Posts Tagged ‘gold

Three Cheers For Independent Azawad

- April 6th, 2012

 

tuareg

 

Independent Aza-what?

 

Azawad, y’all.

 

Get used to it: Azawad is the world’s newest independent nation and hopefully it will stay that way.

Azawad

 

If it doesn’t, there’s dirty geopolitical tricks afoot.

 

If the United States or France or Russia or China or Algeria or Canada, for gawdsake, ups the rhetoric about Azawad being an “illegal” or “rogue” or “renegade” or “unstable” or “terrorist” state, ask yourself why they’re getting so het up about a nation that has every right in the world to exist, a nation that almost certainly will not cause problems for anyone else in the world — and a nation that you’ve probably never heard of before.

 

Azawad is the newly independent homeland of the Tuareg people, the nomadic tribes who have wandered — and ruled — the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert and the sub-Saharan Sahel in northwestern Africa for centuries.

 

Tuareg rebel1

 

The Tuaregs’ main military and political organization, Le Mouvement National de Libération de L’Azawad, issued the declaration of independence of Azawad earlier today (April  6, 2012).

 

Here’s a link to the full Declaration d’Independance de l’Azawad (en francais) on the official MNLA website.

 

 

There’s an English component to the MNLA website, but the full translation of the declaration isn’t posted there yet.

 

I’ll print my (awkward) English translation of the declaration at the end of this blog post.

 

Here’s one important name you might recognize that hasn’t been mentioned so far: Mali.

 

What’s Mali got to do with it? Until today, Azawad was officially more than half of Mali’s landmass and was home to about 10% of Mali’s citizens. The only problem was that most residents of the northern half of Mali — primarily the Tuareg people — felt they were treated as second-class citizens and that the Mali army was an army of occupation mainly composed of soldiers from the southern half of Mali.

 

Mali

 

 

The Tuareg people have been fighting for their independence — first to maintain it, later to regain it — for most of the past 150 years.

 

First they fought against the colonizing French from roughly 1880 to 1920 before being subdued and forced to accept vague French rule.

 

Any movie you ever saw about the French Foreign Legion attacked in a desert outpost by marauding horsemen or camel jockeys — like Beau Geste — was about the Tuareg defending their home turf from invaders. If another country plopped a fort full of foreign mercenaries in the middle of Mississauga, wouldn’t you attack it?

TuaregTimbuktu

 

The Tuareg engaged in the occasional uprising against the French until France finally dumped its colonial aspirations in the late 1950s and suddenly thrust independence on its colonies, including the rammed-together country France named Mali just before setting it free.

 

President-Toure

THE MALI JIGSAW PUZZLE

 

The current independent nation of Mali is just the latest artificial conglomeration of some of the random territories conquered, bought or stolen by France between 1880 and 1960 to make up the segment of its empire known as Afrique occidentale francaise — French West Africa.

 

At different times during that 80 years of empire, parts of the various lands and peoples now known as Mali were assigned to the following French colonial administrative units by bureaucrats in Paris with absolutely no regard for any natural or ethnological considerations:

 

Senegal, French Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Dahomey, Senegambia, Niger and French Upper Volta.

 

“Mali” as such didn’t exist until the war- and insurrection-battered French were finally ready to give up their grande illusion of empire in the late 1950s and began bestowing independence on their African and Asian colonies.

 

At that particular point, bits and pieces in the middle of French West Africa formed the jigsaw-puzzle piece known as French Sudan. France’s colonial de-activators jammed landlocked French Sudan together with Senegal (which had an outlet to the sea), declared them the Mali Federation on April 4, 1959, and granted the new patchwork federation independence on June 20, 1960.

 

Needless to say, the arranged marriage was doomed and Senegal seceded from the federation two months after independence. A month later— on Sept. 20, 1960 — the rump remains of the Mali Federation proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali.

 

That is the weirdly shaped nation we know as Mali today: The Frankenstein creation of arrogant and ignorant colonial masters who treated the bits and pieces of their empire like so many Lego blocks, arranged them in nonsensical formations, then threw the jumble away in a post-colonial pique.

 

It wasn’t just France. Britain, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Italy also did the same thing, although to different degrees and at different times. (The Germans had been knocked out of the empire game 40 years earlier at the end of World War I.)

 

The end result was the same: Hodgepodge colonial creations told to go out and form homogeneous modern nations with not enough technological, educational or economic infrastructure in place to overcome the divisive internal tensions with which the new artificial nations came into being.

 

So in 1960, Mali was suddenly “free” with the government in Bamako controlled by the majority black population in the south and the Tuareg in the north feeling like they had just exchanged one colonizer for another — with the new colonizer showing even less respect for the culture and concern for the well-being of the Tuareg than the old boss.

 

So, of course, the Tuareg kept agitating and rising up — in the 1960s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s and the ’00s before the current, apparently successful revolt against the southern Mali government began in January 2012.

 

Mali was jolted by a military coup last month that began as a spontaneous — almost accidental — mutiny by rank-and-file soldiers angry over lack of government support for the fight against the current Tuareg rebellion.

