A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mali Coup: Qadhafi Still a Problem for Africa, Even Posthumously

Yesterday's military coup in Mali would not at first glance be of concern to this blog: Mali is not part of the Middle East by any usual definition, and not part of the region covered by the Middle East Institute or The Middle East Journal. But it does border Algeria and Mauritania, and its large northern region is part of the Sahara, unlike the more populous Niger River Valley to the south. And this coup seems to have direct resonances to the overthrow last year of Col. Mu‘ammar Qadhafi of Libya. Ironically Qadhafi, who fancied himself the leader of Africa and regularly meddled below the Sahara, is still meddling despite being quite dead for some months now.

This particular coup seems to have been provoked by a Tuareg revolt in the north,which the (now apparently ousted) President failed to respond to adequately. The Tuareg revolt periodically, but this one has occupied considerable territory and apparently the Army felt their honor besmirched.
MNLA Emblem (Wikipedia)

Beyond the fact that the Tuareg are a Berber (Amazigh)-speaking people, speaking a language known as Tamasheq, what merits a mention of Mali here is that many of the Tuareg supporting the revolt are said to be tribesmen who formerly fought to support the lat Mu‘ammar Qadhafi in Libya. Qadhafi recruited not only Libyan Tuareg but Tuareg from Mali and Niger as well; on his defeat, these crossed into northern Niger, reportedly well-armed and equipped; the Malians among them eventually made their way home. They seem to provide many of the arms for the MNLA, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, The group seeks independence for Azawad.
Azawad (Wikipedia)
their name for the large Saharan region of Mali and the neighboring Tuareg areas in Mauritania and Niger. (MNLA website in French, here. General background on the revolt here.)

It's too early to know the implications of the coup for the Tuareg revolt, In another Middle Eastern resonance, however, the Mali government has of course invoked al-Qa‘ida to characterize their enemy, claiming that the MNLA is allied with al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a charge the MNLA strongly denies. The jury seems to be out on the relationship, but AQIM certainly has operated in northern Mali.

So Colonel Qadhafi, though dead these five months, is still making trouble in continent of which he once declared himself king; some, like this Economist article, go even farther and link the outflow o former Libyan arms to issues much farther afield, like the Boko Haram in Nigeria. link

Qadhafi: still dead, and still a troublemaker..

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