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"Hail, Hail, Azawad, land of the brave and free
April 14, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Meet Azawad, Africa’s Newest Country Azawad is an area about the size of Texas located in the northern half of Mali. On April 6 2012 National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), after they were able to force Mali forces out of the territory they now claim as an independent state. Whether they can remain an independent country is a question that time will tell. Also whether they will be a secular Berber, pro-Western nation or an Islamist Emirate is another question that has many watching the area.

How African countries got their borders
posted by 2manyusernames (30 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I hate how people in the West automatically assume "democratic" means "pro-West".
posted by dunkadunc at 1:51 PM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Democracy is a bitch, it means you can choose, but it also means that you can choose poorly.
posted by Fizz at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something the United States seems to forget when it comes to the middle east.
posted by Fizz at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

A Declaration of Independence is not the same this as the establishment of a new state.
posted by three blind mice at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2012

Thing. Not the same thing. From the BBC link I put up:

The African Union has condemned the declaration as "null and void".

Former colonial power France and the European Union have also said they will not recognise Azawad's independence.

posted by three blind mice at 2:18 PM on April 14, 2012

PJ Media, an AFRICOM-sponsored news source, and Wikipedia? Here's the BBC take, a Reuters article, and, for those who like the NYT, an opinion column.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:18 PM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Was an article in Le Monde Diplo that suggested the return of fighters from Libya after the fall of Gadaffi provided one of the spurs to the MNLA advances.
posted by Abiezer at 2:18 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

dunkadunc: "I hate how people in the West automatically assume "democratic" means "pro-West"."

maybe (and I am just guessing) that new democracies will reach out to the US to aid them especially when they are in danger of being overran. Doesn't mean they will remain pro-west but it does mean they will be pro-west for the moment
posted by 2manyusernames at 2:19 PM on April 14, 2012

Every power broker in the world has an interest in ensuring that arbitrary colonial borders are preserved, even if the people living within those borders don't want them. But declarations of independence, even if they are rejected by every sovereign on the planet, do have a legal force if the entity making the declaration is able to fulfill the other indicia of statehood. States are almost always created through force of arms, and it's force of arms that keeps them.

If they can stop themselves from being reconquered, eventually their mineral wealth will compel other states to recognize them. And surely, there are few if any countries in the world that are so attached to the Malian state that they would refrain from recognizing the new entity if it were in their interests. If not, then I fear it will be Biafra all over again.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:36 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Azawad is really nothing new here. It is just the latest in a series of rebellions that go back as far as 1963. This time, the rebels launch a huge rebellion, larger than that of the 1990s, because of the fall of Khadaffi -- Tuareg Khadaffi loyalists who had lived in Libya for years split for Mali with huge arsenals. The rebels, now armed to the teeth, start the latest rebellion with the first attack in January. And for awhile, it's just like the other rebellions -- hit and run tactics, a few towns secured and captured, but then quickly abandoned...

At the same time, the President ATT is finishing up his mandate. A new election is going to take place. But his opposition fears that he will use the rebellion in the North to extend his mandate and refuse to step down, as happened in Niger in 2010 and Senegal in 2012. The more radical opposition accuses ATT of covertly orchestrating the rebellion to retain his power. This, coupled with the military, which is terribly under-trained and under-equipped sets the stage for a coup d'etat. The president is overthrown.

Meanwhile, the rebels take advantage of this situation and general confusion to extend their war. Azawad now takes up as far as they can reach, covering Gao, Timbouctou, and around Mopti -- all towns that are not Tuareg at all (the only Tuareg majority region is Kidal). Azawad is proclaimed as a state and a country by the MNLA, the rebellion party in name, but more like the PR department of the rebellion.

Who are the rebels? The rebels themselves, the fighters, are a combination of Tuareg with youthful half formed ideologies, simple bandits and profiteers raiding military stashes (stolen Kalashnikovs sell on the market for $800 - $1000), and fundamentalists of the local Al-Qaedi Franchise. There are plenty of differences in opinion and direction for Azawad, there is no central head of authority, and there is no clear concept of what Azawad will be.

