On Sunday, Timbuktu became the latest front in Mali's war, when Tuareg rebels of the MNLA took the city in the wake of the recent coup in Mali. (See my earlier post here.) But soon after, the MNLA's erstwhile allies, the Islamist Ansar Eddine, reportedly pushed the MNLA out. Now there are reports that Al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has joined Ansar Eddine in Timbuktu. The Moor Next Door tries to make sense of it, with many useful links.
I'm not going to try to sort out the tribal and religious factions in Mali, because despite being a blogger and being based in Washington, I still resist pontificating on things about which I know absolutely nothing at all. Which is the case here.
But Timbuktu's original fame was not for its remoteness, but for its key location at the intersection of major trade routes across the Sahara. Located only a few miles from the upper Niger, it also provided access to the cultivable lands to the south.
|European Image of Mansa Musa|
By the time the Europeans got there finally, in the 1800s, the glory days had faded, but three of the medieval mosques still stand and the great University of Sankore still survives as the University of Timbuktu.
The Tuareg rebels may, indeed, be tugging Timbuktu and other cities such as Gao back into a North African orbit rather than a sub-Saharan one, especially if they were to succeed in breaking the northern, desert region they call Azawad off from the rest of Mali.
Though Mauritania, Algeria, and Libya are certainly concerned about the events in Mali and worried about the possible role of AQIM among the Tuareg, so far the issue has been in the hands of the Economic Council of West African States (ECOWAS), which has been pressuring the new junta to restore the elected government. While the junta has delayed a promised return to the constitution, the rebels have taken Gao, Timbuktu and other cities of the north.
For more on Timbuktu's history, see the Timbuktu Foundation website, and the Timbuktu Wikipedia article. To follow events in Mali see the links in The Moor Next Door's piece linked by me above.