Mali Update: All quiet in the South While AQIM and MNLA Recruit in Gao.

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Timbuktu mosque after Friday prayers

The two worlds of Mali coming through clearly in conversations with friends.

Everything is as normal in Mopti, and Bamako. No queues for petrol, shops opening. Banks are off and on and nobody knows where they are going, but daily life seems to be pretty normal, if you are not Tuareg that is.

 For Tuareg living in southern Mali they feel as concerned as before. Some are still going to Mauritania, some contemplating going back into “Azawad”.

Many Tuareg I know who were not supportive of the initial MNLA rebellion now see the MNLA as their only hope. And with the strange alliance of the US, the EU, ECOWAS, the African Union, Algeria, Al Qaeda and the Mali “government” all lined up against an independent Azawad, and all going out of their way to paint the Tuareg as linked to Al Qaeda, their options are limited.

Things on the front line – Timbuktu and Gao – are very tense. An initial confidence from the MNLA that they could get the islamists out of town and the talk of turning their focus on the islamists to complete the job of securing for themselves their desert, seems to have been hampered.

Young men in Gao are facing a stark choice: money and Al Qaeda, or MNLA and you fight for your people. Families and friends are dividing, not over ideology but over the temptations of money. In a region without jobs, with a famine looming and civil war on the horizon, Al Qaeda’s money must look attractive.

The alliance between the international world and AQIM to islamize the Azawad project is so sad. Islamism is foreign to these parts, it has been exported from Algeria under the supervision of the US with the complicity of France, the Mali government and the Nigerian government. It is a foreign cancer that 3 years ago had nothing within Tuareg culture or Malian culture to key into. It remained isolated and separated from the people, a small band of bandits camped in the mountains of Tigharghar, with all the impressive resources of above’s combined militaries in the region , with no worries about collateral damage AND NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE. US drones for god’s sake have been seen flying over!

And now the situation is stacked up so that the road is open to foreign “peacekeeping” troops coming in to support the Malian state’s territorial integrity. What does this mean? To achieve this you have to now fight the MNLA. To beat the MNLA in the desert, even with twice their troops, you’d need the alliance of the Algerian supported AQIM from the north. Is the world going to let Algeria supply AQIM to combat the MNLA? Algeria’s constitution forbids them putting ground troops on foreign soil so their only way of retaking control of the region would be through their secret service’s proxy force: AQIM. Are we all going to line up with Al Qaeda to defeat the MNLA and return to the set up of the status quo which sparked the rebellion?

Jeremy Keenan is the region’s security expert. He is a professor of anthropology at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and has long studied the Tuareg and the politics of Algeria and advises on security in the region. Back in November 2010 he stated:

“The DRS’s (Algeria’s secret service) construction of AQIM in the Sahel has created the current security problem and afforded Algeria the opportunity to present itself as the US’ indispensable ally in the global war on terror and the West’s regional ‘gendarme’.

I refer you back to the article. It makes interesting reading given where we are today.

Other news;

The interim Malian government and the MNLA met for talks in Nouakchott which the MNLA at least described as positive and a good opening to negotiations. So that is good.

Also the MNLA have mentioned the possibility of a federal solution. Something like this, for me, is the best way forward. I have advocated this earlier. It makes sense. Too many powerful influences have far too much to lose to contemplate and independent Azawad.

The MNLA need to keep their head. And I hope all Malians will look forward to a solution that best resolves the clear problems that the status quo was producing.

An interesting article here (in French) from a southerner advocating Azawad independence as being good for Mali.