Bad Things Don’t Have to Happen: Why the Crisis in Mali Is Important for All of Us
By Kelly Limes-Taylor
I have always been what my father would call “oversensitive,” “gullible,” “too caring.” The world is a hard, hard place, I was often told.
Bad things happen to people. Get over it. Toughen up.
I am finally admitting to myself – as an African in the United States, as a mother, and as a female-identified person – that sensitivity to and a connection with the plight of others are not weaknesses. They may be, in fact, the most important characteristics for those of us working toward a world that is more equitable, safe, and just. I am not speaking of a superficial empathy here, but the type of empathy that drives us toward action. I speak of the kind of empathy that causes us to search for the root causes of our brothers’ and sisters’ pain, even if that search leads back to our own nation. Unfortunately, I am finding that the search too often leads me to my own doorstep whenever I investigate the plight of Africans across the Continent. The current situation in Mali is no exception.
I first heard about a rebellion in Mali this past spring. The discussion on Democracy Now! addressed a Tuareg rebellion, with the Malian government trying to suppress it.1 I listened to the news, sipping my coffee. I knew Mali was in Africa, and, with the mention of Tuaregs, I figured that some of the Sahara was involved. But I had no idea where Mali was, exactly. And, as much as I considered myself a social justice advocate, I didn’t further investigate what was going on in the country. I have Ghanaian and South African friends. The current and past genocides in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Rwanda are publicized, though not nearly enough. The US government seems to find Libya and Somalia extremely important right about now. But Mali?
I wouldn’t admit it at the time, but there was a subtle, pernicious narrative playing out in the back of my mind: “Well, if that’s North Africa, isn’t that considered the Middle Eastish? There’s always some conflict in that part of the world. Too bad. If it’s considered part of sub-Saharan Africa, well, there’s always conflict in that part of the world, too. Too bad. The world is a hard, hard place.”
Indeed, the world is a hard place, but not by accident.
A closer look at the conflict in Mali and the toll that it has taken on Malians shows that the suffering in African countries is not accidental. There are currently 1.3 million people facing food shortages in northern Mali, and though the current drought has exacerbated food scarcity, the main cause of the people’s hunger is what is still sometimes called the most recent Tuareg rebellion.2 In various moments of Mali’s post-colonial history, Tuaregs, Arab-Berber groups with a history of nomadic movement (in northern Mali, southern Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania), have been involved in uprisings in an effort to create an independent state in northern Mali. On January 17, 2012, the Tuareg-led Movement National pour la Liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA) declared their independence from Mali after their occupation of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao. This most recent rebellion – and the Malian government’s inability to stop it – led to the March ouster of President Amadou Toumani Touré. This coup, led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, only heightened the so-called uprising (most Tuaregs are “non-combatants” who don't support the rebellion), but that rebellion has since been co-opted by extremist Islamist groups with links to Al-Qaeda of the Magreb (AQMI): Ansar Dine, Boko Haram, and the smaller Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). The jihadists (Ansar Dine and MUJAO) pushed the MNLA (Turareg) out of Gao and Timbuktu after an uprising by the youth of Gao, who resisted the occupation and imposition of Sharia law by these mostly foreign groups. Five Songhoy youth were shot dead. Since then, the extremists have established a firm grip on the north—while the people wait for assistance.
Read the rest of this blog in the attached pdf.
1 See Amy Goodman’s April 9, 2012 interview with Firoze Manji, former editor-in-chief of Pambazuka News: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/9/tuareg_rebels_in_mali_declare_indep....
Kelly Limes-Taylor is a PhD student in the Social Foundations of Education Program at Georgia State University. You may contact her at Klimestaylor1 [at] student [dot] gsu [dot] edu.
A special thanks to Dr. Joyce King, without whose encouragement and editing, this paper would not have been possible.