Regarding the "democracy" of the rebellion -- there was no poll, no vote, and no consensus for the people in the North to decide that they wanted to form a country. Nevermind the fact that most of the seized towns aren't even Tuareg ethnic towns (both Gao and Timbouctou are majority Sonrai), but the Tuareg themselves aren't singularly supporting the rebellion or Azawad. In fact, it's fair to say that the majority are against it and want to simply return home and try to continue with their lives. And no one is supporting the fundamentalist delusions of the radicals...

Azawad is the shared dream of the Tuareg, the concept of rebellion at the core of identity for generations. But it's a dream and not feasible. I predict it will sputter out like the other rebellions -- different heads of different groups will be bought off with money or positions in the new government, or assassinated covertly our on the fields of battle, while those who refuse to submit will escape into the deserts of Algeria or Libya and tend their time for the next rebellion.

On a personal note, I lived in Kidal for 6 months and just returned from the region a few days ago. I more or less know all the players in this drama, and am in regular contact with both high ranking Malian government folks, active military members, and loads of the self proclaimed rebels. My own feeling about the rebellion is that it is a terribly misguided, and there are a lot of people that I care about in very dangerous situations. The most important thing to remember is that when you take an area with a very tenuous existence and disrupt the entire infrastructure, things can get very bad very quickly.

Hopefully the resolution will come soon and peacefully. There's been enough blood in the desert in the past, we don't need more of it.
posted by iamck at 2:39 PM on April 14, 2012 [104 favorites]

This is interesting and really bears watching. But I'm with three blind mice - this is not a new State. If I can link to a previous comment of mine, to be a State (at least at international law - to go before the UN and such) requires recognition. From what I know, there've only been 2 recognitions of a new State in Africa that split off from an "actually-African" nation (as opposed to a decolonization situation), Eritrea in 1993 (after a 30-year war), and South Sudan last year.

The AU has been pretty opposed to independence movements like this, because well so many of their countries could split up if they open the floodgates. Look at Somaliland - by any objective test it is independent. But it's not a State.

That being said, I have absolutely no idea about Azawad's history itself, so thanks for the post, and the great comment, iamck. I'm down on the likelihood of it becoming a State, but not on the desirability.

As always, if you're curious about the international law of recognition, start with the Kosovo decision. Judge Trindade's separate opinion is wordy but interesting. Feel free to ask me for more resources.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:46 PM on April 14, 2012

iamck is indeed a true authority and a man on the ground here. I came in to add my two cents, but as long as he's holding forth, there's no need.
posted by mykescipark at 2:50 PM on April 14, 2012

If I can link to a previous comment of mine, to be a State (at least at international law - to go before the UN and such) requires recognition.

You're putting the cart before the horse, I think.
posted by empath at 2:57 PM on April 14, 2012

The AU has been pretty opposed to independence movements like this, because well so many of their countries could split up if they open the floodgates.

In an ideal world, short of redoing the borders from scratch, you'd delegate some power up to the AU and some power down to autonomous regions, with an extranational framework to guarantee human rights (much like in Europe) so it doesn't matter so much if you're an ethnic minority in the 'wrong' country, but there are enough powerful people who stand to lose out that I don't see that happening for a long time.
posted by kersplunk at 2:57 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

2manyusernames: "maybe (and I am just guessing) that new democracies will reach out to the US to aid them especially when they are in danger of being overran. Doesn't mean they will remain pro-west but it does mean they will be pro-west for the moment"

We know how well that worked out for the likes of Ho Chi Minh (of course we all know that one historical example does not a trend make).

Interestingly, I just watched two documentaries the other day.

