Tuareg. Unknown War
July 7, 2012
Interview with Andy Morgan - a detailed and fascinating review of the Tuareg rebellion in Mali. Unrest and conflicts have been going on for 50 for years, and external influences play a significant role in them - Muammar Gaddafi, Al-Qaida local processes, Algeria and Mauritania. Andy Morgan is a fairly well-known British musician and producer who has lived in the Sahara for several years. He is currently writing a book on Tuareg music.
Can you talk about the general picture of what is happening in Mali at the moment?
Tuaregs have fought against the central government of Mali since the end of the 50s. Open warfare began in 1963. It's very old story. What we are seeing now is the final part, but the part whose content is very different from the previous ones. This time the Tuareg are better armed, better equipped, and their movement is led by talented organizers. The result was a series of military victories, as a result of which the Tuaregs established control over the northern part of Mali.
Has the uprising become a manifestation of the "Libyan domino effect"?
The relationship between the Tuareg and Gaddafi began in 70, when Gaddafi created a romantic theory that they are excellent warriors. Gaddafi himself imagined himself to be the liberator of oppressed peoples throughout the world. He decided to extend his influence to the Tuareg and make them his soldiers. This is especially characterized by 80-e. It was a very strange and contradictory relationship. On the one hand, Gaddafi assured that he wanted to help the Tuaregs return their lands, but on the other hand, he did very little to make this happen. He taught the military craft to the young Tuareg, whom he then sent to fight in Chad and Lebanon, but not to his homeland - in Mali and Niger. Libya has always been a source of money and support, but it was not interested in the Tuareg achieving their ultimate goals.
How did the Tuareg find themselves in Libya?
The reason that so many Tuareg turned out to be in Libya is the fact that it is a country with an extremely oil-rich country that is very short of labor resources. Not only Tuareg, but also representatives of other peoples living south of the Sahara worked in Libya. Some of these Tuareg served in the Libyan army. Now the Malian press writes about the members of the MNLA (Azawad National Liberation Movement) as mercenaries in the service of Gaddafi. In fact, they were soldiers in the regular Libyan army, some served more than 20 years. For example, the leader of the MNLA, Mohammed Ag Najm, was a colonel in the Libyan army. There is also a story (which requires confirmation) about the famous Tuareg insurgent / freedom fighter / bandit - it depends on your point of view, named Ag Bahanga. He was a real thorn in the ass of the Malian authorities - until 2008, when he was finally driven to Libya. There he established contacts with Tuareg officers who belonged to the same clan or to the same tribe as he. When the uprising began in Benghazi and the business took a very bad turn for Gaddafi, he managed to convince some officers of the Libyan army to desert, plunder Libyan arsenals and transfer weapon in Mali. There is a rumor unconfirmed that he met with the PNS leadership, and PNS blessed his project.
This kind of activity undoubtedly weakened Gaddafi’s army, and throughout the summer and autumn 2011 of the Tuareg continued to export weapons to Mali. During one such trip, Ibrahim Ag Bahanga was killed, according to some reports, as a result of an accident, but he had so many enemies that this version seems incredible. What you have in the fall 2011 is a group of very experienced and well-trained Tuareg, seated in northeastern Mali on a mountain of weapons. Since the beginning of October, 2011, they began to prepare an uprising - with long conferences in the desert, during which they studied in detail the nature of their previous defeats. At the same time, they entered into an alliance with a group of much younger Tuareg, who called themselves MNA (Azawada National Movement). The latter can be called young intellectuals, very advanced in Internet technologies. They created MNA at the end of 2010. This alliance is a very important aspect, since it was used to establish contact with the outside world — something that was lacking in all the previous uprisings. Thus, together with the hostilities, the Tuaregs were able to unleash a propaganda war against Mali. The MNA, after all, was absorbed by the MNLA.
Speaking of the Tuareg, we are talking about tribes scattered across several different countries. Based on this, what is the base of support for MNLA?
It is assumed that the number of Tuareg is approaching one and a half million, although no one has conducted a population census. They are scattered over five very different countries: Mali, Algeria, Libya, Niger and Burkina Faso. They have a very complex clan and tribal structure. Upstairs - five clan confederations, which are divided into tribes, clans, families. All this is very difficult. They did not get along at all peacefully throughout their long history, and sometimes they fought against each other to the bitter end. The idea of Tuareg originality is a phenomenon that appeared relatively recently. 50 years ago they did not see themselves as one people, they perceived themselves as different families, clans and tribes, as nomads inhabiting different parts of the desert and often fighting with each other.
What is MNLA?
