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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.'

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England (right) escorts Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure through an honor cordon and into the Pentagon on February 12, 2008.


The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! interview with Firoze Manji, editor-in-chief of the prize-winning Pambazuka News, a pan-African social justice website.


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Mali, where the president, Amadou Toumani Touré, has handed in his letter of his resignation after soldiers ousted him in a coup last month. Power will now be transferred to the president of Mali’s National Assembly until elections take place later this month. On Sunday, Touré addressed the press, saying he’s resigning of his own accord.

PRESIDENT AMADOU TOUMANI TOURÉ: [translated] Today, in the search for a solution, I think the decision taken by ECOWAS and the international community is the best. It’s necessary that Mali continues in the provisions of its constitution of February 1992. As a consequence, I think it’s normal, and I do it without any pressure at all, and I do it in good faith and, most of all, for the love I have for this country—I have decided to present you with the letter of my resignation that you should present it to the relevant authorities to allow the plan and full exercise of the provision of our Article 36 of the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali. He was just months from finishing his last term, when soldiers stormed the presidential palace, sending him into hiding. The soldiers said they grabbed power because of Touré’s alleged mishandling of a rebellion in the north, which began in January. The ethnic Tuareg rebels had succeeded in capturing several key northern cities, including the ancient city of Timbuktu, a major prize in their long-running fight for autonomy in the north. Last week, the Tuareg declared their independence. Naming their state "Azawad," the Tuaregs are now calling for international recognition. They have nurtured the dream of secession since Mali’s own independence from France in 1960. Following last month’s coup, Mali is now roughly divided into a Tuareg-controlled north and junta-controlled south, and humanitarian groups warn the country is on the brink of catastrophe.

On Sunday, northerners living in Bamako gathered in the city center to try and resolve the ongoing fighting. Some Malians wondered about the rebels’ intentions.

BENCO MAIGA: [translated] Do they really want independence? Because when we want independence, we don’t destroy hospitals, the credit companies, banks and warehouses. If I wanted independence, I would keep what we have, waiting to have more.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, Mali’s coup leaders said the junta would hand power to civilians within days in a deal under which neighboring nations agreed to lift sanctions and help tackle northern rebels. Officials claim the rebels are a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamists with links to al-Qaeda. This is Jeffrey DeLaurentis, acting president of the United Nations Security Council.

JEFFREY DELAURENTIS: The Security Council strongly condemns the continued attacks, looting and seizure of territory carried out by rebel groups in the north of Mali and demands an immediate cessation of hostilities. The Council is alarmed by the presence in the region of the terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which could lead to a further destabilization of the security situation. The Council calls upon the rebels to immediately cease all violence and urges all parties in Mali to seek a peaceful solution through appropriate political dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Mali, we’re joined by Firoze Manji in Montreal, Canada, editor-in-chief of the prize-winning Pambazuka News, a pan-African social justice website. He’s formerly the Africa director for Amnesty International. Manji recently co-edited a book called African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions.

Firoze Manji, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of the president of Mali saying he’s stepping down and what this deal is all about?

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