Sahel Blog: Tuareg rebellion in Mali's north sparks protests in South(Read article summary)
Guest blogger Alex Thurston says the anger follows setbacks for Mali's Army at hand of well-armed Tuareg rebels. Could we see citizen backlash against ethnic Tuaregs?
Protests yesterday in Maliâs capital Bamako showed that the ongoingÂ Tuareg rebellion in northern MaliÂ is seriously affecting politics and interethnic relations in the southern part of the country.Â ReutersÂ describes the scene:
Hundreds of Malians set up barricades and burned tyres in the streets of Bamako on Thursday, shutting down the capital in the latest protests against a rebellion that has seized several northern towns, and the governmentâs handling of it.
A Reuters reporter in Bamako said shops were shuttered early in the afternoon and smoke hung over parts of the city after tyres had been set on fire.
The centre of town was largely deserted except for groups of youths wandering around, the reporter said.
Yesterdayâs demonstrations made international news, but protests actually began several days earlier. Military families began protesting inÂ Kati, a town near the capital Bamako, on January 30th.Â Le PretoireÂ (French, my translation), writes that on Tuesday the 31st, âThe women of the military base in the town of Kati went out and marched in the direction of Koulouba [the presidential palace], burning tires on the Kati-Bamako highway.â On Wednesday, military familiesÂ reportedlyÂ âattacked government buildings and targeted at least one business run by a Tuareg inâŚKati.â Protesters have also, theÂ BBCÂ says, targeted Tuareg shops inÂ Segou.Â Jeune AfriqueÂ has begun to speak of âanti-Tuareg pogroms.â
Protesters are angry in part over what they see as the militaryâs lack of proper equipment. The protesters may also feel scared about theÂ difficultiesÂ (French) and setbacks the military has faced so far. There also seems to be a perception among some protesters that the Tuaregs in the south are sympathetic to, or to blame for, the actions of their fellow tribesmen in the north. AsÂ ReutersÂ comments, âThe demonstrations, sparked by local reports that the military ran out of ammunition and that dozens of soldiers may have been executed during rebel attacks, have raised the prospects of clashes between Malian communities.â
Maliâs President Amadou Toumani Toure, who has only a few months left in office, has attempted to reassure his nervous nation and to defuse ethnic tensions. For the first time since the Tuareg rebellion resumed, heÂ addressed the nationÂ on Wednesday, âpledg[ing] not to give in to separatist demands but, in a sign of concerns that the conflict could spread, call[ing] on Malians to refrain from attacks on any particular community.â (Read the full text of Toureâs speechÂ here, in French).
The administration is doing a lot of talking behind closed doors as well. Government representatives areÂ meeting Tuareg representatives in Algeria; all signs indicate that thegovernment wants a diplomatic solutionÂ and believes one is still possible. Toure is also moving to assuage the protestersâ anger; yesterday morning heÂ met with military wives.
So long as the situation remains bad in the north, though, the possibility of protests and pogroms will remain in the south. This is a bad moment for Mali, and indeed for the region. As Fatoumata Lejeune of the UNHCR wrote onÂ TwitterÂ yesterday, âTouareg uprising inÂ Mali, Boko Haram inÂ Nigeria, Wade reelection bid inÂ Senegal. Too much trouble in West Africa these days!â
For updates on the situation in southern Mali, I recommend followingÂ Martin Vogl, a journalist based in Bamako who frequently writes for major news outfits.