Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on Tuareg politics in northern Mali. Part I examines the factors shaping internal political development among Mali’s Tuareg community. Part II will examine the factors shaping external relations among Mali’s Tuareg, the Malian government and France.
The crisis in Mali put the Malian Tuareg community at the center of international security concerns. But for all the attention that the “desert warriors” behind the armed uprising in northern Mali have received, little effort has been made so far to develop an understanding of the internal politics of the Tuareg community and how these have shaped -- and been shaped by -- recent events.
The present crisis started with the rebellion of a secular Tuareg armed group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which was trying to establish an independent Tuareg state in northern Mali. The world started taking notice when the MNLA succeeded in taking over large swathes of territory with the help of a range of Islamist groups. One of these Islamist groups, Ansar Dine, was also made up largely of Tuareg fighters and led by the most famous Tuareg warlord of the rebellion of the 1990s, Iyad Ag Ghali. The MNLA was subsequently marginalized by the Islamist groups and ceded almost all territorial control to them.