Mali-coup

When the mutinous soldiers pushed the government and there was no push back, a couple of opportunistic middle-ranking officers grabbed the initiative and rode the crest of the soldiers’ anger into the seizure of the presidential palace and state television station. And once they had those, what the hell, they might as well declare a takeover of the government — or face arrest and possible execution as traitors.

 

In the meantime, the unrest in the south so undermined the military position in the north that the Tuareg were able to seize the last few towns in the north — including fabled Timbuktu — by the middle of this week and declare independence for Azawad today.

 

And all this fighting to control an area of land “Mali” had no real right to claim and a country — “Mali” — that was an unnatural, Frankenstein creation of French bureaucrats eager to get out of the colonial game (which they were losing, badly) in the late 1950s.

 

One look at a map of Mali makes the whole situation perfectly clear.

 

MaliAzawad

 

See that narrow waistband in the middle of the country? That’s the dividing line between two distinct and unrelated geographic, cultural, economic and demographic entities that should never have been lumped together into one “nation” in the first place.

 

North of the waistline is the desert and semi-desert home of the Tuareg with a scattering of towns like Timbuktu along the Niger River, which bends through the region.

 

South of the waistband is the savannah and semi-tropical region that contains 90% of the population of what was the country of “Mali” and almost all of the gold, copper, uranium and other natural resources that are the only real reason why the governments of countries like the United States, France, China and Canada care about what happens in Mali at all. (There are plenty of other reasons of a humanitarian nature why Canadians should care about Mali, but they aren’t uppermost on any government’s mind.)

Gold-country

Here’s a stark illustration of the divide, thanks to the wonders of satellite photography. You’ve got two different countries — green Mali and red-orange-yellow (former) Mali. The orange-yellow area is the newly proclaimed independent state of Azawad.

 

Mali-satellite

 

THE GADDAFI ISSUE

 

The current Tuareg rebellion was so successful because many of the Tuareg fighters this time around had fled, after failed rebellions in the ’90s and ’00s, to Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya where Gaddafi armed and trained them and used them as special forces in his own army, a group with elastic loyalty to the Gaddafi regime but not part of the inter-clan rivalry network that is now so besetting Libya.

 

When Gaddafi’s dictatorship crumbled under NATO pressure, thousands of those Tuareg exiles returned to their home regions in Mali, Niger and elsewhere over the summer, fall and winter, armed to the teeth with high-powered (and hi-tech) weaponry and trained extensively in sophisticated desert warfare.

 

So the current Tuareg rebellion is not some primitive raiding campaign. It’s a well-organized, well-planned, well-led military operation co-ordinated with a sophisticated (not democratic in the Western sense but consultative and participatory in the Inuit manner) political machine. Take a look again at the website of the MNLA, the primary force in the current Tuareg independence movement.

 

 

THE AL QAEDA ISSUE

 

An Islamist element of the current rebellion is led by Iyad Ag Ghali, an old hero of the Tuaregs’ 1990s battles, who has said he wants to impose sharia law on the whole of Mali, not just liberate Azawad.

 

The Mali government — and other governments, especially Algeria — have played up concerns that this faction, Ansar Eddine, is aligned with the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb organization operating in Morocco, Algeria, Niger and Chad as well as northern Mali.

 

They may be. But this splinter faction does not define the entire Tuareg independence movement any more than the Provisional IRA defined the entire Irish independence movement. From what I know, Ansar Eddine is very much a sideshow to the main Tuareg independence movement. Iyad Ag Ghali is seen as a flawed figure of the past now intent of perpetuating his personal religious ambitions. His leadership has already been rejected by the Tuareg independence movement as a whole and even by his own clan — which says a lot in the Tuareg universe.

 

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been responsible for terror attacks and massacres throughout West Africa but seems more concerned with smuggling and kidnapping-for-ransom these days. Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler was one of the kidnapping victims who was eventually released (almost certainly after a ransom was paid to Al Qaeda but no one will admit that. Fowler, by the way, has said it is possible the Niger government was complicit in his kidnapping because his criticisms offended high government officials).

 

Maybe the Islamist faction is an Al Qaeda ally. Maybe it isn’t. All I know is that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been operating in the area for years and, despite a major campaign by the Algerian government to wipe them out and continuing U.S. military involvement, the terrorist group is still functioning over a wide area. If anything, full Tuareg control of Azawad will probably do more to counteract Al Qaeda’s influence than expand it — especially if the MNLA is treated internationally as a legitimate liberation movement and not as a group of outlaw terrorists.

 

BEWARE ALGERIA

 

Don’t believe anything related to Azawad that comes out of Algeria. The Algerian government is dead set against any form of Tuareg independence in the area that used to be Mali, fearing the effect on its own Tuareg population.

 

As a result, Algeria has a vested interest in stopping the creation of Azawad (too late) and is hell-bent on blocking any kind of international recognition (still a problem for Azawad) of the new nation.

