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Mali: What We Are Not Being Told, Matters

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Recently, your host at Asylum Watch, was introduced to a new conservative blog by his friend Maggie , of the well-known, Maggie’s Notebook. The new blog is called Ooobie on Everything and it is truly an excellent blog. The author, whose name is not Ooobie, brings a special insight to conservative blogging. She graduated from Georgetown University in 1977  with a major in Russian language and a minor in Soviet politics. She worked 21 years in the US foreign Service, during which time, she was on the Nicaraguan Desk during Iran-Contra, she was in Kosovo just before NATO decided it wasn’t just a defensive organization anymore, and she lived many years in Russia. So, in Ooobie on Everything, we have a conservative blogger with an insider’s point of view.

Friday past, when I visited Ooobie on Everything, she had put up a short note that she was working on a post about Hillary Clinton and so she suggested her readers might find an article by Adam Garfinkle at Foreign Policy Research Institute worthy of their time. I took her advice and found Mr. Garfinkle’s article, Mali: Understanding The Chessboard,  very educational. Your humble observer learned enough from Garfinkle’s article to know he didn’t know enough about the “who”, “what”, “when” and “why” of the conflict in Mali. And so, he used the magic of the world wide web to learn more. He was reminded of times gone by when attending a professional baseball or football game, where as one enters the stadium, hawkers are selling programs as they cry out: “Get your program!. You can’t tell the players without a program!” Well, it sort of the same thing with the events in Mali over the past couple of weeks. The program we need is a refresher course on the geography and the history, if not some anthropology of the people of the region. So, let me share the little I have learned.

It may be useful to open this world map on another page a move it until you have the African continent in view.

Most of what you are about to read was taken from various Wikipedia sites. Not the best source, but it should serve our purposes. Let us start our history lesson by going back in time about 2000 years. At the north-east of the Africa was the ancient Egyptian civilization. An Arab people. To the west of Egypt, along the Mediterranean coast of Africa was the lands known as Maghreb. Today, the Maghreb contains the nations of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. The people of the Maghreb were not Arabs, but Berbers, with their own languages and customs. The Berbers were heavily influenced by their Arab neighbors. When they were introduced to the religion of Islam in the early eight century, … well, let’s say they became fanatical converts. A few years later, they would take their new religion to what is now Spain a part of Italy. The Berbers controlled part of Spain for over 800 years and other parts for over 200 years. You might say the Berbers have empire building in their blood.

Among the Berbers was a nomadic people known by the name, Tuareg. They were found mostly  in what is now called Libya, in an area from Sebha and Ubari (see Libyan map below). Their name, in their language, expresses the notion of “freemen”. They were pastors and traders and warriors. They ran caravans of oxen by several routes north to the Mediterranean Sea. When the Arabs introduced them to the camel, they abandon the use of oxen in favor of camels. The Tuareg were, also know as, the blue men or indigo men because of the indigo color of the veils used by both Tuareg men and the women. The Tuareg had the reputation of being fierce fighters. The clans of the Tuareg had a society

Map of Libyawith a hierarchical structure of nobles and vassals. They  had/have a caste system and the not only maintained slaves, traded in slaves. And, if the Berbers were empire builders in general, so were the Tuaregs. By the fifth century, the Tuaregs had turned their attention to the south, to the western part of what are Sahel part of Africa. The Tuaregs establish caravan routes from oasis in what is now Chad to the Niger river and in the are of today’s Mali and part of southern Mauritania. The nobles allowed peasants to farm around the oasis and keep one fifth for themselves. In this way, the Tuaregs rules the lands of what is now southern Libya and the western Sahel for centuries until the French colonized the region in the 19th and 29th centuries, The swords of the Tuareg were no match for the guns of the French. The Tuareg were scattered in small groups throughout the Maghreb and the Sahel region.

From Wikipedia we learn:

When African countries achieved widespread independence in the 1960s, the traditional Tuareg territory was divided among a number of modern nations: NigerMaliAlgeriaMoroccoLibya, and Burkina Faso.

The Tuareg, living in Niger and Mali, rebelled against the new post-colonial governments. Finally in the 1990?s truces were made giving the Tuareg autonomous areas in both countries. The Tuareg autonomous area in Mali is in north and is called Azawad. Azawad has borders with Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The temporary capital of Azawad is Gao, but the permanent capital is planned for Timbuktu.

So, now lets fast forward to the events of the Arab Spring and the decision by President Barack Obama and NATO to aid the rebels trying to overthrow Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. GUESS WHAT? One of the rebel groups being supported was the Tuaregs, many of whom came from the autonomous Tuareg territory, Azawad, to help depose the tyrant ruling over their ancestral home in Libya.

Although NATO was very much aware of the huge supply of arms that Gaddafi had, they had no plan for capturing those arms and preventing them from falling into the hands of the various radical Muslim groups fighting to over throw the Libyan government. And, so the arms did fall into the hands of the rebels that NATO was helping, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Tuareg fighters from Azawad, in Mali. So, when the Tuaregs fighting in Libya had all the arms and ammo and four-wheel drive pick-ups they could use, they returned to their autonomous homeland of Azawad in Mali and they took some of their Arab speaking AQIM friends with them.

Now, at least, we know who the players are. We also know something about the what, where and when. What is not clear is the why. What are the motives of the Tuaregs who have autonomous territories in Mali and Niger, but many other Tuaregs are scattered throughout the Maghreb region and the Sahel. Do the Tuaregs want the own independent state, similar to the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey? Are the AQIM there to aid the Tuaregs in whatever their cause is or do they have their own plans for parts of the Sahel region of Africa?

Let’s review the who the players are. On one side we have the Tuaregs and the AQIM. Om the other side we have the government of Mali, the ex-colonial government of the region, France. France is receiving logistical support from the US and some other NATO allies. And, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has reluctantly agreed to send troops.

For some excellent additional insight into the Mali conflict, please click on the link to the Adam Garfinkle article above and scroll down to the heading: Flogging Mali II. Mr. Garfinkle’s assessment of the potential size of an effective counter-insurgency effort is alarming. He is not optimistic that the Mali military or the ECOWAS troops will be very effective.

You, dear friends, will want to keep an eye on this conflict. It has the potential to become big and to involve several countries in the region. Listen carefully to what America’s leaders are saying. If this conflict is about the Tuaregs wanting an independent country of their own, America should keep its dogs out of this fight. If our leaders insist on calling this a terrorist action, you will know they want our dogs in the fight. We do not need another place for our sons and daughters to die. This is one time that Asylum Watch believes that leading from behind is the right policy!

Well, now you know what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

Original Post:  Asylum Watch

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