Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blue Men on Abandoned Ground, Part 1

I have many series of posts in progress (see lower sidebar). They converge and diverge...

Prior to reading this, you may wish to familiarize yourself with Standing There on Freedom's Shore, Part 1, where we took an early look at the situation in Libya, back when the international coalition was just beginning to get serious about deposing Gaddafi, and where we also considered atrocities by Cote d'Ivoire's new strongman, Alassane Ouattara, who was installed by the French in violation of international law and with the backing of the international community. In fact, the interventions in Cote d'Ivoire and in Libya were similar except for the military power that the defender could muster; France essentially did it alone in Cote d'Ivoire, but Libya was too strong, and even with NATO's help, the international coalition needed to be bailed out by US forces. We ended by considering how the Sahara/Sahel region was a crossroads for Africa, carrying trade going back for centuries.

Then, in Standing There on Freedom's Shore, Part 2, we revisited the concept of the Sahara/Sahel as a crossroads for illicit trade, with a focus on the trade in illegal arms, but touching on the rest of the underground economy, including illegal drugs, counterfeit credit cards, intellectual property, mineral wealth such as diamonds, and a variety of other contraband. We also mentioned how such criminal activities are now the main source of financing terrorism. We specifically touched on heroin, which is mainly produced in Afghanistan these days. Its trafficking finances Islamic terrorism, even as the heroin consumption itself destroys infidel societies from within in nations to which it is trafficked - a dangerous mix made far more dangerous since heroin is now laced with anthrax, as I addressed in my previous post People as Playthings, Part 2. We also mentioned the link between heroin money and corruption in Washington; since key politicians are connected to heroin money, the war on terrorism is a charade, because there is no political will to attack the financial source of Islamic terrorism, of which heroin trafficking is a very significant part. We then touched on the Tuareg (spelled Touareg in Standing There on Freedom's Shore, Part 2) grievances in Niger, amidst accusations by each side - Tuaregs and government authorities - that the other was involved in trafficking contraband. Finally, we looked at how the Tuaregs were also carrying out an insurgency in Mali, and that this had resulted in people being displaced to Burkina Faso, which was implicated in supporting Ouattara's seizure of power in Cote d'Ivoire with the facade of free elections and with French military support, and we noticed that Gaddafi - whom we deposed in Libya - had actually been trying to broker peace between the Tuareg groups and the governments in Niger and Mali.

Also, in Men of Integrity, Part 1, we introduced Burkina Faso as a country with a socialist history and which now serves as a transit point for contraband, especially illegal arms and Latin American cocaine on its way to Europe. However, we also saw how Thomas Sankara, the guy who established the socialist regime in Burkina Faso, was right about debt being a modern form of enslavement of Africa. But, we also saw how Sankara's childhood friend, Blaise Compaoré, murdered Sankara and seized power there in 1987. We also introduced Guillaume Soro, one of Ouattara's key people in Côte d'Ivoire, as a corrupt guy from Burkina Faso with mansions there and in France. ;)

As I pointed out repeatedly in my posts on Côte d'Ivoire, Ouattara himself is a former IMF man, a puppet for the international bankers, so Compaoré's betrayal of Sankara and the subsequent involvement from Burkina Faso in the taking over of Côte d'Ivoire really appears to be a case of Sankara having been right about Africa's debt slavery.

In Men of Integrity, Part 2, we considered the situation with food insecurity that surrounded Burkina Faso last year, and considered how the situation might spark unrest on the part of the nomads in Burkina Faso.

Since that time, there has been a coup in Mali, and Tuareg rebels are now reportedly associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). So, with this important development, we diverge into a new series looking at Mali.

We begin by introducing some history of the Tuaregs and their relations with the government there.

An early Tuareg revolt, the Kaocen Revolt, mainly during World War I, began when a Tuareg leader named Ag Mohammed Wau Teguidda Kaocen, who had been indecisively fighting the French for years, took advantage of a local jihad against the French. Rallying his troops, and armed with newer weapons including one cannon taken from the Italians in Libya, he began to have some success defeating French forces. The rebellion was suppressed when a large French force counterattacked, seized rebel towns, and took reprisals even against those who had not supported the rebels.

The Tuareg Rebellion of 1962–1964 followed Mali's independence. The regional peoples expected their own nation, but instead found themselves relatively left out by the new government. A rapid military response by Mali's armed forces ended the revolt amid brutal repression.

The Tuareg Rebellion of 1990-1995 saw Tuaregs rebelling against both Mali and Niger, seeking either autonomy or independence. In Niger, it began in 1985, in the aftermath of a famine that occurred in 1984-5. Significantly, Libya was providing support to the Tuareg opposition. After a massacre of Tuareg civilians in May, 1990 - the Tchin-Tabaradene Massacre in Niger - there was relative peace in Niger, but fighting erupted in Mali. For the next six years in Mali, the fighting first died down, then intensified with the advent of fighters who supposedly had been trained in Libya, then died down again as a peace was negotiated. By 1996, the rebellions were generally over in both countries; in Niger, most of the rebels were successfully reintegrated into society, though there was a degree of unease, whereas in Mali, some groups continued to maintain an armed hostility to the government, turning to smuggling and criminal activities along the border in areas farthest from the capital.

