Together for the Same Mali
Nearly 100 national delegations met in Brussels Wednesday at the international donor conference for development called “Together for a New Mali”. Opening up the conference, EU Committee of the Regions President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso called upon delegations to pledge their support for The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali. Broken down into a 12 point approach, the plan focuses on everything from ensuring “peace, security and public services everywhere” to organizing elections. But the 48 page plan that formed the basis of the conference fails to addresses the ethnic fault line that was again ripped open between sub-saharan blacks and lighter-skinned Tuaregs, Berbers and Arabs of the Saharan north by the crisis that began last January.
At the beginning of 2012 Mali descended into turmoil when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) chased the Malian military out of the northern stretches of the country, a territory it claims is the historical homeland of the peoples of northern Mali. The MNLA is comprised predominantly of ethnic Tuaregs but it’s ranks also include Songhai, Fulani, and Arabs. Exploiting the instability battle hardened islamists from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) soon took control from the MNLA terrorizing Mali’s northernmost cities and clearing the way for the foreign mujahideen fighters of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine of Timbuktu to seize control of Mali’s northern expanse. Interim President Diancounda Traore requested military assistance from France after the northern territories were taken.
The French led military intervention that was launched on January 11, 2013 was swift and received widespread support from Malians. France with military assistance provided by the US (Germany, Belgium, Canada and Denmark also provided logistical and financial support for the incursion) overwhelmed the islamist forces. After reconquering territory from the islamists the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) was charged with maintaining security in the “liberated” zones of the north. As France begins reducing troops to make way for a UN peace keeping force scheduled for deployment in northern Mali on July 1st sporadic attacks continue to shake the region.
Despite The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali’s stated objective – to ensure peace and security across the country and foster economic development – Malian leaders unwillingness to engage a dialogue with any factions that don’t renounce their claim to territories in the north seriously undermines the Malian governments affirmation that “the “essence of the Roadmap reflected in this plan incorporates the lessons learned from this crisis”.
A brief recap of the Tuareg’s 50 plus year struggle for independence, something unmentioned in The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali highlights the irony of calling this conference Together for a New Mali.
Tuaregs and other minority ethnic groups of the north have launched successive revolts against the state of Mali since it’s independence in 1960. Although the exact boundaries of this idealized state are vague, it is clear that Azawad refers to the towns and territory that Tuaregs, Songhai, Fulani and Berabiche Arabs have historically roamed through and occupied in the Saharan north. Dreams of reclaiming this vast desert territory have led to decades of tensions between the desert dwellers of the north and sub-Saharan groups in the South that have fomented rebellion.
The first major Tuareg rebellion in the early 1960’s was ultimately quashed by the Malian army relegating Tuaregs to a virtually unrepresented ethnic group in the poverty stricken north. The second Taureg rebellion in 1990′s descended the country into an effective civil war fought in Mali’s northern territory. Though that conflict ceased with the 1995 Peace Accord and the ceremonial Burning of the Guns in Timbuktu, the Tuaregs remained restive, resentful of their lack of participation in the military, and politics and frustrated by the lack of resources invested in their region. By 2006 a short outburst had gripped the north as Tuaregs attacked government buildings in Gao, citing lack of opportunity as an aggravation. According to the IMF the more fertile south of the Sahel state constitutes 95 percent of GDP, 91 percent of the population and 99.5 percent of tax revenue.
The roots of Mali’s current conflict broke through parched earth last year when Tuareg mercenaries returned to Mali heavily armed after the fallout of Qadaffi to reclaim their historical homeland from the weak government, mired with corruption in the South.
Tensions between the north and south have only been heightened by allegations of human rights abuses carried out by Malian soldiers against Tuaregs in the North. Many Malians blame the MNLA for initiating the rebellion and problematically conflate innocent civilians in the north with separatists and Al-Qaeda. Pascal Fletcher reported in Reuters this past March:
“MNLA, Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM, they are the same, they need to be punished,” said Alou Gniminou, a 39-year-old cobbler who is secretary general of the artisan market.
Having raised over $4 billion to ensure peace and security without addressing the historical grievances of a marginalized and impoverished population is bound to perpetuate future conflicts. On the issue of the restive peoples of the Saharan north the summit meeting may have been more appropriately named Together for the Same Mali.