Trouble In Timbuktu
The fall of Muammar Gadhafi, Libya's long-time dictator, seems to have given rise to more crisis in the region. Firstly, Libya itself is still in chaos with a power struggle between the many warring tribes. But, now trouble seems to have spilled across the border.
Mali, a landlocked country in Northwest Africa is in the midst of a military coup. Mali's President, Amadou Toure was overthrown by his army, which has taken control of the capital Bamako and suspended the constitution. The community of West African States sent five if its leaders to negotiate with the coup leaders. They were however forced to turn back mid-air, as citizens supporting the coup took over the airport runway and prevented a landing.
The West African nations have given the coup leaders a 72-hour warning to hand back power, else face sanctions that would isolate the country. So why did the army take over control? Were they unhappy with the President? Well, it turns out the situation is trickier than that, and has to do with Gadhafi!
The nomadic Tuaregs
The Tuaregs are among the last tribes in Saharan Africa who still follow a nomadic way of life. The Tuaregs once ruled over much of of North Africa. When the Arabs invaded Africa, the Tuaregs were pushed into the remote deserts. Over the next two thousand years, they operated the trans-Saharan caravan that connected the cities in the south of the Sahara with the Mediterranean coast. Tuareg warriors demanded bribes from traveling caravans and raided settlements along the Niger river. The Tuaregs were finally brought under Western control after France won a hard fought battle with Tuareg warriors in the deserts of Algeria.
Nowadays, the majority of nomadic Tuaregs live in Mali and neighboring Niger. They have felt left out of Malian society, and have staged three major rebellions since the mid 1960s. They are demanding a separate state -- Azawad, be carved out for them in the northern part of the state.
Trained by Gadhafi
The Tuaregs caught the fancy of Muammar Gadhafi in the 1970s, who enlisted them to serve as his personal guards, and trained them to fight wars. With the fall of Gadhafi, there was no place in Libya for the Tuaregs, and it is believed nearly 8,000 returned home to Mali. They joined an exiled Tuareg leader, Ibrahim Bahanga, and have mounted another rebellion in January. This time, the Malian army is no match for the heavily armed Tuaregs.
As desert cities started falling to Tuareg control, the army was getting desperate. They blamed their President for not supporting the army's fight against the Tuaregs even though that was not the case, and have overthrown their leader. This has complicated issues, and the country is divided between supporters of the coup and those who want the President back.
A divided country is surely easy target for the Tuareg rebels, who have conquered the eastern part of Mali and are quickly approaching the ancient city of Timbuktu. It is indeed unfortunate that one of the most stable democracies in Africa is now in serious trouble.