Vive l’Azawad libre, laïque et démocratique

Vive l’Azawad libre, laïque et démocratique

In early 2012 a civil war erupted in Mali, resulting in a humanitarian crisis with thousands of refugees fleeing the country to its neighbors Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. In February, the Malian government bombed their own civilians in a refugee camp in the northern Azawad region, killing a four-year-old girl and wounding many other women and children according to Médecins Sans Frontières. Now, there has been a coup and in Mali and an independent state of Azawad was created. What is happening in the region, and what is the international Amazigh community doing in response?

The conflict is between the people of Azawad and the Malian government. The people of Azawad are primarily Kel Tamasheq (also known as “Tuareg”), Imazighen who are indigenous to the Sahara. This conflict must be understood in the context of the historic marginalization of the Kel Tamasheq people. Their land, divided by Europeans between many countries – among them Algeria, Libya, Niger, Mauritania, and Mali – has been exploited for resources, primarily uranium, and deliberately underdeveloped for decades. There have been three major uprisings in Mali before this one, in 1963, 1990, and 2006, occurring in response to ethnic discrimination, economic exploitation, and the massacres of civilians.

In 2010, a group of Kel Tamasheq students and young scholars created the National Movement for Azawad, declaring their goal of independence on November 1. The group’s actions were effective and inspired a revolution among young Tamasheq. One result of their movement is Toumast Press, a French-language website for news about the situation of Azawad and the Tamasheq. Soon, the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) began to seek independence for the Azawad region, starting an armed conflict to accomplish that goal in January 2012.

The MNLA is often accused of having links to Muammer Gaddafi’s former regime in Libya, and it is true that many Kel Tamasheq individuals received military training under Gaddafi, who promised them support. Yet Gaddafi is hated by Imazighen for his discriminatory policies and attempts to destroy the Amazigh people of Libya. As detailed by Andy Morgan, the Kel Tamasheq took advantage of the situation in order to survive, though they have never been fond of Gaddafi and many of them, along with other Imazighen from the Adrar N Infusen (Nafusa Mountains), fought against his regime in the recent Libyan Revolution.

The people of Azawad, represented by the MNLA or not, have been the victims of the Malian government for decades. Mali’s continual attacks on civilian refugee camps are reprehensible and have been condemned by Amnesty International. Malian state policies have marginalized the people of Azawad, supporting terrorism and drug trafficking. In opposition, the MNLA repeatedly states that one of their primary goals is to root out Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as terrorist activity harms the people of Azawad.

Soon after the coup d’etat in Mali, the MNLA liberated Timbuktu and declared the independence of Azawad. What will happen in the coming days? The Malian state is unlikely to give up such a large portion of “their” land, especially with the resources of Azawad that they have continually exploited. But the current conflict is escalating the already unstable food crisis in the Sahel and Mali is currently affected by severe sanctions from ECOWAS. However, for a peace process between the Malian state and the MNLA to be effective, lasting changes must be made in order to ensure that the people of Azawad are provided with the human rights and dignity that they deserve.

In line with the 2012 Bokamoso theme, “Outside Insights,” how does the “outside” contribute in seeking a solution to the conflict in Mali? The Amazigh Diaspora has been active in supporting the people of Azawad, with Amazigh organizations in Europe and North America publishing news and statements in support of the people of Azawad and organizing an International Day of Solidarity with the Tuareg, rallying in Boston and other locations on April 7th. These individuals may not be Malian, but they are Amazigh and these actions of support are a testament of the ability of Imazighen from many African countries, now living in the U.S. or Europe, to come together in solidarity with our Tamasheq sisters and brothers. We share a common goal: we want Azawad and all of Tamazgha to be free, secular, and democratic.

 

 

Eden

Eden Almasude

Eden Almasude is a second-year medical student at the University of Minnesota with an M.A. in African Studies from Ohio University. She is interested in foreign policy, international development, and public health.

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12 Responses to Vive l’Azawad libre, laïque et démocratique

  1. Thanks for this enlightening piece Eden. Very little is known about the details of the so-called “Tuareg” movement, and this article is really an eye-opener. I wonder what this means for the future of African states, as they exist to date. A number of marginalized groups have grievances across board, is taking up arms to achieve freedom and access to human rights the best way forward? What example really can others in the same situation follow from this? The other question I have is as to the role of the diaspora now that the starting point of the Azawad movement has been achieved; what sort of activities can/will the diaspora undertake to keep supporting the movement?

