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Ever Hear of a Place Called Azawad? How About Timbuktu?

Photo by Emilio Labrador | CC BY 2.0

It may not be the heart of Africa but it is the key to Africa. Forget about “Niger” and think of Azawad. Think of the bigger and older picture: a region that encompasses northern Mali, southern Algeria, southern Libya, western Niger and northern Burkina Faso.

It’s here – Azawad – where the four US Green Berets were recently killed. And it’s here where the French Foreign Legion has positioned itself in the latest scramble for Africa. The cover story is the “War on Terror”. But don’t be fooled: “white guy rule” has returned to the Sahara.

Timbuktu is the capital of Azawad. The Tuareg are it’s people. And the “white guy” the invader. Located in the center of the Sahara – all roads pass through Azawad. It’s the bridge between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. And so it’s a geopolitical prize that’s attracting every born again Western thug.

Azawad has been there for centuries. But it was officially born – in the modern nation state sense – only in 2012 – after the locals rose up against foreign rule. And declared independence.

The foreigner back then was the government of Mali in distant Bamako. However other foreigners immediately arrived on the scene to smother Azawad’s short “official life”.

The first outsider to terminate Tuareg independence in 2012 was “Islamic Terror”(the battles of Gao and Timbuktu). And the second was “White Terror” (France: Operation Serval). And now the Americans are snooping around. The 2012 rebellion was the fourth Tuareg uprising in Mali since 1960. While next door in Niger the the Tuareg started rebelling against “foreign rule” in 1990 and again in 2007. And the significant Tuareg populations in Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya were and remain the natural allies of these nationalistic struggles.

The fact which makes Azawad and Tuareg nationalism a credible place and ideology today is state failure. Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria have all failed to live up to the promise of independence. And Libya was destroyed because it did live up to the promise of independence. In each case the West are to blame – primarily the insufferable French state.

In retrospect, “independence” in this region hadn’t a chance. The common currency of post-colonial Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso (the West African Franc) was directly linked to the French Franc and therefore to indirect French rule. And today – in apocalyptic Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso (human life is worth about a dollar or two a day) – it’s even worse: the Euro is the killer-link overseeing monetary movements.

And when these post-colonial countries attempted to make a real break from France and Europe – like Burkina Faso in the 1980s, led by Thomas Sankara – the West politically murdered them (Sankara was killed in 1987).

And to ensure the links to France and Europe were permanent: the West committed economic murder (or economic genocide) – in the guise of the infamous IMF structural adjustment policies (SAPs) – throughout the region (see the 2006 film, Bamako).

The end result of this political and economic strangulation was the arrival of the Western multinational corporations (MNCs). And the departure (still ongoing) of millions of economic refugees.

The classic Western corporate invader in this part of the Sahara is the French energy giant that mines uranium in Niger: Areva. And another random example is Randgold Resources, which mines gold in Mali and is based in the island of Jersey (the notorious tax haven) – just off France.

In fact the fingerprints of France are all over the failure of this large chunk of Africa. The French war in Algeria (1954-62) poisoned – at the very beginning – the whole experience of independence. And the French led war against Libya (2011) guaranteed that this poison was fatal for the African dream.

Nevertheless, no sooner had that dream been sodomized by the French & Co. than another was born: Azawad.

Local Africans – for a change – decided to rearrange the borders of post-colonial failure. The Tuareg asserted themselves once again. In short: the weapons and will power – which came with the returning Tuareg exiles from Libya in 2011 – fused with the history and the justice behind the idea of Azawad. Timbuktu was born again.

The problem however for Timbuktu was born again imperialism. The “white guy” was on the rampage again. And he had a new poison to hand out to the natives: “Islamic Terror”.

As well as opening the door to the French Foreign Legion and the Green Berets – the addition of “Jihad” to the politics of this resource rich African region messed up whatever rationalism there was left after the debacle of “post-colonialism”.

The bottom line is that the independence of Azawad hadn’t a chance against the new Western double act which was and still is popping up all over the place: “Islamic Terror” and “White Guy Protection / Terror”.

The proxy nature of “Islamic Terror” in Azawad – the way it works in tandem with the interests of the “White Guy” and his African allies – is highlighted by two knowledgeable observers of the Sahara.

In his books The Dark Sahara (2009) and The Dying Sahara (2013) the British anthropologist, Jeremy Keenan, traces the roots of “Islamic Terror” in Azawad back to the Algerian secret service (DRS) and America’s “Global War on Terror”. His coherent argument is that the interests of Algeria and America coincided around 2002-03. In a word: after 9/11 the USA was searching for enemies so Algeria invented one for it: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

This made to measure bogeyman was perfect for both the Algerian army and the US military-industrial complex because it increased their powers. Algeria got US weapons and US support. And the USA suddenly had a new mission in energy rich Africa. AFRICOM (United States African Command) was born – as were a host of nefarious US initiatives in the Sahara: for example, the Pan-Sahel Initiative (2002) and the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative (2005).

The road to the Tongo Tongo ambush (not far from Timbuktu) – that killed the four US Green Berets last month – was open.

Another British friend of Azawad, Andy Morgan (the manager of the great Tuareg band Tinariwan) has also pointed at the dirty tactics of another regional government – another failed post-colonial government: Mali. Writing in 2012 he quotes a Tuareg leader and Azawad spokesman, Hama Ag Sid’Ahmed:

“AQIM [Al-Qaeda] was parachuted in and installed in our territory by the Malian government [in the decade prior to 2012]…..They brought them into the Timbuktu region and then to Kidal…..all the operations lead by the terrorist groups have originated in Mali, and the terrorist have always fallen back to Mali. It’s their safe haven. Everyone knows that the terrorists are in communication with military leaders, and that politicians from Bamako meet the terrorist emirs quite regularly.”

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in the 2012 Uprising attempted to work around “Islamic Terror” but within months lost out to the “Islamic” agenda. From being a low key terrorist network – the “Islamists” suddenly and mysteriously wanted to “take over the whole of Mali – if not the world”.

The handlers of the “Islamists” (the Algerians? the Malians?) and their handlers handlers (the French? the Americans?) had to press the emergency button – to counter the freedom of Azawad. Thus there was a coup in the capital of Mali (Bamako – March 2012). And within a year the French Invaded. And miraculously the “Islamic Terrorists” more or less disappeared.

Problem solved: the threat of an independent Sahara – Azawad – was terminated. And the “White Guy” was in control. Today, five years later, this continues to be the case.

Post-colonialism in the Sahara – which began in the 1960s – didn’t last 50 years. “Islamic Terror” was the straw that broke the camel’s back. First it was the “Economic Hit Men” (the foreign bankers and IMF), then the “Assassins” (the killers of Sankara), then more “Economic Hit Men” (the SAPs), then foreign investors (the MNCs) and finally “Islamic Terror” (Al-Qaeda). And the coup de grâce is the French Foreign Legion and the Green Berets.

And the Saharan answer? It can only be Azawad. Because the Tuareg aren’t going anywhere. They’re the only ones who dare to dream of independence now. Azawad must be the foundation of a new Sahara. Not AFRICOM but Azawad. In the Sahara, time is on the side of Timbuktu – not Texas.

 

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Aidan O’Brien lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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