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blowback in mali

The chickens of the Libya campaign have come to roost, not in Mummar Gadafi's former playground, but in landlocked, arid Mali.

Mali is one of the one of the poorest countries in the world, yet until very recently was home to one of Africa’s most enduring democracies. Last week its government was felled by a one-two combination of a coup in the capital and a Tuareg secessionist rebellion in the north.

The trigger for this deadly upheaval was the western led regime change in neighbouring Libya Libya's army – until last year one of the continent's the best equipped and best paid, was composed of many ethnic Tuaregs. Although Libya and Mali are separated by some 500 miles of desert, Tuareg from all over the Sahara claim Libyan citizenship and were eligible for service and pay in Gaddafi's army. The huge, empty zone of the Sahara and Sahel (the arid semi desert to the Sahara's south) is no great respector of borders – the people come and go across straight lines and right angles drawn by European colonisers during the 19th century scramble for Africa.

Libya's army didn't stand up too well to NATO. But some of its former soldiers made short work of the Malian armed forces – routing then from half the country's territory and unilaterally declaring the republic of Azawad. Timbuctu is perhaps the only town in the entire region that anybody may have heard of, once it was the hub of great African trading empires. Since independence it had become a tourist attraction, more recently it was the scene of the final rout of Malian forces before the Tuareg nationalists.

And so the Tuareg, long favoured under Gaddafi's ethnicly divisive, pan African scheming, are shaping up to be amongst the victors of the collapse of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. In place of any complicated Arab socialist ideology is some good old fashioned ethnic nationalism – a state for Tuaregs for Tuaregs without a state. Tuaregs have long complained about unfair treatment under Mali's government, and the recent chaos has provided them with the opportunity to declare independence (although to date it has been recognised by nobody).
Of course, myriad of non Tuareg ethnic groups (arabs, fulanis, bantus and others) in the new “state” may not be quite so happy to live under a system which pretty much by definition excludes them.

Complicating matters further is the presence of radical Islamists, Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad. They fought alongside the separatists but aren't fighting for a separate state – their goal is an Islamic Caliphate. In this they are on at least cordial terms with North Africa's Al Qaeda offshoot – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The mess in Mali is probably just one of the first of the unintended consequences of the Libya campaign – a “humanitarian intervention” to spread democracy and protect Western interests that ended up sinking another democracy and providing safe haven for groups sworn to war against the West.

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Twitter: @SchNEWS