Mali Coup is latest post-Qaddafi fallout

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A military coup that overthrew the elected government of Mali on Thrusday became the latest repercussion of the Libyan revolution and the fall of Mummar Qaddafi to rock the continent of Africa.

Friday, Mali's coup leaders ordered soldiers to return to barracks and imposed a 6am to 6pm curfew in Barnako, the capital. All the country's borders were also closed according to Lieutenant Amadou Konare, spokesman for the National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, said yesterday on state television.

According to Bloomberg:

Army officers yesterday said they had toppled President Amadou Toure’s government and suspended the constitution over the state’s handling of a Touareg rebellion in northern Mali. The military formed a transitional council that will organize elections and plans to restore power to a democratically elected leader, Konare said. Mali vies with Tanzania to be Africa’s third-biggest gold producer, after South Africa and Ghana.
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Soldiers in Mali have complained about their lack of preparation and resources in a campaign to quash a two-month uprising by the Touareg separatists who are seeking autonomous rule in northern Mali. Hundreds of soldiers’ wives last month marched on the presidential palace to protest the danger their husbands are being exposed to in the military campaign.

The coup has been widely condemned in the international community. The African Union has been joined by the UN, the US and a host of other nations in opposing it. On Friday, the AU suspended Mali's membership and former colonial power France said it was suspending cooperation with Mali. As William G Moseley, who lived in Mali for a number of years points out in his Al Jazeera opinion piece Mali's coup must be widely condemned:

While this is a Malian problem that must be resolved by the Malian people, the international community (including the Arab League, African Union and UN) must condemn the recent coup in no uncertain terms. This is not the Arab Spring moving south, but a serious backwards step for democracy in the region. Captain Sanogo and his band of thugs must be made to step aside, ATT (if he is still alive) allowed to serve out his remaining month in office, and democratic elections kept on schedule to occur in late April.

The main support for the coup appears to becoming from junior army officers that have been in the thick of the fighting against Tuareg rebels in northern Mali. The Mali army has suffered both a lost of territory and a heavy lost of life in carrying out the government's campaign against the northern rebellion and they blame the president and his government for ordering the strategy and then failing to adequately support it.

In the latest report at this hour [1:09 PST] , the Tuareg are reporting that they have just take a northern Mali town.

The Tuareg are a desert people that span parts of Mali, Niger, Chad, Libya and Algeria. They are renown as warriors and Mummar Qaddafi built a special relationship with them. In the 1980's he recruited many under the banner of the Islamic Legion and when that failed, he brought some directly into the Libyan army where a few obtained very high rank. He also used many as mercenaries.

They fought for him in his frequent wars on the African continent including in Chad, Niger, Sudan, Mali, Sudan even Lebanon and more recently they fought for him in Libya. Tuareg mercenaries were among those shooting down unarmed protesters in Benghazi in the first days of the February 17th uprising, they looted and raped and murdered in Misrata and they were among his most loyal and steadfast fighters till the end.

They took a real shellacking from NATO planes out there in the desert and now they have been relieved of service, you might say. Since September, thousands have been coming home from the fight in Libya, many of them well armed. Heavy weapons have made the journey too.

Many have joined the Tuareg struggle for self determination already in progress in that region and they have greatly energized it. This has lead to the army setbacks that have in turn now precipitated this coup. As Moseley told it:

Sadly, it was Gaddafi's guns, more than anything else, that rekindled a movement aimed at creating an independent Tuareg state known as Azawad. A pivotal moment occurred on January 24 when Tuareg rebels completely overran a Malian military base at Aguelhok, in which it was widely reported in the Malian media that all of the remaining soldiers were slaughtered after they ran out of ammunition to defend themselves. This led to a huge public outcry and, sadly, reprisals against innocent Tuareg civilians. The army also began to publically grumble that they did not have the funds they needed to fight the war in the north.

More on the Tuareg and Qaddafi

August 31, 2011, the Atlantic published a rare interview with one of Qaddafi's returning Tuareg mercenaries. The writer describes his introduction this way:

I learned about him when a Tuareg elder told me that in recent weeks more than 200 Tuareg fighters had returned from Libya to Timbuktu and the surrounding villages. He said that hundreds more had returned to other towns in eastern Mali. Local leaders were worried, he said, that these men could be the leading edge of a large wave of mercenaries returning from the fighting in Libya and that they could set a match to northern Mali’s own brittle mixture of ethnic rivalries.
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To prove he had been in Libya he produced a document — with a passport photo attached and a stamp from the Malian consulate in Tamanrasset — identifying him as a refugee from Libya. He said that that he went to Libya in 2007 with his wife and children. They were given short-term residence papers in exchange for his enlistment in the Libyan army. He was assigned to a Tuareg brigade in the southern town of Awbari.

