Strategic Analysis: Terrorism and Poverty in Sahelian Africa
A recent UN report warning of a severe food shortage across the Sahel, combined with the rise of Islamic militancy in northern Mali, poses a direct threat to regional stability in West Africa. According to a report released on August 16, by the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “refugees and internally displaced persons in Mali and neighboring countries are in urgent need of food, shelter and water.” The report warns that the food insecurity situation is deteriorating as a severe drought, spanning from Senegal to Chad, plagues the Sahel, leaving bones scattered in its path. The proliferation of armed groups and political instability is a direct result of this humanitarian crisis, and the ripple effects will be felt everywhere.
In March, a coup d’etat in the capital Bamako left a security vacuum in the north and allowed al-Qaeda linked militant groups to exploit the situation and take control of northern Mali, an area the size of France. A reported 435,000 inhabitants fled to Mauritania, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and to southern Mali as Islamic fundamentalists Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa imposed strict Sharia, or Islamic law, in the cities of Gao, Kidal and historic Timbuktu.
Under their rule, which effectively goes unrivaled, music, soccer, smoking cigarettes and playing video games are all banned activities. Harsh sentences have been carried out against an unmarried couple, who were stoned to death, and a thief, who had his hand hacked off, all in the name of Islamic justice.
The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?
After almost a century of fighting and with little to show for, the traditionally nomadic and ethnic Tuareg people of North Africa are suddenly on the verge of accomplishing one of their premier goals- securing the territory needed to establish the state of Azawad within today’s northern Mali. The Tuaregs, who number some 1.2 million people in the region, are one of the many distinct ethnic groups who continue to shake North Africa’s geo-political future. In doing so, the Tuaregs have utilized their primary military front, the secular-nationalist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) to accomplish their military objectives. Furthermore, their latest offensive and the subsequent seizure of large swaths of territory has surprised many with the speed and firepower deployed. To that point, their latest gains are primarily due to two major developments – the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and the alliance between Islamists and Tuaregs in Mali.
Even before Mali started hitting the headlines this past week, town after town along the northern Mali-Algeria border began to fall to the Tuareg-Islamist insurgents. Moreover, some 200,000 people have been displaced in the last three months alone. To that point, Malian soldiers – mainly ethnic sub-Saharan Africans – who once had the upper hand against the formerly lightly armed Tuareg insurgents were now facing a heavily armed, reinforced, and highly motivated fighting force. Simply put, the Mali army found itself outgunned and undersupplied to fight against a determined enemy in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Since the rebellion began in January, the mounting military defeats pressed the country’s junior officers and soldiers to seek a solution. Therefore, the now disgruntled and demoralized army decided to launch their coup d’état and seized power on March 22 from the Western-backed, now deposed President. Since then, little has gone the junta’s way, as the mutineers, including their leader – US military trained Captain Sanogo – were undoubtedly surprised, not only by the international outcry against them, but also the rebel offensive in the north that has seized territory roughly the size of France in just one week. Continue reading The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?→
The Tuareg Factor
One tribe’s cooperation with various militant groups will continue to challenge stability in some of Africa’s most vital nations
By Jay R.
Since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya early last year, weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise and of primary concern. It is now widely known that masses of Libyan weaponry have made their way into the hands of such militant groups as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Libyan weaponry has traveled as far as the Gaza Strip and appeared in hand of militant groups there.
With the recent unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, the above-mentioned groups have been deeply reported on. However, one tribe, heavily active in Africa’s Sahel desert region is operating under the radar in comparison. The Tuareg tribe, composed of 1.2 million people, is historically nomadic. They have long roamed northwest Africa, primarily through the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger. Today, the group has become sedentary, the result of which has seen the Tuaregs actively engage such countries, particularly the Malian government, for stakes in power sharing and wealth benefits from the country’s natural resources.
The ongoing battle for the Tuareg’s perceived rights most recently manifested in the two-year Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Niger from 2007-2009. This rebellion was ended through a series of peace talks and amnesty allowances; however, the conflict persists to this day as the Malian government regularly takes on the Tuareg militants along the Nigerian border.