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  • Dora Ollivier Alarcon

A war with no solution?

Mali is in the Sahel region, south of the Sahara. It is a large African country, whose geographical differences between the north and the south have always been radical. Since the north is in the Sahara, the conditions are arid and desertic. Most of the population living there are nomadic stockbreeders called Tuareg. On the other hand, the south is more humid, which is favorizing for agriculture. That is the reason for a large farmer population.

This country gained independence from France in 1960. From that point on, the Tuareg in the north have always felt excluded and unrecognized by the rest of Mali. Separatist ideas began to develop in 1962. Many minor conflicts have taken place since then. 

On the 16th on January 2012, the rebel Tuareg troops began fighting against the Mali government. Their goal was to achieve the independence and autonomy of the north (Azawad). They called this movement MNLA, short for The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. The Tuareg population was desperate to gain back their homeland in the desert. 

Soon the Tuareg rebels gained control of the north. Further down in the south some Malians had the impression that the president Amadou Toumani Toure wasn’t doing anything against the separatists in the north. Malian soldiers plotted a coup d’etat on the 22nd of March 2012. These mutinied soldiers soon controlled the state from Bamako. They called themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR). 

Meanwhile, the Tuareg rebels saw a chance to overtake the largest cities in the north, that were still controlled by the state: Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal. Helped by the chaos in the country, they managed to do this in less than three days. After those invasions in the north, the Tuareg were satisfied and thought that they had achieved their goals by “liberating” the north. Though, when the Tuareg declared their independence from Mali neither the European Union nor the African Union accepted it. The nomad’s request was invalid and rejected. 

Throughout the attacks, the MNLA joined some Islamist troops, who initially helped them and gave them weapons (the weapons mostly came from the luted Libyan arsenal following the uprising against Muhammed Gaddafi in 2011). What the MNLA didn’t know when it joined the Islamists was that the Islamist’s goal wasn’t to make the north of Mali independent. What they wanted was to conquer the whole of Mali. Eventually the Tuareg and the Islamists turned against each other.  

The Islamists were stronger and better armed than the MNLA. That is why some splinter group of the MNLA gave up fighting for the independence and focused on fighting only against the Islamists, but most of the Tuareg continued what they had started. As the Islamist movements approached Bamako a French-led coalition began a military operation against the Islamists. France was deeply concerned about the fact that Mali could soon turn into a country controlled by terrorist groups. Following the French, other African states contributed to the military intervention for the same reason. 

Soon after the foreign intervention, Mali gained back the territory held by the Islamists, but the fighting between the Tuareg, the Islamists and the Malian army didn’t cease. Despite some peace agreements between the Tuareg and the Malian army in 2013 and 2015, the fighting continued.  

Later, in 2018 more French troops were sent to Mali to defeat the Islamists, because of ongoing terrorist attacks. After that, two further coups d’etat were plotted by the Malian army in 2020 and 2021. The new Malian president had a fall-out with France and decided to send the French troops away. The French obeyed this order. 

Soon after, mainly Russia sent mercenaries (private soldiers) to “help „the Malian government. It was later found that one main goal was to control mineral reaches on the country. 

Nowadays fights are ongoing with no clear winner and the situation is in a stale mate. 

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