The first, The Upright Man: Thomas Sankara, talks about Thomas Sankara's revolution in The Upper Volta against the French Colonialism and forming the new country Burkina Faso. It talks about his struggle against the patriarchy and against colonialism and corruption, and also his ouster from power.

The second was The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba, and it talks about Lumumba's brief reign, but mostly about how the Belgian's wanted him dead (man, those guys were fuckwits). I think Lumumba wasn't particularly taking sides against communism or capitalism, but just was mostly anti-colonial, though I could be wrong.

Anwyays, I highly recommend both of those documentaries. The Sankara one starts out almost like a hagiography, but by the end you see that they end up toning down the praise and showing, as all things tend, that the revolution has a way of not being some mighty new start. (Though I don't think Sankara was necessarily bad, or that the revolution went bad as most of the things tend to do).
posted by symbioid at 3:11 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I can link to a previous comment of mine, to be a State (at least at international law - to go before the UN and such) requires recognition.

You're putting the cart before the horse, I think.

Absolutely, but that's the way the law works. I should clarify - obviously you can *go before* the UN, as for example Abbas does often. But Palestine is a non-voting member. That's what I really mean - to vote, to serve on committees, to go before the International Court, etc. All of it requires recognition as a State by the other nations (or rather by the UN Credential Committee, on a technical level).

How else would the established nations be able to keep control of the system if they didn't have a veto? Bah.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:43 PM on April 14, 2012

I hate how people in the West automatically assume define "democratic" means as "pro-West".
posted by Trurl at 3:58 PM on April 14, 2012

What they need is a slight adjustment for their motto so they could be the new frontier for transhumanism and the singularity!
posted by Burhanistan at 4:03 PM on April 14, 2012

I'm sorry, but how could anyone not get on board with the GREATEST COUNTRY NAME EVER DEVISED ON THE PLANET EARTH.

Azawad sounds like one part sci-fi sequel, one part lost Bob Marley album and one part MMORPG.

Welcome Azawad!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:48 PM on April 14, 2012

I'm glad iamck was here to talk about this. What I'm hearing around here ("around here" being next door in Burkina Faso) in large part agrees with what he says, but I could certainly not have said it so well, even were I sober and were it not one in the morning. The only slight difference I'm hearing here from (non-Tuareg) Malians is that the overthrow of ATT wasn't specifically because people were worried about him personally extending his mandate, but that the same good ole' boys club would remain in place, and the rebellion in the North would continue to simmer with occasional loss of life for no real gain on either side. Which would be supported by the fact that the Bamako coup did not seem to include many senior military personnel (the guy they first put in power was only a captain in the army). Anyway, representatives of the junta are here in Ouagadougou this weekend to work out a schedule to transition power back to constitutional authorities (the president of the National Assembly) until the election can be held. I'll probably post more tomorrow (the response from ECOWAS was pretty surprising), but I have to ask now - what do you mean about Senegal 2012? Wade conceded the same day the polls closed! Or do you just mean there was likewise the *fear* in Senegal that he wouldn't? That much is certainly true.

By the way, the MNLA, for however much longer they exist before they splinter, have a website.
posted by solotoro at 6:12 PM on April 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

The only slight difference I'm hearing here from (non-Tuareg) Malians is that the overthrow of ATT wasn't specifically because people were worried about him personally extending his mandate, but that the same good ole' boys club would remain in place

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has shared the same perspective in the reporting she's doing on the situation for NPR (the directory at the link is updated only through April 6, unfortunately) which is by far the best reporting on Mali I've encountered in any US media outlet.

Thanks, iamck and solotoro, for giving us your take on this complex series of events, and on the history behind them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:36 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Am I interpreting this right? The Tuareg have long yearned for real independence, but it's kind of a pipe dream. Rebels accepted a sort of weird alliance with outside conservative Sharia-promoting Islamists to made it happen, despite a big mismatch in orthodoxy/customs. The latter, having won the day, are unsurprisingly asserting control. We don't know how this will shake out and the residents of Azawad are holding their breath too.

