Blogging the road 2 Timbuktu
Mali: Algeria Enters The Fray and Azawad Declares Independence.
Yes I know, it's getting really confusing now.
The MNLA sandstorm has swept across the desert to its frontline with Mali - the river Niger at Tmbuktu and Gao. But dark clouds have followed in their tracks. Al Qaeda in The Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and their "islamist" brothers, the newly formed Ansar Dine, are in Timbuktu and Gao. But through the dust and haze there are sgins of spring.
Much of the media have been focussing on stories of the islamist groups getting in on the action in Timbuktu - black Al Qaeda flags being raised and sharia law imposed, a British couple's dramatic escape from kidnap in Timbuktu to Mauritania. This is to be expected (both Al Qaeda presence and media reaction). Mali is obiviously in chaos now, so all the centres of power/influence are going to be entering the vacuum and trying to swing things their way. What is more worrying are the attempts to link the MNLA and Al Qaeda in the media, and, initially, the US and ECOWAS were humming this tune together.
Initially I was confused. Mamayiti, my Tuareg contact, after weeks of evacuating his large family out of Timbuktu to the desert, was able to return. He was saying that MNLA were in control. But then came the reports from the media about Ansar Dine coming in and causing chaos, looting and raising their flag. Non of this matched with the Mamayiti's tone. He had to find out about it which suggests things are not in quite the chaos that is being reported.
The looting and possibly the flag stuff turns out to have been local Arab and Berabish (desert Arabs) from Timbuktu, perhaps with islamist ideology, taking advantage of the vacuum. It seems that the islamist group leaders entered Timbuktu behind the MNLA, after the latter had swept through unchallenged.
But thankfully the MNLA are showing all the right signs: it was the MNLA who got the British couple out to Mauritania; it seems they have given the big chiefs of AQIM and Ansar Dine a deadline to quit Timbuktu - they are talking about turning their attention back to the desert and clearing it once and for all of the cancer in their midst; they have declared a ceasefire in their battle with Mali; and they have called on ECOWAS who are threatening to send in the troops to deal with the MNLA to instead help them rid the desert of Al Qaeda.
Yesterday a hitherto invisible, silent and very important player in all of this shone their own torch on themselves rather clumsily. Six Algerian consular staff were kidnapped from their consulate in Gao and held by "parties which we do not know" said the Algierian coinsulate, suggesting the MNLA. Almost before they could finish their sentance the MNLA cried "Bollocks you bastards," (or words to that effect, my Tamashek not as good as it should be.) "why would we want to do that - you've "kidnapped" your own via your own secret service the DRS posing as Ansar Dine and are trying to discredit us".
And now we get to the heart of the matter. Now the gloves are coming off and the players are revealing themselves.
The reason the MNLA cannot control AQIM or Ansar Dine despite their forces outnumbering and out weighing the "islamists"#, is because behind AQIM is Algeria, through their reknowned secret service the DRS. The whole AQIM thing comes out of an anti-Algerian government islamist group called the GSPC. Algeria controls its own domestic islamist issue by exporting its problem - AQIM is camped just across the border in Mali - and by infiltrating it with its secret service the DRS. (more on this and my own personal story that brings out this theory to follow)
Is Algeria tring to islamicise the MNLA cause to try and prevent an independent Azawad? They have no interest in the Arab spring blowing from the east and the Tuareg/Mali spring blowing from the south. With the Tuareg in control of the desert, and if they manage to kick out AQIM, the DRS will lose its control of security issues outside of Algeria's borders, and this may impact on the other very profitable trade that all these guys and groups are mixed up in - the drugs smuggling.
However ECOWAS and the US and France deal with this now will tell us a lot about the truth of the War on Terror in Africa. Do the regional and western powers who have interests in the region really want to get rid of Al Qaeda or not? If they do they should support the MNLA or at least allow the MNLA time to do this themselves and then they can all start negotiating the future make up of Mali without the islamist shadow hanging over them.
One of the big questions behind everything that is happening in Mali today has been why has nothing been done about Al Qaeda. When Al Qaeda has been such a small band of bandits camped up where everyone knows, within reach of Malian, Algerian and Nigerian forces, with France and the US on the ground supporting with 'counterterrorism', why has this cancer been allowed to fester. This is ultimately why the Tuareg have rebelled. This is now the cause of the likely division of Mali.
But of course the world is not a smart thing. Already France is jumping the gun and refusing to countenance an independant Azawad. Of course not - France is obsessed with its influence in Africa and it relies on the status quo plus Total have oil interests, and France controls the uranium in the Tuareg region of Niger. Duh - we know why Mr Sarkosy!
If the US and ECOWAS really want to bring peace and securty to ths region once and for all, they will support the best force on the ground to push AQIM out of Mali and back to Algeria where they belong. The MNLA want to do it, they have the force to do it, now is the time.
I hope I am not jumping the gun but I'm gong to put my neck out. The MNLA seem to be taking their new found control over their destiny with resposnblity and an eye to their best chances of realising their ultimate dream. They are not so stupid to think that islamism will help them in this - none of these spring movements have fought for islamist ideology and the Tuareg people have no tendencies that way anyway.
They are showng the world that what the Tuareg are really about. When you step back and think where the Tuareg were only 6 months ago, this story is still the stuff of Hollywood.
They have been sufferng with no help from their government, Africa or the international world and its grand bodies that are supposed to look to the welfare of disposessed people. Because of Nato's decison to sort out Gaddafi, they were inadvertently dealt a lucky hand. And boy have they maximized their leverage. I have always said that true security in the desert comes from the Tuareg. Over the past 3 years, since AQIM have been there, the desert has been unsafe, not even the Tuareg have been safe. The Tuareg are on the verge of a once in the history of a people opportunity. The words of Kipling spring to mind:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
I have now just read the Tuareg have declared an independent Azawad and that predictably France and Algeria have refused to countenance it. But their may be a legal loophole for the Tuareg. As the Malian constitution has been suspended, the Tuareg technically have no state anyway, and in international law this may give them grounds for statehood.
Hasta la vista baby! Boy they move fast. Back soon.
These photos below were taken only 3 years ago, near Aguelhoc, in the mountains very close to where Al Qaeda have their camp. I long for the day when I can go back there - and take you with me!