He remembered the beginning of the uprising, before the peaceful protests gave way to armed struggle:

When the protests began in Tripoli, his unit was attached to the infamous 32nd brigade, led by Qaddafi’s son Khamis, and was sent to disperse the unarmed marchers. “That was easy,” he said with startling nonchalance. “We would kill three or four in the front of the crowd and they all ran away. It was very easy.”

He fought throughout the revolution and said many Tuaregs were forced to fight for Qaddafi:

After Tripoli, he and his fellow Tuareg mercenaries fought in several battles east of the capital city along the coast, including at Misrata. As the fighting intensified, Libyan officials began rounding up Tuareg living in Libya, threatening to imprison them and their families if they didn’t join the fight, though many had no military training. Some deserted and joined the rebels, but most stayed with the forces loyal to Qaddafi.

While they were fierce with unarmed civilians, they were no match for NATO air power:

Abdullah’s unit moved on to Brega and then to the outskirts of Benghazi. “We were six kilometers [about four miles] from Benghazi when the first NATO bombs hit us.” First, a missile hit a vehicle carrying an artillery piece near his position and killed eight men. “We never heard it or saw it. The men just blew up.” He and his fellow soldiers were spooked. They were well trained to fight on the ground, he said. “None of us was good at shooting down airplanes."

He also confirmed Qaddafi's intention to do to Benghazi what Assad is currently doing in Homs, Idlib and many other Syria cities:

I asked about Qaddafi’s February speech, in which he pledged to hunt down protesters house by house and what his men were ordered to do if they encountered civilians. He paused before answering, “To be honest, it is true. We believed what Qaddafi told us. We believed we would go there and kill everyone.”

I asked if he had seen any civilians killed. In Misrata, he says, “We tried to find everyone there. One half of the city was cleaned.”

“What do you mean ‘cleaned?’” I asked.

“The people were killed. Women, children, everyone there.”

Now the Tuareg are worried about their future. According to Nina Intallou, representing the Kidal region on the Mali national advisory council and a Tuareg rebel and writing before Qaddafi was killed:

“The south of Libya is Touareg territory. They’re obliged to hold on to what is theirs because if Gaddafi goes, they fear what will happen to them. There’s a risk of total destabilisation in the region. Many people in Libya detest the Touareg. Before Gaddafi came to power they weren’t allowed to go to Benghazi, for example, without a special pass. So if Gaddafi’s enemies are given power, we’re really asking what will become of us. We may even face the complete disappearance of the Touareg as a people.”

Andy Morgan wrote about the Tuareg last March, in the early days of the Libyan revolution:

Gaddafi has been buying the affections and fighting skills of the nomadic tribes of the Sahara for a long time. His vision of a borderless desert, an Islamic republic of the Sahara, has often found favour with the Touareg, who have been fighting their own struggle for political self-determination and cultural recognition against the governments of Mali and Niger since independence back in 1960. Gaddafi invited young Touareg immigrants in Libya to join his Islamic Legion in the early 1980s before sending them off to fight wars in Chad, the Sudan and the Lebanon. The same Touareg soldiers then unleashed their own rebellions against Mali and Niger in the 1990s. Despite widespread suspicion that Gaddafi only ever helped the Touareg to further his own territorial schemes, many Touareg fear the consequences of his fall from power.

And he wrote prophetically a year ago:

Other Touareg leaders cite the severe political and social strain that could result from the fall of the Gaddafi regime and the consequent return of thousands of exiled Touareg from Libya to their homelands in Mali and Niger. Many of these returnees will probably be impoverished, disaffected and, what’s worse, heavily armed. Such an influx would pose a severe challenge to the already tenuous peace that exists between the Touareg and the central government of Mali in Bamako.

