Mali Tuareg rebels Declare State of Azawad

Written by Roxanne Bauer


Mali is breaking up… with itself.  The northern half of the country declared independence from the southern portion and would like to be recognized as Azawad from now on.

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.

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5 Responses to Mali Tuareg rebels Declare State of Azawad

  1. Phil B says:

    Roxanne, are you suggesting that we can no-longer treat these situations as just an ‘African’ problem?
    Lets see, Humanitarian Aid (a form of both traditional and public diplomacy), Providing Asylum (can be used as both traditional and public diplomacy), Peace Keeping, Capacity Building, and the list goes on.
    But do we have the WILL to help? If we do, will the positive stories reach the public discourse or will only the failures be ‘sexy’ enough?

  2. Alex Laverty says:

    Are you suggesting that the US should be supporting nation building by the rebels or assist the recognized leaders of Mali in surpressing the rebel movement and reintegrating the region?

    Also, what are the interests of the US in the region? Explaining why the US should be involved will be critical to analyzing or constructing a PD program in the region.

    Also, what role do you see of AFRICOM in Mali?

    • Roxanne Bauer says:

      Hi Alex,

      I do not suggest that we should aid the rebels or the official Mali government in deciding who ultimately gains control or in deciding the fate of the independence movement. I simply suggest that the US should support leaders who are democratically elected. If the Tuareg movement is successful, we should help them to build a democratic state.

      U.S. interests in West Africa include deterring al Qaeda; access to oil and other natural resources; and preventing armed conflict, extremism, armed conflict, and the spread of medical health concerns like HIV/AIDS.

      AFRICOM can most certainly help in these endeavors. However, we need to remember that AFRICOM does not set policy; it carries it out. AFRICOM’s mission to protect American interests on the continent is best served if African governments are stable and prosperous. That is why we need to work together.

      • Alex says:


        If we’re to support leaders who are democratically elected, why aren’t we backing the restoration of the democratically elected government of Mali? Why would we support the disintegration of the country by backing the rebels? What does that do for our reputation in the region if we back separatist movements?

        You say “we need to work together”, is that between AFRICOM and stable and prosperous governments? Wouldn’t that be the opposite of supporting the Taureg rebels?

        Apologies for not seeing the clear PD aspect here, but this seems to be more of a internal political issue that could be engaged through traditional diplomacy, not the engagement of foreign audiences at this time. Perhaps there’s an angle I haven’t considered?

        Thanks for your insight

        • Cameo says:

          Hi Alex,

          Thank you for your insight. I think you are right that in backing both democratically elected governments we would need to acknowledge and give legitimacy to the rebels who have declared independence of the northern part of the country. However, that does not mean that doing nothing is the best policy.

          Evidence from this Administration’s foreign policy activities demonstrate an interest and willingness to engage with all groups. And with varying degrees of success, the U.S. government has done so. Choosing not to engage is the same as passing up an opportunity to advance U.S. interests abroad. As you and Roxanne noted, geopolitical stability is an interest of the U.S. government. Supporting both Mali and Azawad could lead to greater stability or perhaps it would be better to support a unified Mali. That is a debate separate to whether or not there are PD interests.

          I argue that the definition of public diplomacy is the development and maintenance of mutually beneficial relationships with foreign publics. To do so, we need to connect with them. We need to engage those publics. Though there are serious political concerns at play here, failing to acknowledge the events as they have occurred puts the United States at a disadvantage in dealing with the people of Mali/Mali and Azawad in the future. I would argue that we do not lose anything by acknowledging what has happened. Choosing to back one group or another is a different conversation, but choosing not to encourage peace building between the Mali government and the Tauregs would, in my mind, be the wrong choice.

          Maybe they can co-exist, maybe they cannot. Either way, the United States has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to supporting peace and stability.


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