Initial Take on Events in Mali 2011/12/13

Events in Mali have been fluttering around in the ether, such as it is, as pieces of half-noticed news for months now. The UN calls for “swift deployment” of troops to Mali news on the BBC World Service which jangled the early morning northern Euro strugglings towards daylight gave LSW a boot in the bum to get a Mali page together on Landed Series Wandering.

A narrative needs historical background and past and present players as well as a slant, hopefully as closely hewn to the truth as possible but the truth always seems to be a point of contention. Nonetheless (all quotes from the BBC, unless otherwise noted):

Dioncounda Traore, interim president, ally of the deposed and unpopular President Amadou Toumani Toure, “army general widely credited with rescuing Mali from military dictatorship and establishing democracy in Mali – was deposed as president by a coup in March.” Came to power in 1991 after overthrowing military ruler Moussa Traore. Was called the ‘soldier of democracy’ because he handed power back to civilians after an election in 1992. Won elections in 2002 and 2007

“But he became deeply unpopular as people became increasingly frustrated with his government for doing little to tackle corruption and the growing insecurity and eventual rebellion in the north.”

March 21 coup,”seems to have been spontaneous, arising out of a mutiny that erupted at the Kati military camp”. Capt Amadou Sanogo led the coup.

African regional bloc Ecowas broker a deal returning power to an interim civilian government. During the military coup rebels made rapid advances.

“In the early 1990s the nomadic Tuareg of the north began an insurgency over land and cultural rights that persists to this day, despite central government attempts at military and negotiated solutions.

The insurgency gathered pace in 2007, and was exacerbated by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war.”

After the March 2012 coup the Saharan branch of al-Qaeda gained control over the Tuareg north “effectively seceding from the rest of Mali and establishing a harsh form of Islamic law.”

The BBC says that The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist Ansar Dine are the two major Tuareg groups involved in the takeover of the north of Mali. Although there are major strains between them, they have fought together, for example to take over Timbuktu.

The MLNA is seeking indpendence for Tuareg’s northern homeland, which it calls Azawad. Ansar Dine, has connections to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. There are reports, though unconfirmed, of foreign jihadis in the area, such as possibly Boko Haram. The Ansar Dine does not wish independence from Mali but rather to introduce Sharia law to the country, according to the BBC.

Tuaregs returned from Libya, where they backed Gaddafi during his fight to resist being overthrown well-trained and in possession of a wealth of weapons.

“Two important figures in the MNLA are the general secretary Bila Ag Cherif and Mohamed Ag Najim, the head of the movement’s military wing.”

Interestingly, Al Jazeera provides a slightly different description of Thursday’s (Jan. 9) events:

“Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Wednesday on the streets of Mali’s capital, Bamako, and in the southwestern city of Kati, calling for the liberation of the north and the resignation of Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore.”

LSW is not sure to what degree the MNLA has participated in the latest fighting in Kono and Douentza. Western media tends to focus on the ‘Islamist’ aspect, which may well be in order, but the Tuaregs seem to be left out of the equation in western versions of the situation in Mali. Mali is a country, as well, which should not be forgotten and has its own dynamics as evidenced by demonstrations in the streets of the country’s cities.