddafi rule
to incorporate the regular army or simply act as mercenaries led to their
return and the Libyan crisis soon which explain why the latest rebellion was in
fact a collateral damage from the Libyan crisis.

 

Background to the 2012 Tuareg Rebellion

The war in Libya and the fall of Gaddafi following the rebels, with NATO
airstrikes support, victory against the regime were a major factor in the
return of fighters to Mali and subsequently, return to fighting against the
Malian government. However, the Tuareg situation in the country finds its roots
in political and economic issue dating back to Tuareg experience of French
colonialism. The later prospect of decolonisation worried even more some Tuareg
leaders in the desert areas which is why hundreds of tribes members, alongside
the Tuareg, signed a petition in 1958 asking for their ethnic specificity to be
taken into account in the post-colonial political geography. However, their
voice went unheard and the Sahara (and thereof, Tuareg territories) were split
in various States tearing Tuareg communities apart between Mali, Libya, Niger,
Algeria and so on. Above all, the power is transferred to the “blacks” with a
new national elite based in the south. Such feeling of betrayal and rejection
of new border led to the very first rebellion against the newly formed
government of Mali in 1963 and eventually ended one year later.

This period on Tuareg history marks the start of Tuareg’s opposition to
the Malian government and is at the very heart of the violence which affected
the country for many years. The 2012 should be understood by its persistence of
resentment against the successive Malian governments which have been accused by
the tribal group of not helping the Tuaregs when affected by droughts in the
70s and 80s and of not redistributing humanitarian aid which eventually led to
the collapse of the nomadic pastoral economy of the group which later explains
its massive exile to neighbouring countries, including Libya. For decades, the
rift between the Malian authorities and Tuareg communities took a racial turn
fed by bloodbaths, violence, and increased marginalisation of northern tribes.

Furthermore, President Amadou Toumani Touré’s election in 2002 did not
appease tensions as the government failed to develop the North of the country
which was hit by poverty due to lacks of investments, new episodes of droughts
and discrimination which eventually led to another rebellion in 2006 in the
region of Kidal. This rebellion led to the signing of accords between both
belligerents. In 2010, the program for peace, security and development of
northern Mali (Programme pour la Paix, la Sécurité et le Développement du
Nord-Mali) was established in an attempt to appease tensions. The priority for
the government was to further militarise the north as to bring more security
and increase development in the north with projects including building of
infrastructures such as roads, schools etc.

 

Understanding the Successes of the MNLA

The main reason Tuareg fighters were ready for combat in 2012 and so
well organised is mainly due to the fact that the Tuareg had for many years
built up their forces and their strength due to their relation with Muammar
Gaddafi. Because of neglect by the Malian Government and of environmental
factors such as draughts which heavily affected the community, the Tuaregs were
massively recruited in Libya to serve in Gaddafi’s military in a paramilitary
force called the Islamic Legion which was specialised in desert warfare.
However, events in the region, more precisely, 
the Arab Spring and the overthrow of Gaddafi’s  authoritarian rule by Libyan rebels with the
help of NATO airstrikes in 2011 had negative effects on regional stability. One
unintended result of Gaddafi’s downfall was the mass return of fighters to Mali
alongside an influx of Libyan military weapons. Most Tuareg communities, once
under the protection of the dictator were now forced to retreat and return to
Northern Mali and many of the returnees were well trained and equipped as a
result of their intensive training in special camps in the Libyan desert. Just
like in the 1990s, a large number of those Tuareg fighters returned to their
Malian homeland which they had come to despise. Such training, weapons and
presence of seasoned fighters overwhelmingly tipped the balance and laid the
framework for a new rebellion in the country. The return of fighters and the
establishment of the MNLA in 2011, a secular separatist group led by Bilal Ag
Cherif, whose aim was the establishment of an independent state in Northern
Mali, sparked more tensions in the region. The MNLA started it’s rebellion in
2012 with the support of Islamist and terrorist cells operating in the region
such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and the Movement for
Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Indeed the second important factor
behind the MNLA’s success at the start of the rebellion was because of the
group’s military alliances with other Islamic oriented groups in the region
such as those mentioned above.

Mali’s political instability not only affected the country and also
allowed insurgents to grow in number, in strength and therefore strongly impact
the country’s stability and integrity. The return of so many motivated and well
trained combatants and political instability in Mali explain how rebels managed
to take so many key cities in 2012 in the north and at record speed. The
government failed to counter attack the MNLA and its radical Islamist allies.
After failing to cease the rebels’ advance and being suspended from the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the MNLA took advantage of
the stepping down of President Amadou Toumane Toure on April 8, 2012 and seized
Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal before stopping its’ advance and splitting the country
in two. The MNLA and Ansar Dine eventually merged together to form an
autonomous state in norther Mali, the Islamic Republic of Azawad. Such alliance
between both groups seems counterproductive to the Tuareg cause as the MNLA
identifies itself as a secular representative of northern ethnic groups.

