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Azawad Republic Threat To North Africa – OpEd

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By Mohyeddin Sajedi

One of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rivals in the presidential elections criticizes him for the military intervention in Libya, saying unrest will ensue in the African countries which will endanger the interests of Paris.

When Sarkozy was advocating a NATO military intervention in Libya, he would never have thought that a year later he would be witnessing a coup in one of France’s allies in Africa and part of Mali would declare independence and demand separation. The US was concerned that unrest in Libya would lead to the arms of the slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi falling into the hands of al-Qaeda or the anti-Zionist Palestinian groups but had not imagined that it might lead to the domination of the Tuareg tribe in the north of Mali.

It is not only Mali and France who are concerned about the declaration of independence by Azawad, but also Mauritania, Morocco, Western Sahara and Algeria. Some of the people of these countries are members of the Tuareg tribe. The North African countries now fear that their own people too would seek independence and are thus looking at the issue as a grave threat to their national security and sovereignty.

Morocco, Algeria, and Polisario have rejected the Tuareg’s declaration of independence in the north of Mali. Given the military coup in Mali, it seems unlikely that the new regime will succeed to counter the demand, especially that the rift between Tuareg and the Malian government dates back to many decades ago and the Malian regime had failed to reach a stable agreement with the Tuareg rebels before the coup.

The confrontation in Mali goes back to the year of the country’s independence in 1960. The Tuareg tribe launched its insurgency against the central government, which followed communist programs and wanted to homogenize the local and cultural features, in the same year. In 1963 and after the Algeria intervention things went according to the interests of the central government and some of the Tuareg leaders were apprehended and executed. The 1969 coup did not alter the demands of Tuareg.

The Tuareg rebels made some progress in the early 1990’s. After the first free elections in Mali and the coming to power of Alpha Oumar Konaré, an agreement was signed between the north and south in 2006 which was supervised by the neighboring countries, the United Nations and the permanent members of the Security Council. The agreement gave some autonomy to the northern region, but it was not implemented and the war continued.

Algeria was also concerned that Tuareg tribe in its south would also seek autonomy, and is charged with having practically sabotaged the peace agreement. The former Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, also provided financial support to Tuareg tribe in Mali. The two sides agreed to start a new round of negotiations in 2008.

Military intervention by France is not probable as presidential elections are approaching and Nikolas Sarkozy is not ready for new military adventurism whose result will be unclear. Arab and African countries neighboring Mali are also incapable of military intervention as they are grappling with domestic problems resulting from popular uprisings in those countries. A meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Sahel countries will soon convene in Mauritania and leaders of the Malian coup have also been invited. The Joint Chiefs of Staff was established in 2010 and includes Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.

Opposition of Algeria to the establishment of an independent Azawad country in the north of Mali is based on the statute of the African Union which stipulates that official borders among African countries are the same as they were under the rule of colonialist powers. Algeria is the main supporter of Polisario Front in its attempt to establish an independent country in Western Sahara and get separated from Morocco. Algeria, however, did not oppose the creation of a new country in south Sudan, perhaps because disintegration of Sudan was based on an agreement between the northern and the southern parts of the country and was done through a referendum.

Morocco is also having problems with Western Sahara and a local tribe (Amazigh) as they have declared solidarity with the new republic in the north of Mali, willing to tread the same path. Libya and Tunisia should be added to this list because the Tuareg tribe was accused of having supported Qaddafi and part of the tribe was suppressed for that reason. They may see this as an opportunity to take revenge on the incumbent government in Tripoli which is not in full control of the entire country yet.

Before Qaddafi’s fall, supporting the Polisario Front and opposing to the establishment of an independent Azawad country were the main reasons for the conflict of interests between North African and Sahel countries. However, the issue of Western Sahara is quite different from establishment of a self-called Azawad country. Western Sahara was a legacy of colonialism which is put in the same category by the United Nations with 16 other non-independent regions of the world and an official plan has been approved to determine its fate through elections.

Perhaps the UN, with the help of the African Union, will be able to find a solution to the new crisis in Mali which, of course, will need a lot of time. Although coup leaders in Mali have announced that they plan to transfer power to civilians, it is not clear when the situation in the center of the country will return back to normal to pave the way for a confrontation or a negotiation over the separation of the northern part.

The fall of Qaddafi has apparently not remained confined to the Libyan borders and has undermined the security of several African countries, thus, providing more grounds for the activities of al-Qaeda in Arab Maghreb.

Mohyeddin Sajedi is a prominent Iranian political analyst who writes extensively on the Middle East issues. He also serves as a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran

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One thought on “Azawad Republic Threat To North Africa – OpEd

  • April 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm
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    I’d say that the writer of this report is mixing things up. Why don’t he specify that all the meetings that aim at reaching an agreement between the central government in Mali and the Azawad Tuareg, had taken place in Algeria? Algeria has always played a positive role in this issue! You should use powerful arguments to support your idea, rather than reporting “lies”. I’m for an independent state for Azawad in Northern Mali, though.

    Reply

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