    • I agree we need to support Azawadand MNLA. Anybody know where to donate as money will be needed from Immazighen everywhere to buid this country and its institutions.

    • Hi Nadia, thank you for your insightful comments and questions. I do not think that separatism should be the immediate course of action for marginalized groups with grievances; developing a new country is a difficult thing to do, and not an easy option! Without support, new states may become just as despotic and oppressive towards their citizens as the original government. In this case, however, the Tamasheq (Tuareg) people have asked for human rights and dignity time and time again, and each time their situation has not improved, and the Malian government has responded by massacring civilians. Appealing to the international community has also not been successful, as their pleas have been largely ignored for political reasons. Given that context, I think that the people of Azawad made a difficult and understandable choice to take up arms and defend themselves. Other marginalized groups must also try hard to work through political processes — but it is difficult when your own government is attacking and killing their own civilians in refugee camps.
      As for the diaspora, I call on the international community, especially Imazighen, to pressure our political representatives to recognize the independent state of Azawad and oppose the inhumane actions of the Malian government. We must also provide financial and moral support to our Tamasheq sisters and brothers and use whatever means we have to draw attention to the situation in Azawad, considering that it has been either under-reported or incorrectly reported by mainstream media outlets.

  2. Unfortunately the French and Algerian government propaganda against the Azawad and the MNLA has got to many Amazigh individuals and organizations. This has weakened their support to the goals and objectives of the MNLA.
    Imuhagh (Tuareg) people have done what they had to do to regain sovereignty over their ancestral land, the ball now is in the camp of the rest of us.

    This has been a test of the will and determination of the Tuareg people as it is a test to the Amazigh nationalism which has yet to prove that it exists and that it can act to make a difference in the context of North African political landscape.

  3. Nice article, it summarizes the situation.Tuareg deserve to have their own state. Unless the criminal French intervene, things should go forward. Hope all Imazighen (Berbers) indigenous to North Africa also get the recognition and independence from Araboids pro-islamist and terrorist sates. Tuareg and Imazighen (Berbers) in general are known throughout history to be secular and advocates of democracy and freedom. Long life to Azawad…

  4. Excellent points! We need to support the new state of Azawad and seek international recognition. It is disappointing to me that some have criticized the MNLA for what the Islamists have done/are doing. For all of ECOWAS’s talk about respecting the integrity of borders, they have been fine with denying the Kel Tamasheq a land of their own!

  5. Great article, I particularly agree with this:
    “The MNLA is often accused of having links to Muammer Gaddafi’s former regime in Libya, and it is true that many Kel Tamasheq individuals received military training under Gaddafi, who promised them support. Yet Gaddafi is hated by Imazighen for his discriminatory policies and attempts to destroy the Amazigh people of Libya. As detailed by Andy Morgan, the Kel Tamasheq took advantage of the situation in order to survive, though they have never been fond of Gaddafi and many of them, along with other Imazighen from the Adrar N Infusen (Nafusa Mountains), fought against his regime in the recent Libyan Revolution.”

    There’s this automatic association with Muammar Gaddafi that disturbs me. He wasn’t some kind of savior for them, while a few served in his army, most were still discriminated because of their ethnic group (those in Libya). We all know about the strong hate Gaddafi used to have for Amazigh.

  6. At last we have an article that goes deep in explaining the issue in Mali. I really hated the articles written on yahoo.com, where they was no prior research done to understand the problem

  7. It is very unfortunate that Western Countries do not support peacefull Imazighen people. who have been slaughtered by the Islamic/Arab oriented colonial powers throughout Africa, is it because they do not practice terrorism? the western powers are by their silence to this extremely grave situation justifying terrorism in the eyes of dominated people of the world.

  8. Thank you Eden for your article.
    Thank you for articulating the main issues at work here: The seeking of freedom by Tamashaq people, their identity, and their dissociation from the islamist agenda. The depth and extent of the suffering of this people is little known to Westerners and to many Imazighen as well. They have endured mass killings, discriminations, and outright colonialism from the Malian government. You see the Azawad used to be controlled by the Malian forces. That is the first thing Mali established in the North. It essentially and literally took over the French activities.
    Everytime the Tamashaq rebelled the signed accords brokered generally by Algeria led to nothing! That is to say no one really cares. There is no respect for human life, no justice, just an inexorable drive to eliminate/assimilate the last remnants of a population that the harshness of the desert (many droughts) has not even defeated!

    It simply got to stop! Now is the time for Tamashaq people to be free. After Azawad it’s Air, then Ahaggar etc.

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