Mali is another example of a separatist movement aided and abetted by an Islamist group – going wrong.
Formed in October 2011, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) sought to represent the nationalistic aspirations for the Tuareg people in northern Mali. The Tuareg’s are a Berber people, traditionally nomadic and principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Although most Tuaregs live in the Saharan parts of Niger and Mali small groups are also found in south-eastern Algeria, south-western Libya and northern Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria.
To that extent, the MNLA seeks to represent other Saharan peoples.
Since 1916, there have been five major armed conflicts referred to as “rebellions” involving the Tuareg people – first against the French rule (1916-17) and later (1962-64, 1990-95, 2007-09) and now in 2012.
Since the end of the French colonialism, there has been a genuine expectation that the ethnically distinct population – the Tuareg tribe would be created as an independent nation. This combined with the dissatisfaction over the new government led to the several rebellions by people in the region. Subsequent military occupation in their territories along with the death, torture and imprisonment of suspected rebels has left a deep sense of resentment among the northern population which is the source of the conflict.
The 2012 conflict too would have passed off as just another rebellious movement among the tribal group seeking to assert their nationalist aspirations. But what threatens to makes the MNLA struggle in Mali into another Afghanistan is the involvement of the Ansar Dine and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.
Since capturing power in the northern part of Mali with the support of Ansar Dine, the MNLA has lost its control including the three biggest cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu to its partner-in-conflict at the Battle of Gao.
The ideological background of ‘Ansar Dine’ for those who may be interested means “Helpers of the way” or “Defenders of the faith” in Arabic. Hence this support for the MNLA is logical.
The United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is now contemplating action along with the national government of Mali against the Islamist forces to regain control of the lost territories.
In their fight against Islamist forces, it is important that the world community does not deny the fact that most tribal conflicts in African soil is the direct result of haphazard creation of nation-states by the then colonial powers. Countries were created without any consideration for ethnic or demographic background of the local populations.
Ironically, the world community continues to adopt a hands-off approach when it comes to handling ethnic and tribal conflicts in Africa.
But for some NGOs and aid workers, national governments (democratic or otherwise) are expected to manage the process of integration and settlement. Considering that national governments themselves are ridden by tribal factionalism, it is not difficult to understand that the process of integration and settlement is deeply scarred.
Considering the history of conflict in Africa and the human rights violations that followed it; it is not surprising that the world body is still deliberating the strategy and approach it should adopt in Mali.
One of the big concerns is on how to monitor the armed intervention once soldiers arrive in Mali under international sanction.
Human rights advocates have raised concerns pointing out that in the case of Somalia, where peacekeeping soldiers that were sent to provide stability ultimately committed human rights violations themselves.
However, beyond the immediate concern of tackling the Islamists, the international community must also address the urgent need to bring about the much need resettlement and rehabilitation of tribal communities in Mali and beyond.
It is something that the world community must not lose track of, failing which, the military intervention will only provide short-term respite.