 After signing an accord on May
26, 2012, an MNLA commander (Bouna Ag Attayoub) in Timbuktu reportedly told the
BBC that “the Islamic Republic of Azawad is now an independent sovereign state”
(BBC, 2012).  Such merge seem to
illustrate the softening of the mutual distrust between Ansar Dine and the MNLA
as Ansar Dine initially opposed the view of the creation of an autonomous state
preferring the enforcement of Sharia throughout the country, thereof including
the south. Similarly, the MNLA had at many occasions opposed and resisted the
radical Islamist approach such as that of Ansar Dine and preferred to remain
secular. Unfortunately for the MNLA, this relative period of co-habitation
between the armed groups was short-lived. The taking of Timbuktu became a key
moment in the Tuareg insurgency as Islamist groups such as Ansar Dine, MUJAO
and AQIM overtook the secular MNLA which was eventual displaced by Ansar Dine
later on after receiving support from AQIM and MUJAO to defeat the Malian army
and the MNLA group whilst taking control of the North of Mali, establishing
themselves in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu and imposing a radical interpretation of
Islamic law before heading south toward the capital capturing Konna, the last
major city separating them from the capital Bamako. The MNLA was unable to
preserve Tuareg and Arab unity as illustrated with the creation of Ansar Dine.
Both organisation presented political and social opposition. On one side, the
MNLA was in favour of establishing a secular state close to traditional Tuareg
practices on the basis of a moderate version of Islam. On the other hand, Ansar
Dine presented itself as a group which demanded the strict application of
sharia all over the country. The MNLA gradually lost its influence, its key
strategic cities it had previously captured. Ansar Dine took over as the leader
of the insurgency against the Malian Government, sought to implement sharia law
with the banning of secular practices and the removal of un-Islamic vestiges,
and rehabilitate the authority of religious elders in towns and cities whilst
abandoning the MNLA’s initial ambition of an independent Azawad State in the
North.

In October 2012, the MNLA officially renounced its secessionist goals in
favour of self-determination. The retreat of both MNLA fighters and Government
military forces from many towns and cities in northern Mali allowed extremist
organisation to establish themselves with little or no resistant, and impose
their ideology and law by force as reported by Amnesty International.

 

Conclusion

In the wake of the MNLA’s military and political defeat at the hands of
extremist Islamist groups in the region, there seems to be no room left today
for an independent state for the Tuaregs and the world, and Malian authorities
especially, have shifted their priorities towards eliminating the extremists’
organisation. Despite the MNLA’s successes at the start of their campaign for
secession, the organisation was then met with many challenging difficulties,
the dominant one being the threat of spread of Islamist ideology. Such
considerable threat should be seen as one of the major mistakes committed by
the MNLA by being part of a “winning team” as to meet their objectives.

The 2012 Tuareg rebellion can be seen as a repeat in history, in a
country which has witnessed countless insurgencies of unsatisfied Tuareg
people. The latest rebellion has even to some extent grown bigger than previous
ones due to the instability of the Malian government at the time of the event
and most importantly to the role of Islamists in the conflict which, in a
sense, allowed the conflict to gain international attention followed by the
French intervention in 2013.

Once again, the Tuaregs are faced with an uncertain future, possibly
deepened grievances which could eventually lay the foundation for another
uprising in the near future, especially after the main Tuareg factions in Mali
recently threatened to boycott talks with the government on the implementation
of the 2015 Peace Agreement therefore putting at risk the already weak hope of
stability peace, which would eventually be signed in September 2017.Historically speaking, we can trace the Tuareg’s grievances even before
the country’s independence when elders and tribal leaders asked France for
their communities not to be included in countries which would be eventually led
by sub-Saharan people. However, their claims went unheard which explains the
Tuareg rebellion in the Kidal region between 1962 and 1964. They rebelled
against the Malian ruling authority which tried to reorganise this complicated
cast system. In response, the Malian government violently reprimanded the
revolt which ultimately led to the migration, displacement towards neighbouring
countries such as Libya and Algeria. Such displacement occurred later on
following later rebellions against the government which is mainly due to the
nature of the group as a nomadic tribe and most importantly to the porosity of
borders in this part of the region and the world. Furthermore, the 1970s and 1980s
saw Northern Mali under the heavy weight of economic difficulties due to
draughts occurring in the region which profoundly affected Tuareg tribes.
International aid was sent to the country but failed to reach this community
and was not distributed to the Tuareg who were heavily suffering from this
ecological disaster, leaving the community with a feeling of alienation, of
being abandoned.

Since the country’s independence, the Tuareg went from a role of
opposition to the central authority, to a source of constant repeated rebellion
throughout the decades with the prime objective of secession. The 2012
insurgency of the Tuareg people however marked a turning point as the group
officially declared the independence of the Azawad soon after their northern
conquests, allied itself with extremist Islamist organisations operating in the
region and most important, the rebellion gained world attention due to its’
potentially disastrous regional consequences. 

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