I'm not claiming any expertise on African countries outside of a cursory interest in geography and chatting with cab drivers, but I had the sense that Mali, while tremendously poor, has been pretty stable and functional. I am not predisposed to a knee-jerk support of colonial boundaries, but I'm curious as to whether that's actually the sober policy and preference here?
posted by desuetude at 1:22 AM on April 15, 2012

Saharan quicksand, article in Al-Ahram by Gamal Nkrumah.

The Coup in Mali Is Only the Beginning, Susanna Wing in Foreign Affairs.

Profile: Mali's Dioncounda Traore, AlJazeera.

En direct de Tombouctou, L'Humanité.

Mossa Ag Attaher : "L'Algérie est incontournable dans la gestion de notre conflit". Le Figaro.

Azawad, Lettre ouverte de l’Anavad à la communauté internationale (Gouvernement Kabyle en exil), Tamurt.

Nouakchott appelle à agir pour «éviter un nouvel Afghanistan » au Mali, L'Expression.
posted by nangar at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, nangar. I'm conflicted on that second link you provide; it's a cogent summation of what has been happening, but I think she entirely misses the mark when she says that all Mali needs to do is effectively implement its decentralization plan. I mean, it sounds right at first blush...but you are dealing with people who are wandering around the Sahara. You can't just assign a nurse from Bamako to go wander with them so they get their "decentralized" medical services. The conflict between the Tuaregs and the Malian government is more fundamentally about how a government, which needs a stable, sedentary population to build infrastructure around, interacts with a group of people whose lifestyle cannot easily coexist with a sedentary society. It's a very complex problem.

Here's an article from the Angolan press from Friday about the swearing in of Traore (leader of the National Assembly, and the constitutionally recognized second-in-line to the Presidency) as the interim president, and his pledge to wage a "total and relentless war" if the rebels don't surrender. The involvement of Ansar Dine and AQMI has muddied the waters. I really believe the rhetoric would have been different if not for the radicals and mercenaries (but then, I guess if not for them there'd have also been no coup). Personally, I think the best case scenario would be the Mali army working WITH the Tuaregs to get AQMI closed down once and for all, but I doubt Traore has the connections to make that happen.

In any case, the repercussions of both the coup and the rebellion are going to be felt all over the region even if the fighting ends now. We've had two years in the Sahel of particularly bad rains. FEWSnet is already showing a broad swath of food insecurity in the region, and it's going to get a lot worse between now and the October harvests. The unrest in Mali has displaced nearly 40,000 people to Burkina. I believe there's a similar number in Niger, and I have no idea how many are internally displaced, but it's not a small number, that you can count on. The article by Susan Wing linked above says there's around 200,000 refugees in total. That sounds about right.

I had the sense that Mali, while tremendously poor, has been pretty stable and functional.
Yeah, until a few weeks ago, it was often cited as a success story for African democracy. And then all this goes down while at the same time Senegal has a run-off election in which the opposition candidate wins and the incumbent concedes, and not a bit of violence or protest ensues. Crazy.
posted by solotoro at 12:28 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tinariwen, an amazing Touareg band sympathetic to the cause, reacts to current events in an interview transcribed from linked video. (From April.) The New Yorker offers a synopsis and spotify playlist here.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:32 PM on April 15, 2012

make that April 2nd
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:32 PM on April 15, 2012

teaser from the New Yorker article:

"In February, Tinariwen won the Grammy for Best World Music Album for “Tassili,” which includes contributions from members of TV on the Radio and Wilco. In November, they made an appearance on the Colbert Report. They’re scheduled to play five shows in the U.S. in June. But twenty years ago, they were rebels themselves, and they haven’t ruled out becoming rebels once more. 'We are military artists!” Abdallah Ag Alhousseini, one of the group’s guitarists and singers, recently told a journalist from Algérie News. “Today, if we see that our brothers need fighters rather than musicians, we will go to the front, because we are always ready to answer the call of the preservation of our land, our values, and our culture. This is what we do through music, and we will do it again with arms!' "
"In the eighties, when Qaddafi offered military training to the Tuaregs, thousands answered his call, and the founding members of Tinariwen were among them. They met in a Libyan training camp, and played their first performances there. Upon request, they once performed a song for Qaddafi himself. It was in Libya that Ibrahim developed Tinariwen’s signature sound. In Tamashek, the language the band sings in, their style is often simply called “guitar music,” which is apt, since at any given moment the group has as many as six guitarists, together creating a driving desert drone that owes nearly as much to John Lee Hooker as it does to traditional Tuareg forms."

posted by snuffleupagus at 6:35 PM on April 15, 2012

I hate how people in the West automatically assume "democratic" means "pro-West"...Something the United States seems to forget when it comes to the middle east.

The American government has never believed this. It's propped up compliant pro-American dictatorships in dozens of countries, whenever possible, really. South America, Central America, the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, Indonesia...
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:55 AM on April 16, 2012

Completely unsurprisingly, the situation in Mali is kind of dominating the news here in Burkina. Here are some of the articles published today for the francophones, and synopses in English for the rest:

Summary of the negotiations this weekend: about eighty Malians participated, representing the elected government, the junta, and civilian leaders. The two topics were a roadmap to power transition and the Tuareg rebellion. As for the former, they will stick to the agreement from April 6th which puts Traoré in power and makes anyone participating in the transitional government ineligible in the next elections, but whether the transition period will be only forty days as originally agreed will depend on the resolution of the rebellion. As to that resolution, all agree it needs to include humanitarian aid as soon as possible. They call for the immediate "restoration of the integrity of the territory" (read here: surrender of the rebels), saying everyone participating should remember their "duty to protect the civilian populations," lay down their arms, and look for "republican" solutions.

Slightly more detail on the structure of the agreement, which is broken out into 17 recommendations focusing on three main points: ending the rebellion (this section uses the exact same language as the above article); transitioning power by recognizing the 6th April agreement, creating a "national unity government," and creating new ministerial departments to focus on humanitarian efforts; and creating some sort of monitoring body, overseen by an international mediator.

This article discusses the wider political impact of the choice of a mediator, mentioning that the representative of the interim Mali government at the weekend talks asked that the Mauritanian president participate in negotiations with the Tuaregs (that's the same guy as in nangar's last link, where he explicitly says he's open to the establishment of a new country, but adds that he is ready to commit troops to fight the terrorists of AQMI, inviting European intervention as well). The author expresses some doubt that Aziz and Compaoré (the president of Burkina Faso, and current mediator between the junta and constitutional authorities, nominated by ECOWAS) will work well together but notes that Mauritanian involvement may be beneficial given their nearer geographic proximity to the territories being fought over.

Here's a discussion of the humanitarian crisis caused by the Tuareg rebellion, or at least of the difficulty in addressing it. Ansar Dine has announced that they will open corridors to humanitarian aid - as long as said aid is "halal"; that is, from Islamic nations only. They won't accept any aid from Europe or the US. The author speculates that they may be concerned that any corridors they open will become routes for gun-trafficking. He or she then says that Ansar Dine is being hypocritical because they already use Western technology, and that in any case they should focus on accepting any aid that feeds the hungry in their territory if they want any claim to legitimacy. The conclusion of the article is that if they hold to this demand, they are planting the seeds of their own destruction, when hunger overcomes fear.

The Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs came to Burkina Saturday to offer the king's support to Compaoré toward ending the Mali conflict. He also offered monetary support for humanitarian aid to the Malian refugees in Burkina.

So, yeah. A lot of interested parties are talking with each other. But so far not with the Tuaregs.
posted by solotoro at 12:01 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thank you, solotoro.
posted by nangar at 4:09 PM on April 16, 2012

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