 

Here’s what independent observers (better informed and connected than I on West African affairs) have to say about Algeria’s involvement in Azawad/Mali:

 

When the MNLA tried to capture the northern town of Tessalit on January 20, they learned that there were a number of Algerian army trainers and special ops personnel in the nearby Malian army camp at Amachache. The MNLA commander gave them 24 hours to leave, but rather than obeying, the Algerians proceeded to send more soldiers to Amachache and resupply the base. Far from instigating this rebellion, or supporting it, or even manoeuvring into their usual position as peace brokers, it seems that Algeria has thrown its lot in with the Malian government against the rebels. The truth is that Algeria has been excluded from the action this time round and so it has decided to play hard and show its true colours by supporting Mali in an attempt to make sure that an independent Azawad never sees the light of day.

“Since 1963, the attitude of Algeria has always been that if Mali gives autonomy to the Tuareg of Azawad, they’ll also have problems with their Tuareg,” agrees Nina Walet Intallou. “In reality, they’ve always wanted to take over this region. They see it as part of Algeria. When you think that there was the Algerian consulate in Gao that would give Algerian nationality to anyone who asked for it, from Kidal or anywhere, that’s proof. But it isn’t Algeria or Libya that will intervene this time round. From now on, we will only address our problems to the United Nations and the European Community.”

That’s an extract from a long, long piece written in February by Andy Morgan on Think Africa Press website. Here’s a link to the full article, which is very much worth your while reading.

The problem with anything like this is that it becomes more and more complex the more you look at it.

That’s not a bad thing. It just means that, at a certain point, you have to come down on one side of the fence or the other, regardless of the shadows. You can always change your opinion later with the addition of more information, but you can’t just hang around forever waiting for everything to become absolute.

From all I’ve read and seen, I cast my lot with the Tuareg. I wish them well. They deserve it.

Expect a lot of scaremongering and lying and manipulating to go on as the Tuareg try to establish their independence on the international stage.

And don’t be surprised if Canada opposes Tuareg independence. Canadian mining companies are heavily invested in the gold fields of southern Mali, so that’s where Canada’s economic interests will probably lie — not in the resource-poor north where the Tuareg live and suffer and want to call their own shots.

(Britain, South Africa and China are also heavily invested in the south, so their diplomatic position is also bought and paid for. And France, the bete noir of West Africa — no longer a colonial power but still determined to be the dominant influence in the region — is committed to upholding the south’s interests, regardless of who has power there.)

As for the U.S., here’s a photo of USAF Special Forces Staff-Sgt. Ed Braly instructing (southern) Mali troops in anti-insurgency tactics way back in 2004. The “insurgents” were, of course, Turareg. You can guess which side the U.S. will come down on. All in the name of the War on Terror, of course.

2004-St-Sgt EdBralyUSAF-10th_SFG_in_Mali

Of course, the (southern) army coup complicates things, but the wild rams will all be brought back into the sheep pen eventually and business will go on as usual.

So welcome to Azawad, the newest independent nation in the world. The new situation can’t be any worse than the old situation — and it may get a whole lot better.

 

But if the Tuareg get screwed by the small powers and the superpowers this time, it’s not the end. They’ll be back. Again. And again. And again. Until Azawad exists.  Welcome, Azawad.

 

Here’s a rough translation of the Azawad Declaration of Independence:

 

Friday, April 6, 2012 2:24

WE, THE PEOPLE OF AZAWAD,

 

Through the voice of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad after consultation with:

 

The Executive Committee,

The Revolutionary Council,

The Advisory Council,

The headquarters of the Liberation Army,

Regional Offices

Recalling the principles of international law and the main international legal instruments governing the right of peoples to self-determination, including the UN Charter in Articles 1 and 55, the relevant provisions of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Native;

 

Considering the willingness expressed explicitly in the letter dated May 30, 1958 addressed to the French president by the notables, spiritual leaders of all components of the AZAWAD;

 

Whereas in 1960, on the occasion of the granting of independence to West African nations, France has attached without the consent AZAWAD to the Malian state it has created;

 

Recalling the massacres, atrocities and humiliation, dispossession and genocide of 1963, 1990, 2006, 2010 and 2012, which targeted only the people of AZAWAD until 1 April 2012;

 

Recalling the inhuman behavior of Mali who used the various droughts (1967, 1973, 1984, 2010 ….) to disappear by annihilation of our people even as he sought and received a generous humanitarian support;

 

Considering the accumulation of more than 50 years of bad governance, corruption and collusion financial politico military, endangering the lives of the people of AZAWAD and endangered sub-regional stability and international peace;

 

Considering the complete liberation of the territory of AZAWAD;

 

Proclaim irrevocably, STATE INDEPENDENT of AZAWAD from today Friday, April 6, 2012.

 

DECLARE:

 

Recognition of existing borders with neighboring states and inviolability;

Full adherence to the UN Charter;

The firm commitment of the MNLA to create conditions for lasting peace, to initiate the institutional foundations of the state based on a democratic constitution for independent Azawad.

The MNLA Executive Committee invites the entire international community in a spirit of justice and peace without delay to recognize the Independent State of AZAWAD.

 

The MNLA Executive Committee until the establishment of the Authority of the Territory of AZAWAD continue to manage the entire territory.

 

 

 

GAO – 06/04/2012

 

SECRETARY-GENERAL-MNLA

 

BILLAL AG ACHERIF