Generally speaking, the peace achieved in Mali was held up as an example of how an impoverished nation with significant ethnic troubles could end an internal conflict in a constructive manner. For the most part, government troops were withdrawn from the Tuareg areas, rebel forces were integrated into the security forces, and the rebels got significant input into how their areas were governed. The peace was far from perfect, and not without incident, but was very laudable, and lasted for a decade.

The Tuareg Rebellion of 2007-2009 was another round of fighting that occurred in both Mali and Niger. Significantly, in Niger, a center of the fighting was Arlit, home to one fifth of the world's uranium deposits and source of most of Niger's foreign exchange income; this mining operation is run by a French state-owned enterprise, and all of France's nuclear energy and nuclear weapons programs are dependent on it. The mines were assessed to be nearing the end of their usefulness; Niger had already worked a deal with a Chinese company to begin another mining operation, and was talking to other international companies. Also significantly, in Mali, many of the Malian Tuareg groups did not participate in the rebellion; in fact, with their help, a semblance of peace was quickly restored before fighting intensified amid desertions of ethnic Tuaregs from the Malian military. By 2008-2009, some Tuareg groups had scored some successes against Malian forces, provoking a government response and denunciation of peace talks; President Amadou Toumani Touré called attention to the proximity of Tuareg operations to Saharan/Sahelian smuggling routes, and the Malian Armed Forces got to the point where they stated they would not engage in peace talks with "bandits". Throughout this time, there were sporadic kidnappings of foreigners both in Mali and in Niger, with AQIM being implicated, though allegations were floated of both rebel and government involvement.

Common themes to Tuareg rebellions include: 1) arms and training from Libya, whether incidentally, or as a matter of Libyan policy; 2) a movement of Tuaregs across international borders, which are literally lines in the sand; 3) trouble not remaining confined to one nation, but usually encompassing both Mali and Niger.

Gaddafi's involvement can be better evaluated with an excerpt from Qaddafi’s Tangled Legacy in Africa by Richard Downie, March 2, 2011:

Aside from his support of the ANC [South Africa's governing party, the African National Congress], Qaddafi has shown little discrimination in his funding of rebel movements, and many African governments will not readily forgive his role in bankrolling and arming some of the continent's most brutal insurgencies. In particular, his bloody fingerprints can be found all over the civil wars of West Africa during the 1990s and early 2000s. A rogues' gallery of African rebel leaders and would-be tyrants passed through Qaddafi's training camps in the 1970s and 1980s. They included the Liberian warlord turned president turned indicted war criminal, Charles Taylor; the head of Sierra Leone's most bloodthirsty rebel group, Foday Sankoh; and the assorted Tuareg rebel forces from Mali and Niger who returned home to wage war against their governments.

In recent years, as he found himself ostracized in the Middle East, Qaddafi increasingly viewed Africa as the stage on which to act out his grandiose schemes. Pan-Arabism was ditched in favor of pan-Africanism. During his time as president of the African Union in 2009, a largely ceremonial role that rotates annually, Qaddafi unveiled his latest vision du jour: a United States of Africa, led by him. Few paid any attention. The limits of his influence were starkly revealed at the end of 2009 when his attempt to extend his tenure as AU president was unanimously rejected. Africa's leaders increasingly took his money with one hand and used the other to stifle their laughter.

Specifically, regarding Libya, Gaddafi's government seemed to be involved in helping the rebels and providing safe haven. Often, though, Tuareg fighters went to Libya, served there, and came back with increased skills, not necessarily having been deliberately trained by Libya as insurgents. Also, Gaddafi's involvement was not solely as an instigator; he helped broker peace deals, although one wonders if he didn't help stir up the rebellions in order to gain influence by brokering peace.

Further insights into the Tuareg, and the rebellion of the 1990's, can be gained from Conflict and Conflict Resolution in the Sahel: The Tuareg Insurgency in Mali by Lieutenant Colonel Kalifa Keita of the Army of the Republic of Mali, May 1, 1998, pages 7-8 (11-12 of 48 as you download the pdf), from which the two black-and-white maps above were taken (numbers in superscripts are footnotes in the original):

Tuaregs, sometimes called the "Blue Men of the Desert" because of the indigo dye which colors their traditional flowing garments, are one of a number of pastoral desert peoples of North Africa. The Tuareg language (Tamasheq) and other cultural features indicate that Tuaregs are ethnically related to the Berbers of the Mediterranean littoral. But unlike the settled, agricultural Berbers, Tuaregs have a nomadic pastoral culture well-adapted to the harsh climate of the Sahara desert. Estimates of the total number of Tuareg vary, but most suggest several million. Mali alone contains about 621,000. Tuareg are most numerous in the West African countries of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. (See Figure 2.) Smaller numbers live in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and other countries of North Africa. Like their neighbors, the Tuaregs are Islamic in religion. However, their practice of Islam contains many unorthodox features probably inherited from a pre-Islamic past.18


