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Tuareg Rebels in Mali Declare Independence: Is it Part of an African Awakening for Self-Determination?

An interview with Firoze Manji, who argues that unrest in Mali and beyond is 'driven by the fact that over the last 30 years our people have lost all the gains of independence.'

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FIROZE MANJI: Good morning, Amy.

Well, I don’t think it’s as dramatic as everyone tries to make out. He was—even if the coup hadn’t happened, he was due to resign in April anyway, at the end of April. I don’t think he had much of a choice. It’s probably part of the negotiation for the junior officers, handing over power. And so, I wouldn’t attach great significance to that.

I think much more serious is the threats that are coming from the Economic Community for West—of the West African States, ECOWAS, which we heard just now. They are threatening to move in militarily into Mali. And if they do so, it could cause an enormous, enormous and tragic situation.

I think what we have in Mali is a very complex situation. You have, on the one hand, some junior officers who are disaffected, didn’t really have a game plan or any idea about what they wanted, except that they were demoralized by the defeat they’ve had at the hands of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. What people call the Tuareg are in fact a united movement called the Azawad. And they’ve currently taken over 50 percent of Mali’s territory. This is part of their traditional land. And they have, in fact, organized a ceasefire. They have occupied the territory. That’s—they’ve won what they wanted to.

However, the situation is much more complicated, because movements like the al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, AQIM, who have been the ones carrying out all kinds of terrorist activities—and the U.N. spokesperson you just quoted just now is implying that it is the Azawad movement who have carried out these terrorist attacks. It’s far from it. In fact, the evidence suggests, from recent leaks from WikiLeaks, suggests that the Mali government has been in close cahoots withAQIM in order precisely to undermine the efforts of the Azawad people to obtain independence.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations Security Council has condemned the Mali coup, warning of an al-Qaeda presence in Mali. Again, this is Jeffrey DeLaurentis of the United States at the United Nations.

JEFFREY DELAURENTIS: The Security Council reiterates its strong condemnation of the forcible seizure of power from the democratically elected government of Mali by some elements of the Malian armed forces and recalls, in this regard, its press statement of 22 March, 2012, and its presidential statement of 26 March, 2012. The Council calls on the mutineers to ensure the safety and security of all Malian officials and demands the immediate release of those detained. The Council renews its call for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule and the democratically elected government and for the preservation of the electoral process.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jeffrey DeLaurentis, United States alternative representative for special political affairs at the United Nations. Your response, Firoze Manji?

FIROZE MANJI: Well, I think that that has already been achieved. I think these junior officers really had no idea what they were doing, other than expressing frustration at being defeated. And I think they are now going to hand over power to the speaker of the National Assembly. And they’re going to try and mediate and negotiate with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

What I fear is that there is going to be a lot of bloodshed, because this is only—I think this is the fifth uprising by the Azawad. The first one was in 1916 to 1917, then in 1963, then again in 1991, and then again in 1996. We have had several uprisings, but this has been a really exceptional one. For the first time, you have a united front of many of the movements for the liberation of Azawad. And these are people, you know, who occupy for many, many centuries. These are people who are herders. They’re desert people. And they, in fact, historically occupy territories that include Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Algeria and parts of Libya in the north. And so, we have a situation where you have a national liberation movement seeking to liberate its own people and to have their own territory. But I think that the Mali government and, indeed, the Economic Community for West Africa, and in the international community, I’m afraid are not going to let them have their way. And that is going to be really quite tragic.

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