Since 17 January 2012, the north of Mali has been at war. It started as an attack of armed Tuaregs on a Malian army barracks in Ménaka, near the border with Niger, and has now spread across all of Mali’s three desert regions.
The current conflict in northern Mali is being driven by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Azawad is how the movement refers to Mali’s three northern regions - Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao - that covers around half of the country’s area.
Independence: for Tuareg or all?
MNLA spokesman, Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, is clear about their aspirations: “We demand self-determination for Azawad. That means: independence. Is our action a challenge to Mali’s sovereignty? Well, when you look at the matter in more depth, you will find that Azawad and Mali have never been united. We have been asking for freedom in our own state for a long time. But it has never been taken into consideration.”
The MNLA is at pains to represent itself as an inclusive movement for all the peoples living in the region: Arabs, Songhai, Peul and Tuareg. But there is no mistaking that the Tuareg drive for independence is the prime motivator behind the MNLA. A former colonel in Libya’s army, Mohamed Ag Najm, is Tuareg and in charge of the movement’s military wing. It is also Tuaregs who speak on behalf of the movement.