Tuaregs were once renowned as desert raiders, traders, and warriors. While they only occasionally have coalesced into sedentary state structures (as in the Sultanate of Air [Aïr Mountains - EL] around Agadez in Niger), their proclivity (in autonomous groups) for slave raiding, banditry, and smuggling did not endear them to the authorities of other Sahelian societies. Typical Tuaregs were wide-ranging nomads whose wealth in livestock provided material security in a difficult environment. They generally have considered themselves superior to their darker-skinned agricultural neighbors on the desert's southern edge. Tuareg tradition still winks at smuggling and banditry, a fact that does little to recommend Tuaregs to modern state authorities.

So, allegations of Tuaregs being bandits and being involved in smuggling cannot be summarily dismissed.

Continuing on page 9 (13 of 48):

Western media and literature show an occasional fascination for the Tuaregs and have tended to portray them in quaint and romantic terms.25 This particularly is true of the French media. However, contemporary West Africans hold a distinctly different stereotype. They find distasteful the rigid caste system of the traditonal Tuareg, with its reliance on dark-skinned slaves (the Bellah or so-called "black Tuareg") for manual labor. West Africans tend to view the Tuaregs as lazy, prone to violence and criminality, opportunistic, ethnically chauvinistic, and unpatriotic. These views have been reinforced by Tuareg insurgencies in Mali and Niger.26


Like other African peoples, Tuaregs were affected by "the winds of change" blowing through Africa in the 1950s, and were motivated to imagine a post-colonial dispensation. Many Tuaregs in Mali (and neighboring countries) had begun to dream of an independent state - "Azawad" - comprised of Tuareg-populated territory in northern Mali, northern Niger, and southern Algeria.27 However, Tuaregs' primary loyalties were directed to their local communities. Tuaregs as a group have never demonstrated a unified political (or military) agenda.

This is significant, because any calls by Tuaregs for an internationally-recognized Tuareg nation-state would likely not be universally echoed by all Tuaregs; also, it explains how some factions of Tuaregs are involved in rebellions, while others are not.

Skipping to pages 13-14 (17-18 of 48):

Since the 1960s, many of the Tuareg young men from the entire subregion had been attracted to the richer North African states, particularly Libya. Some were enticed by the wage labor in the oil industry, others (later) by Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi's military forces. Qadhafi incorporated some Tuareg volunteers into his regular military forces. Others, he inducted into a Libyan-sponsored "Islamic Legion" from which he subsequently dispatched Islamic militants to Lebanon, Palestine, and Afghanistan. By the mid 1980s, some of Qadhafi's Tuareg volunteers had acquired considerable combat experience in the various conflicts of the Near East and South Asia.38

Libya itself suffered a series of reverses in the mid 1980s. In 1985, world oil prices collapsed. Libya's oil industry laid off a large proportion of its workforce, including hundreds of Tuaregs. Many returned to their home communities, unemployed and resentful. In 1986, Libya's mercurial leader Qadhafi tried to annex neighboring Chad by an outright military invasion. The Chadians, with French assistance, crushed Libyan forces in northern Chad, resulting in another exodus of Tuaregs - this time from Qadhafi's military forces.

The dissolution of the Libyan-financed Islamic Legion in the late 1980s and the Soviet evacuation of Afghanistan in 1989 resulted in the return of additional young male Tuaregs to their home areas. Thus, by the end of the 1980s, Tuareg communities throughout the Sahel had numbers of unemployed and restless young men with considerable military experience. Violence and banditry in northern Mali began to increase.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that in the 1980s, Libya endeavored to destabilize the governments of Mali and Niger by providing arms, training, and advice to Tuareg dissidents.39 By this time, the conflicts in Western Sahara and Chad had flooded the region with small arms.40

This explains the Libyan connections, both incidental and deliberate.

Skipping to page 24 (28 of 48):

Populations of African countries had begun to see the conflict as a struggle between the "white" Arab/Berber/Maur and black African peoples, leading to growing resentments that threatened to polarize the subregion along racial lines.58 The government of Mali devoted considerable effort to consultations with other regional actors to resolve these issues.59

What is interesting is that, theoretically and on the surface, Muslims are brothers and sisters, and only infidels are characterized by nationality, ethnicity, etc. The reality, though, is that the Islamic world's racism and discrimination are rampant. In fact, the Tuareg were traditionally animists, though Christianity spread into the region. When the Arabs arrived, they brought Islam, but Tuareg Islam was mixed with animist beliefs. In fact, many Arabs connect the name "Tuareg" with the Arabic word tawariq, meaning "abandoned" - by God. Most recent reports suggest AQIM may be bringing a purer form of Islam to the Tuaregs and to Mali.

With this background established, this series will continue by exploring the current situation in Mali. Meanwhile, I suggest checking the links in my sidebar, especially Alex Thurston's Sahel Blog.

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