The MNLA is dominated by the Tuareg from the north-east of Mali, especially the two clans, Iphras and Idnan. Iforas - the traditional rulers of northeastern Mali. Idnan is a traditional military clan. It should be borne in mind that the Tuareg society is organized on a rigid hierarchical basis, with a clear separation of the functions of the clans. All these ancient structures have been modified or destroyed over the past hundred years, but despite this, it is precisely these two clans, Idnan and Iphoras, that are at the head of the MNLA. MNLA's support among the Tuareg is wide enough, partly because of the propaganda efforts of the movement, partly because the Tuareg feel that a force has finally emerged that can really protect their interests. However, MNLA does not represent all Tuareg, and even more so, the entire population of northeastern Mali, which, in addition to the Tuareg, includes a large number of Arabs, Songhai and Ful. It can be said that for a long time there was no rebellious movement with such a base of support, but this support is not universal.
Is there an internal opposition among the Tuareg?
There is at least one group that openly opposes MNLA. It is headed by the vassal clan Inghad, which in the old days was subordinate to the more noble Idnan and Inforas. Many of the members of Inghad welcomed the idea that the Tuareg lands would become part of the socialist republic of Mali, and thus the clan would no longer be lowered by notable rivals. The name of the most significant leader is known - colonel al-haj gam. He is, of course, the colonel of the Mali army, and is perceived as a defender of the unity of the country. The MNLA, on the other hand, included not only veterans of the Libyan army, but also a number of Tuaregs who deserted from the Mali army. In the army of Mali served a lot of Tuareg.
What are the goals of MNLA?
MNLA is fighting to create its own state, which will consist of the three northern provinces of Mali - Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. Tuaregs have long discussed their ultimate goals, what they want - autonomy within Mali, a federation with Mali or a completely independent state. After a major uprising in 90, when the civilian population suffered greatly, many retreated to moderate positions - they did not want independence, they only wanted their rights - cultural and economic rights. MNLA, however, requires a completely independent state.
Is there a historical basis for the boundaries of Azawad?
The borders of Mali were invented by the French. It was originally the border between French Algeria and French Sudan - in 1904, but it has no basis in tribal geography. This had its own logic. Southern Algeria is perceived as a zone of influence by the confederation of Tuareg, which is called Kel Ahaggar, while northeastern Mali is influenced by the above-mentioned Iforus. That is why MNLA diligently emphasizes that its ambitions are limited exclusively to Mali. MNLA is trying to limit the fears that the uprising will spread to all five states inhabited by the Tuaregians. And the neighbors are very nervous, especially Algeria. Not only do Algerians not want the Tuaregs in the south of the country to put strange ideas into their heads - in the whole history of independent Algeria, the Tuaregs have never organized a mass uprising, and if this happens, it will be an unprecedented affair. But more terrible for Algerians are those sympathies that Algerian beavers show to the Tuaregs of Mali, and Algerian Berbers are a problem. The Tuareg is a Berber nation, ethnically, linguistically and culturally associated with the Berbers to the north — Kabila, Chauy, and Chleyh. There is a lot of noise in the Algerian blogosphere due to the upcoming uprising, especially among cabila. Algerians are afraid of the Tuareg domino effect.
What are the reasons for the coup in Mali?
The army took the war against MNLA as a manifestation of national shame. It is rumored that the soldiers almost died from starvation because they did not receive food. In the village north of Kidal, a unit of the Malian army was slaughtered, allegedly by al-Qaida IslamicMagrib militants. After the defeat of the Malian army in the area of Thessalit, near the Algerian border, many prisoners were captured. The head of the MNLA, Mohammed Ag Najm, offered to return them to Mali, but the authorities refused to accept the prisoners. Therefore, the army felt betrayed and exploded. Little is known about the leaders of this little putsch. The head of the junta, Captain Sanogo, has never before appeared in the political arena. He fought in the northeast, he has combat experience. Whoever was behind the putsch, he has nothing to do with the top leadership of the army — not one officer higher than the captain participated in it. Theoretically, the French could be behind the coup. In Senegal, for example, the ties between the French and Senegalese army are very close. Most Malian officers were trained in French military academies. It is possible that Mali is an exception, and the coup was prepared and conducted by honest young and concerned officers of the country, but it is not yet clear how the army will behave.
Is there a connection between the Tuareg and Al-Qaida Maghreb?
Prior to the uprising, the main leader of the Tuareg was Iyad Ag Ghali, belonging to the Iforis clan. He led the uprising in 90's, and also participated in the 2006 uprising. But he was overshadowed by Pakistani preachers, and he decided to turn the Tuareg into Salafi. The Pakistanis have long ago set themselves such a goal, but in general nothing came of it, until they managed to drag Ag Ghali to his side, who is showing more and more extremist views. At the beginning of the uprising, he offered himself as head of the MNLA, but was rejected. MNLA has repeatedly emphasized that it is a liberation secular revolutionary movement. Yadah was also rejected as leader of the Iforis clan. Iphoras is still headed by a very ancient man named Intala Ag Attacher. Despite the crisis with inheritance in Ifas, Iyad’s candidacy failed. Iyad said that he wanted to establish Sharia in the lands of the Tuareg, but most of the Tuareg did not want to hear about it. Tuaregs are not debauchees and not hedonists, but their society is fundamentally different from the Salafi model - Saudi Arabia, matriarchy dominates in it, the role of women is great, and the Tuaregs are religiously tolerant and always speak openly about what they have in mind.
