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Mali and the Tuareg: A Resolved Matter or Detente?

Mali gained its independence from France in 1960. For decades, the country suffered from droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992. Since then, Mali was regarded as a model of African democracy until the military seized power in March 2012. In the confusion which followed the coup, the north fell under the control of al-Qaeda linked rebel group, Islamic Magreb (AQIM).

The Tuareg
The Tuareg are a Saharan nomadic people who live in Mali, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Niger. In Mali, the Tuareg dominate the Saharan portion in the north
The Tuareg have always fought for their independence; at first from the French and later from the Malian central government. They begun serious insurgency against the Bamako administration in early 1990s. The insurgency gained momentum in 2007, and was exacerbated by an influx of arms from the 2011 Lybian civil war (BBC News). Tuareg fighters and mercenaries came to Muammar Ghaddafi’s aid during the Lybian conflict and since the conflict ended, both the Tuareg fighters and other forces fled into the neighboring states, including Mali (ICRC, 2012). Involvement in Libya not only reenergized the Tuareg but also earned them an enemy status in the West. The alliance of convenience between the Tuareg and the AL-Qaeda linked Islamic Magreb (AQIM) complicated the long time civil conflict between the Tuareg and the government of Bamako in late 2011.

Rebellion and coup d'état
The rebels in Mali launched their insurgency in January 2012 with an intention to establish an independent Tuareg state in the north known as the Azawad. In March 21 2012, the soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Bamako, overthrowing Amadou Toumani Toure, the democratically elected president. However, the faction of the Malian military that overthrew the government was not a Tuareg faction but a Bambara one. This was protest on the military’s perception of the government’s unwillingness to take a strong action against the Tuareg (Lynch, 2012).

In the confusion that followed the coup d'état the rebels launched a new offensive and succeeded in taking the capitals of the three main northern provinces of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. Islamists seized control of the ancient trading hub Timbuktu alongside Tuareg rebels and chased out their allies and declared to residents and religious leaders that they were imposing Sharia law, which according to Meeker (2013) led to serious violations of human rights.

Has humanitarian crisis ensued, it was necessary that deliberate measures be taken not only by the Mali government but also by the international community and regional bodies to address the political conflict in Mali, restore civilian rule in order to salvage the situation. Despite calls for diplomatic mediation in Mali, the UN and western powers failed to make any serious efforts to come to a political solution, instead, they adopted resolution 2071 to authorize an African-backed intervention (Quinn, 2012).

In October 12, 2012, the Security Council adopted a resolution allowing military intervention against rebels in northern Mali. While western powers sought to justify their call for intervention on the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, Simon Allison (2012) points out that the determining factors for intervention were rather different. In addition, Jeremie Labbe (2012) argues that an international military intervention in northern Mali “could further destabilize an already extremely fragile humanitarian crisis” and very well inflict harm on the population” views which were shared with Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (2012).

French intervention
Intervention “refers to conduct with an external animus that credibly intends to achieve a fundamental alteration of the state of affairs in the target nation.” It also refers to “organized and systematic activities across recognized boundaries aimed at: affecting the political authority structures of the target” (Bon & Mings, 1980, p. 5).

However absent from these definitions are specific features such as a statement of objectives, post-hoc justifications for actions, or any time dimension which have implications in the just war theory as my colleagues will present. An intervention is when a superior power, a nation, or an international organization transcends the framework of the existing relations and attempts to impose its will on weaker nation in defense of some concept of political, moral, or legal order, and with a limited duration in mind. We see that there is an element of morality even amidst the realistic approaches to war (Utley, 2002).

“Dependencia” has been identified as one of the reasons for the French interventions in Africa. This is a situation whereby the peripheral areas of Africa are dependent upon their former metropolis and allies for political stability, economic benefits and strategic security. In their article Bon and Mingst (1980), have tried to examine the motives behind the French intervention in Mali. They are not judgmental but they have clearly given strong arguments that point at reasons for the French intervention not only in Mali but also in Africa. It is necessary to note that according to Bon and Mingst (1980), national interest, presence and relevance, strong bond created by historical colonialism are some of the reasons for French intervention. The French justified its intervention in Mali on humanitarian and security grounds. If indeed this was the case then one may say the intention was good but was the military intervention the only option or were there any other options and did this intervention become as the last resort? These are some of the issues, which my colleagues, in this conference, will look into.

France has always demonstrated a tendency to want to maintain its status as an important player in the international scene through interventions in Africa. France consistently defended itself by arguing that it had no any interest whatsoever in Mali other than rescuing a friendly state. However, fighting terrorism in the vicinity of Niger, the producer of a significant portion of the uranium used in France’s power plants raises some questions (Think Africa Press, 2013). As we have been discussing in class; beneath intensions are interests and beneath interests are motives which are often difficult to unravel and which compromise the just war theory.

The intervention was described as a success in the strictest sense of international law. Along with the UN Security Council Resolutions 2056, 2071 and 2085, the request for military support from France, made by Mali’s interim president, Diancounda Traore provided the legal basis for Operation Serval. However, not everyone welcomes the French intervention in Mali and in the African continent. For instance Algerian newspaper, Liberte, commented on France’s intervention in Mali with this statement: “The French military intervention has been code-named Serval. For those who do not know, the serval is an African cat of prey that has the peculiar trait of urinating thirty times an hour to mark its territory. Spot on!” (Think Africa Press, 2013).


BBC AFRICA NEWS http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13881370 [Accessed      September 25 2013].

ICRC. (2012). Available online at: http://www.icrc.org/eng/resource... [Accessed 25 September    2013].

Labbé, J. (14 December, 2012). International Peace Institute December 14, 2012 the         humanitarian fallout of military intervention in Mali

Lynch, C. (October 8, 2012). The Bicycle Theory of International Diplomacy Drives Mali             Debate into Slow Motion Available online at:    <wwwglobaldiplomacy.org/ghumanitarianintervention.html> [Accessed September 27 2          2013].

Meeker, K. (2013). Quora.  Available online at: http://www.quora.com/French-Intervention-in-     Mali-January-2013/What-is-the-Touareg-situation-in-Mali [Accessed September 20          2013].

Mingst, K. & Bon, D (1980). French intervention in Africa: Dependency or decolonization.          Africa Today,             27(2), 5-20.

Quinn, A. (October 29, 2012). Reuters.Avaialble online at: http://www.reuters.com/ [Accessed     September 28, 2013].

Utley, R. (2002). ‘Not to do less but to do better...’: French military policy in Africa.         International Affairs, 78(1), 129-146.

Mali and the Tuareg: A Resolved Matter or Detente? Mali and the Tuareg: A Resolved Matter or Detente?  Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on March 13, 2017 Rating: 5

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