Since a 2012 military coup in Mali, the country has been under intense international scrutiny over the ongoing conflict between the government and separatist rebels in the north. Like any conflict, the situation is dynamic and complicated further by historical circumstances. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about the conflict in Mali.
Sources: DW.de, CBC.ca, TheGuardian.com, USNews.com, BBC.com, AlJazeera.com, GlobalVoicesOnline.org, Time.com
Though the most recent violence broke out following the 2012 overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Touré, Tuareg rebels have been clashing with government soldiers and initiating attacks on civilians for years. In January 2012, many began fleeing northern town as attacks increased, crossing the border to Mauritania.
The separatist rebels in Northern Mali consisted of four main groups: the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Ansar Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). The MNLA represents the torch holder of Tuareg nationalism, putting nationalist interests before religion, while the others focus more on Islamic goals.
It’s common knowledge that many Tuareg rebels who fought alongside Muammar Kadhafi’s forces in Libya fled into Northern Mali following his overthrow, bringing with them the arms and equipment left behind. However, many didn’t realize that with the end of Kadhafi also came the end of his financing in Mali, which included public service projects such as schools, healthcare centers, and roads.
Though it was never recognized, the MNLA declared the “State of Azawad” on April 6, 2012, in a territory that covered nearly two thirds of Mali. The rebels believe that this territory is the cradle of Tuareg civilization, though others say there isn’t any historical legitimacy to this claim.
Shortly after the MNLA declared the “State of Azawad,” Ansar Dine and al Qaeda turned on the MNLA and captured the main northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. Ansar Dine began to impose Islamic law in the city of Timbuktu, a move endorsed by AQIM and other Islamic militant groups in Northern Africa, and the groups destroyed Muslim shrines that they believed were not in line with their puritan religious views.
Many believe France entered Mali uninvited, for resource-driven reasons (including uranium stashes), but interim President Dioncounda Traore actually asked French troops to help subdue rebel forces in January 2013. French troops rapidly captured Gao and Timbuktu, and eventually Kidal, before they began their withdrawal in April 2013. Regional African forces were deployed to help with security, along with the U.N. mission MINUSMA, which stands for United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.
An initial truce between the Malian government and MNLA troops was brokered after President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita appointed his former rival, Moussa Mara, as the new prime minister in an attempt to appease rebels. Following the dissolution of the truce, however, separatists seized control of Kidal, as well as the towns of Menaka, Agelhok, Anefis, and Tessalit.
The U.N.’s MINUSMA force in Mali is tasked with stabilizing key population centers, supporting the government’s efforts to re-establish its authority throughout Mali, and assist transitional authorities in restoring constitutional order and national unity. French troops are only allowed to intervene and assist U.N. troops that are “under imminent and serious threat,” at the request of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Due to divergent interests, the MNLA is no longer associated with the terrorist groups Ansar Dine and AQIM. In a show of support for peace, MNLA representatives sat down this month for peace talks with the Malian government. Desperate for an end to the conflict, the government is prepared to make concessions, so long as they don’t challenge the recognized territorial unity of the country.
Though the official result has not been announced, the Air Algiers Flight 5017 that recently went down over Northern Mali is suspected to due to bad weather, not rebel activity. It is unlikely that Malian militants have weaponry capable of shooting down a plane, and airline accidents are not uncommon in Africa. While the global average for airline accidents between 2009 and 2013 was 2.5 per 1 million flights, the average in Africa is 13.5 per 1 million flights.