20 Sep Azawad…The Dream of Tuareg*
The word “Azawad” may not have significance in intellectual dialogues in the Gulf countries because it’s an issue that didn’t try to impose itself in the Gulf press. In my own opinion, this can be attributed to the Malian people being convinced that the Gulf media won’t tackle in detail any issues it raises whatsoever. The geographical and intellectual remoteness of Gulf people from conflict zones in Africa resulted in a mutual Afro-Gulf conviction that both sides will never come to understand the interests of each other.
Almost no African country is free from the threat of the secession of a part of its territory. In most African countries in which I stayed for a while I felt that threat dominating the ins and outs of a given country, and the regime would then declare the state of emergency which affects in some way or another the normal course of life in the country.
When I attended the African Political Development Conference held in Accra, capital of Ghana in 2012, I met a group of Malian colleagues who participated in the presentation of an academic paper. The discussion was about the Azawad Crisis, minutes before all I knew about was mentioning it in the Malian capital Bamako may lead to one’s arrest.
The Azawad Crisis started with the French colonization of Mali by the end of the 19th century, which could defeat the largest Tuareg Sultanates governing Azawad for centuries, namely Kel Adagh and Iwillimmidan Kel Ataram following a fierce struggle. The territory was under French control till 1958 when the inhabitants sent a message to Charles de Gaulle demanding support to establish the Independent State of Azawad. Though, Paris rejected the demand and the territory was annexed to the Republic of Mali in 1960 under the presidency of Modibo Keita, one of the most prominent socialist leaders in Africa.
The people of Azawad realized that the new government was planning to confiscate their property in order to realize its socialist principles. The first rebellion began in Kidal in 1962-1964 led by Zayed Al-tahir, leader of the Ifoghas Tuareg tribe but was suppressed by the then-army commander Idriss Deby who was reported by historical sources to have perpetrated the most tragic atrocities against humanity. Following this, the government imposed a military rule that forced most of the population to flee to neighboring countries while a group of them settled in Libya after late president Muammar Qadhafi had seized power in 1969. Qadhafi welcomed this group which in turn supported him in establishing the Green Armed Battalion that participated in the Chadian-Libyan war, at the end of which the Libyan government rewarded the Tuareg by constituting The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in 1988.
It was also in Libya that the second rebellion started from 1990 till 1996, a period that witnessed the initiative of President Moussa Traoré who signed in 1991 the Tamanrasset Agreement in Algeria with the rebels. The agreement ruled that the Kidal region be guaranteed autonomy and developed but the Malian Army led by General Amado Tomani viewed the agreement as a compromise of the country. Accordingly, Gen. Tomani carried out a military coup and could overthrow President Traoré, and Kidal and its people became a major target for security forces to the extent that military leaders were exchanging a famous phrase during their secret meetings that later found its way to the populace and which said “the resolution of the Tuareg Crisis lies in their eradication”.
The Malians with their various sects, ethnicities and affiliations are aware that their national army couldn’t have suppressed rebellions in the Azawad’s territory towns of Kidal and Gao without the French support which considers allowing independence of the territory with the Tuareg controlling it is but a tightening of the France Frick Strategy imposed on the west African countries by Paris for decades. This strategy dictates Paris’s control over vital African resources such as uranium, oil and diamonds, expanding French military bases in Africa, and thwarting African national voices by supporting African regimes opposing these voices and preventing them from assuming power.
Strangely, the repression that took place in Azawad has only reinforced the determination of its people with the emergence of multiple fronts all aiming at establishing an independent Tuareg State in Northern Mali such as the United Front for the Liberation of Azawad, the Revolutionary Army for the Liberation of Azawad, the Arab Islamic Front for the Liberation of Azawad, and the People’s Front for the Liberation of Azawad. The former Malian president Alpha Konaré led a national reconciliation that resulted in the dissolution of all armed movements during the famous Flame of Peace Festival in Timbuktu which witnessed international presence. Despite this, the peace agreed upon was not achieved and instead the third rebellion led by Ibrahim Ag Bhangka broke out from 2006 to 2009.
The rebellion was soon suppressed by eliminating its leader, but it rose once again represented in the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad that was founded in 2010 and enhanced by thousands of Tuareg returning from Libya armed with heavy weapons after the fall of the Libyan regime. The movement declared the establishment of the Independent State of Azawad in 2012 and allied with religious groups such as Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa which began to control many towns. At this point, Paris launched its military campaign called “Operation Serval” or “wild cat” and managed to take over and control the region since then and up to the present.
The political reality in the Republic of Mali indicates that the independence of Azawad territory will not be realized in the long run even if we assume that France has reached an agreement for sharing the territory’s riches with the Tuareg and the Malian government in return for guaranteeing independence for the territory. What the Malians understand well is that Paris will not allow the emergence of a truly independent state with rich resources in Western Africa. International support is necessary for the independence of Azawad, and who knows; the international balance of power may change one day and allow that dream to come true.
* Note: I participated with this study in the Forum on African Issues held in the Republic of Senegal in 2016/2017 and which had been published earlier. This study comprises two parts; the first entitled (Azawad, the Dream of Tuareg), and the second (Kidal and the Gulf Role) in which I tackled the actual role of each Gulf country in this entangled issue according to what I witnessed and knew in that region.
The study can be reviewed in more detail on the official Afro-Gulf Relations website in both English and Arabic on:
Dr. Amina Alarimi,
UAE researcher in African affairs