A reader, by email, on the situation in northern Mali:
Just read your blog post on the Sahel. I think the situation is a lot more critical than the Economist article suggests – particularly in Mali. Probably somewhere around 1000 – 1500 fighters returned from Libya, a significant proportion of them with weaponry and pick-ups. The majority of them appear to have been in the Libyan army for a while, another group was associated with Bahanga’s rebellion, and a third group was recruited spontaneously during February and March, although part of that recruitment also appears to have taken place through Bahanga’s networks. Of course, there are different factions among them, including Imghad who may be easier to integrate into the army through El Hadj Gamou’s offices. But a significant minority among the returnees come from the Ifoghas families that led the rebellion of 2006-09. Idnan and Chamanamas have also returned, and have been joined by deserters from the Malian army. In sum, it is quite possible that a new Tuareg rebellion is imminent; in fact, it may have already begun.
This blogger has no way of verifying the numbers here and has no firm assessment as yet.
Jeune Afrique reports that Nigerien forces ‘intercepted a large column’ of Tuaregs who had faught with Qadhafi and who were affiliated with Ibrahim Ag Bahanga before his death earlier this year. The article reports the men were hoping to join others in Mali. The deaths include thirteen Tuaregs and one from the Nigerien Army. The Nigeriens reportedly found RPGs and machine guns in their vehicles. It also reports the Nigeriens were alerted to the convoy by US satellite intelligence.
UPDATE: Tommy Miles, another well informed reader comments:
I think we should be careful here. Especially as I AM NOT in Mali, I’m very hesitant at drawing conclusions. Sources within northern Mali on all the points above are contradictory, and both Hama Ag SidiAhmed & nationalists in the south are spinning a lot of stuff that appears untrue. I also would not paint direct lines between tewsiten rebel groups/leaders (let alone proclivity to fight Bamako).
Recent statements from the Kidal big men like Alghabass ag Intallah, scion of the Ifoghas’ ruling Kel Afella, are pretty cagey. These guys, regardless of tewsit or tribe, are hip deep in Malian power politics, and don’t seem like they’re sending their cousins out to shoot up the joint. See here.
So just one of several possible points. Several reports claim only a small portion of the Libya returnees broke away to camp with Ag Bahanga’s Chamanamas fraction (to be clear a portion — one of something like 52 — of a not large tribal group) near Tin Zawatten. Most are in cantonment, and interviews suggest they’re not there to fight. They’re tired, hungry, broke, and scared. It was also reported that many of the soldiers, while tied by family to their officers who were born in Mali, have never left Libya, and speak only Arabic, neither French or Tamashaq.
Previous rebellions have been funded, if not by neighboring governments, then by rich sympathizers in neighboring countries. There will not be much cash coming from Libya or Libyans to support this. These folks will likely be destabilizing in many, potentially violent ways, but please be aware that there is a concerted effort being made in some quarters to sell this coming rebellion to outsiders. That alone makes me skeptical, even as it convinces me there is a group — small and marginalized and angry because of their marginalization from northern networks — who are planning an uprising.