Disillusioned Iyad ag Gali formed the Ansar ad-Din movement (Followers of the Faith). Apparently, a group of Tuareg, which are close to his views, united around him. Ansar ad-Din participated in all major battles with the army of Mali on the side of the MNLA. This created a problem by allowing the government of Mali to claim that MNLA entered into an alliance with al-Qaeda. It must be understood that the emergence of Al-Qaida in the region on 2007 / 2008 led to the destruction of the tourism industry, the flight of non-governmental humanitarian organizations and made any external assistance to the region impossible.
Tell about the social background of the conflict
From the time of the Tuareg first uprising in 1963 and up until the beginning of 90, the Tuareg area was completely marginal, even by the standards of Mali. It was a forbidden province, in fact - a closed military zone. In 1991 in Mali, a kind of revolution happened, and the dictator Moussa Traore was overthrown. The irony of fate is that the following "president" - Toure, overthrown by 2012 in the spring, came to power in 91 precisely because of this revolution, which began because of the Tuareg insurrection. He made some attempts to modernize the north, and threw on it impressive sums of money, most of which settled in the pockets of some Tuareg leaders. The thing that really angered the Tuareg was the case of the PSDPN fund, the money from which were to be used to build infrastructure in their areas, but were used to militarize the north and build military bases. This was one of the reasons for the uprising, which began on January 17. Tuaregs felt that if the plans for building the bases were implemented, they would not be able to rise.
What is the relationship between the Tuareg and Mali?
Tuareg, until recently, in principle, got along with other ethnic groups of Mali. A significant number of Tuareg live in the capital, Bamako, and occupies official positions, teaches at universities. The same mixing was observed in other cities - in Gao and Timbuktu. At the same time, there are prejudices. Malians are inclined to believe that the Tuareg in their hearts are racists and owners of a "slaveholding mentality." At the same time, the Tuareg consider the black population of the south racists, who call the Tuareg "redskins".
How do neighboring countries behave, what is the position of Mauritania?
The Malian press constantly blames various "external forces" for what is happening. Including the government of Mauritania. This charge is based on the fact that the MNLA leadership is in Nouakchott. Thus, the political leaders of the Tuareg, on suspicion of the government of Mali. Have contacts with the government of Mauritania at the highest level. Officially, the President of Mauritania declares support for the territorial integrity of Mali and the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Behind the scenes, who knows? I don’t know any country that would be interested in independent Azawad. He is too dangerous. Mali’s leadership also looks at Algeria with extreme suspicion. Algeria considers northeastern Mali as its underbelly, its zone of influence. Algerians have always manipulated the Tuaregs in the area. This was especially characteristic of the Gaddafi era, when the Algerians had to oppose him with intrigues. Therefore, there was a constant war between Algerians and Libyans for the right to be called a true friend of the Tuareg.
What about oil and gas, minerals?
It so happened that in the last 5 years in northern Mali, there is an active oil exploration and large oil fields have been discovered. Some of these deposits are sold and resold, and the whole thing is dark, requiring a good investigative journalism. The French Total and Qatar Petroleum Company are involved in exploration and exploitation. Since both France and Qatar actively participated in the overthrow of Gaddafi, this cannot but create the basis for various conspiracy theories that the Malian commentators eagerly spread. It should be remembered that France and Tuareg tried to create an independent state before the declaration of independence of Mali. These attempts were crushed by the Algerian National Liberation Front. Therefore, many Malians believe that the Tuareg rebellion was designed by the French. In reality, the territories south of the Sahara are the most fruitful for the cultivation of various conspiracy theories. There is no objective information, and even those who know a lot about the Al-Qaida Islamic Maghreb are convinced that it is nothing more than a brainchild of Algerian special services. Others are convinced that al-Qaida was invited to northern Mali by the Mali government itself, in order to discredit the Tuareg movement. There are also rumors of drug smuggling, that the Mali government, the Mali army and the Tuareg are involved. This entire region is the dream of the authors of detective novels.
If the situation in Mali becomes threatening, will the French intervene?
Hard to say. It depends on what connections they have with the young officers who carried out the putsch. So far, it is not clear that the French could somehow control them. I suppose that the French will try to restore the power of the ousted President Toure, and present themselves in the light of the "defenders of democracy." The French are also terrified of the Islamist threat. They have already experienced all this in Algeria, this is not new to them, and they don’t want Mali to become an Islamic state. All prefer to remain silent, not to talk about a sharp increase in Salafis in southern Mali in the past three years, but this can not be discounted. Much will depend on the further actions of the coup.
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