Tuareg Rebels in Mali Declare Independence: Is it Part of an African Awakening for Self-Determination?
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AMY GOODMAN: Firoze Manji—
FIROZE MANJI: And we should be aware that—
AMY GOODMAN: —if you could explain where Libya and the fall of Gaddafi fits into this picture and talk about who the Tuareg rebels are—for some, it’s the first time they’ve heard the term Tuareg.
FIROZE MANJI: Yes. Well, there’s been a lot of press, publicity, about alleging that the fall of Gaddafi led to this particular rebellion. The evidence suggests that this movement has been organizing for some time. There is—certainly many of the people who Gaddafi trained in his army were from the population that’s called the Tuareg. And many of them have returned after the collapse of Libya. They returned back to Mali. But half of them probably joined the Tuareg movement, but the other half have actually gone down to Bamako, the capital of Mali, and have joined the Mali forces, saying that they are Malians. So it’s not entirely clear that those who came from Libya actually became part of the national liberation movement.
As for the Tuareg, these are people who have occupied the vast areas of Africa. They stretch from the—from Morocco to Mauritania to Burkina Faso. What one has to realize, that these are—these are cattle herders. These are people who have been traditional nomads, who move around, and who got incorporated into Mali only because the French colonial government just divided up this land according to how they wanted to exploit the resources of Mali. And remember that Mali has very substantial sources of gold, as well as oil and gas. And so, the Tuareg people are related to a large community of people who stretch right across the north of Africa and in many parts of West Africa. And they have been seeking to have their own state, which is not unreasonable, and they have had many attempts to try to form a movement to liberate their territory. This was denied to them by the international community. It was denied to them by the French government. And indeed, the United States has a military presence in that area called AFRICOM. And there is no doubt at all that they are active to prevent the liberation movement, the movement of the Azawad, as the Tuareg like to call themselves, to prevent them from achieving any form of independence.
AMY GOODMAN: The relationship between the U.S. AFRICOM and the African Union and ECOWAS, the African nations, the organization of western African States?
FIROZE MANJI: Yes, well, I mean, formally speaking, none of the African countries, apart from Liberia and, more recently, Libya, have formally accepted the presence of the U.S. AFRICOM and the military presence in Africa. Although that’s formally the case, in practice, AFRICOM has been present in that area for many years. They have certainly been active in Algeria, just to the north of Mali, and they have a presence in many other countries in Africa. And, you know, what one must understand is—you know, imagine that we had Kenyan troops occupying parts of the United States. I don’t think the American population would be terribly happy about it. And I think the African population has a similar response: it doesn’t want foreign troops on its territories.
AMY GOODMAN: And how does Mali fit into what is taking place in Senegal, the significance of what took place there?
FIROZE MANJI: Well, I—yeah, that’s a very good question. I think the really interesting thing is that what we are seeing across the African continent—everyone knows about the Arab Spring, the rise of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt and the overthrow of the dictators there. But what we are seeing is a growing discontent happening right across the continent.