Written by Roxanne Bauer
On Friday, April 6, Mailan Tuareg rebel spokesman Mossa ag Attaher, announced on France 24, “We declare the independence of Azawad from this day on,” and requested a unilateral ceasefire. This came after the Tuaregs successfully secured control the territory of Mali north of the Niger River.
The Tuareg rebel group also requested that the international community formally recognize its independence to hasten the process of state- building. Attaher continued, “Now the biggest task begins.” While it is unclear what form of government will be pursued, who the lead executive will be, or how other institutional services will be implemented, it is clear that the fighting is not over. A military coup in Mali’s government two weeks ago, the possibility that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may attempt to interfere, and food shortages in Western Africa all threaten to undermine the situation.
The revolutionary spirit is likely to spread as more disenfranchised groups take note of recent events like the Arab Spring. Indeed, it should be noted that the Tuareg success in Mali is in part due to the demise of Qaddafi last summer who incorporated Tuareg soldiers into its armed forces. When he fell, these fighters returned to Mali with weapons and military knowledge.
From a public diplomacy standpoint, much can be done in the area to ensure that US interests are not lost in the region. Public diplomacy initiatives can reinforce US relations; aid in the state-building process, if it is undertaken; and support emerging leaders once they are elected in Mali and Azawad. These leaders will need help, not manipulation, to support the development and construction of democratic institutions. Public diplomacy should work to prepare new and groundbreaking regimes for change and the slow process of stabilization.