Since Azawad broke away from Mali in April, we’ve been wondering how long the world powers will tolerate the situation. On one hand, the logistical nightmare of a potentially protracted war against a hydra-headed insurgency of mutually hostile Tuareg rebels and jihadi factions in the most remote part of the Sahara; on the other, a vast and resource-rich swath of Africa outside the control of any state. One thing that may have held up intervention was the change of administration in France. Now new president François Hollande appears to remove doubts that he is ready for war. In a Paris meeting with Niger ‘s President Mahamadou Issoufou, he warned: “There is a threat of terrorist groups setting up in northern Mali. There is outside intervention that is destabilizing Mali and setting up groups whose vocation goes well beyond Mali, in Africa and perhaps beyond.” (AFP, June 11) We can imagine that French uranium interests in what is now “Azawad” may color Hollande’s thinking on this question.
Issoufou for his own part said that the Economic Community Of West African States is ready to seek UN approval for military action. “ECOWAS has decided to refer to the Security Council with the objective of sending an armed force to Mali,” he told a Paris news conference. (Reuters, June 11) Before leaving for Paris, he warned in an interview with France 24 radio that his government has information on the presence of Afghans and Pakistanis training jihadist forces in Azawad. (VOA, June 7)
Facing his own sporadic Tuareg insurgency, we can imagine that Issoufou is eager to see neighboring Azawad brought under control. As we have noted, in the 1990s there was ethnic cleansing against the Tuaregs in brutal counter-insurgency campaigns in both Mali and Niger—but hidden away in the remote Saharan interior it never won any global outcry, in vivid contrast to the contemporaneous intra-European bloodletting in Bosnia. Will the world pay as little note this time around—even as Great Powers get on board?