Qaddafi has long played on both sides of the street in Mali and he has done so to foment instability, a pattern he repeated throughout Africa:

Ironically, Gaddafi has also been investing heavily in agriculture, water infrastructure, hotels and other sectors in southern Mali, where the Touareg are seen as the enemy. Amadou Toumani Touré, the current President of Mali, was the first of many African leaders to call Gaddafi and express his support after the rebellion broke out in Libya.

At the same time:

The Libyan leader has often given financial support to ... Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, the hard line Touareg rebel leader who has refused to make peace with the Malian government, blaming Mali’s intransigence and broken promises for his uncompromising stance.

Not all Tuareg supported Qaddafi and his struggle against the revolution, according to Sheika last March:

"About 200 Touareg have been killed here because they refused to obey orders to shoot innocent protestors. And now the Touareg youth have joined the revolution against the regime…”

Morgan sums up Qaddafi' relationship with the Tuareg this way:

On the international stage, Gaddafi has often proclaimed his great affinity to the Touareg as a people. He is said to have inherited some Touareg blood from his mother, and he sees the Touareg as natural allies in his overriding ambition to create a Sahara without borders, unified by Arab culture and Islam. However, Gaddafi’s international pronouncements are in stark contrast with the way in which he has treated the Touareg and their culture in his own country. In a speech he gave in 1985, he famously claimed that mothers who taught their children Tamazight, the language of the Touareg, were injecting them with poison.

Akli Sheika, a Libyan Touareg living in exile in Britain, was imprisoned for teaching Tifinarh, the ancient Touareg alphabet, in Libyan schools. “I consider Gaddafi to be the enemy number one of the Touareg people,” he told me. “Most of the Touareg in Libya want Gaddafi to leave. Gaddafi is recruiting the Touareg by force and threatening them with violence if they don’t fight with the protestors. Many Touareg from Ghat and Ubari in the south have actually fled to Djanet in Algeria.”

The fall of Qaddafi is both good news and bad news for the people sub-Sahran Africa. They are getting the bad news first in the form of a flood of returning mercenaries and migrant workers. They are also feeling the effects of a multitude of weapons that were formerly locked up in Qaddafi's armory. This has lead to this unfortunate coup in Mali.

The good news is that they will no longer have Mummar Qaddafi first aggravating and then militarizing every conflict on the continent. Although his cachet of weapons may now be flooding Africa, they will dry up and he will no longer be a constant stream of arms, sometimes even to both sides of a conflict

With Qaddafi gone, the wick has stopped for a variety of guerrilla groups and "liberation" movements in Africa. In the short term they may feel the need to breakout with fresh offensives before the Qaddafi supplied reserves have dried up, especially if they are flush with new fighters and weapons just in from Libya. This appears to be the case in northern Nigeria and northern Mali.

But in the longer term, the removal of Qaddafi's meddling in the internal affairs, his spending of billions in Libyan petro dollars on money and arms to advance his vision, as expressed in his Green Book that:

Contemporary national liberation movements are themselves social movements; they will not come to an end before every group is liberated from the domination of another group.

And an end to his continual attempts to split African countries up in a scheme to re-unite them under his rule, is bound to lead to greater progress and liberation in Africa.

For related writing by me see also:
What the PSL got right & wrong about KONY 2012
African Spring continues in Senegal
Occupy Nigeria - 1st African fruits of Qaddafi gone?
BREAKING: Libyan's NTC pledges not to discriminate against black Africans
Racism in Libya
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi's African Adventure

Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 10:04 PM PT: The self-declared leader of the military coup Army Captain Amadou Sanogo appeal for calm and denied reports that his soldiers were looting petrol stations and state buildings. The whereabouts of President Amadou Toumani Toure are still unknown but he is rumored to be hiding on a Red Beret Army base and under the protection of loyal troops. Rumors of an imminent counter-coup are also being heard.

A joint mission of the AU and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS arrived in Bamako on Friday for negotiations with the rebels, Paul Lolo, the chairman of the Peace and Security Council, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

"[The mission] is in negotiations with the rebels and it is our hope that they will listen to reason and return Mali to constitutional order without delay," he said.

"This [coup] has been an insurgency, a seizure of power by force. There was a legitimate government in Mali. That government is still legitimate in our view because that is the government we know according to our instruments."

Meanwhile the Tuareg are using of this disorder to make military gains in the north. They have launched a new offensive and could soon be marching on Timbuktu if not opposed.