Quick take // By Ben FrankelShort-sighted Tuareg leadership dooms independence quest

Published 17 July 2012

With the quickening pace of preparations for a military intervention to remove an al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group from a break-away region of Mali, and disrupt this group’s plan to turn the region into what African leaders call “Africanistan,” the leaders of the MNLA, the Tuareg movement which fought for the independence of the region, said the MNLA would not participate in the operation against the Islamists unless it receives guarantees from outside powers that the goal of the operation will not be to re-unify Mali; the cause of Tuareg independence never had much support among the Tuareg people, and was resolutely opposed by neighboring states; the MNLA refusal to help in removing the Islamists from Azawad all but guarantees that the dream of Tuareg independence will remain just that – a dream

Tuareg leader Ibrahim ab Bahanga addressing his fighters // Source: kimpavitapress.no

Abba Eban, who served as Israel’s foreign minister from 1962 to 1974, was an early supporter of Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He was an erudite, patient individual, but he, too, was often exasperated by the incompetence and lack of realism which characterized successive generations of Palestinian leaders. Eban supported the no-nonsense realism of David Ben Gurion, who believed that dreams and aspirations are fine, but that a political movement — in Ben Gurion’s case, Zionism — has to live and operate in the real world, and be aware of constraints and limitations reality imposes. The Palestinians, Eban argued, with their all-or-nothing approach to the conflict and its resolution (at least until the early 1990s), refused to accept the fact that not all their dreams and aspirations would be realized, and that they must recognize the limits of Palestinian power and the constraints of operating within a given political reality. Lacking a realistic leadership, Eban famously said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

We may say the same about the Tuareg people. When France withdrew from its colonial possessions in the western part of Africa, the Tuareg people found themselves divided among several independent countries – Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, and Libya. The Tuareg in Mali and Niger rebelled four times against the central governments in these two countries – twice in the 1960s, once in the early 1990s, and then earlier this year.

The clashes in the 1990s were especially bloody, with thousands dying in the fighting between Tuareg rebels and the military forces of Mali and Niger. Negotiations initiated by France and Algeria led to peace agreements – in 1992 in Mali, and in 1995 in Niger.

In 2004, with support from Col. Qaddafi in neighboring Libya, Tuareg in Niger began to engage government forces in small-scale fighting. The reason this time was the vast uranium mining operations, operated by French company Areva, which, the Tuareg argued, denied them of their fair share of the land’s riches.