For a free and socialist Azawad! Our attitude to the freedom struggle of the Tuareg people in Mali

By Johannes Wiener, April 2012 (updated in early June)

This article was translated from "Revolutionäre Befreiung"No. 205, May 2012, monthly paper of the RKOB, Austrian section of the RCIT)


The revolutionary wave in the Arab world does not stop even before Mali. Mali is an extremely poor former French colony in the Western Sahara. More than 70% of the population lives on less than one U.S. dollar a day. The country's economy is limited almost exclusively to agriculture (which employs about 80% of the labour force). There is almost no industry. About 14.5 million people are living in Mali. The absolute majority of them populate the more fertile regions in the south and to a certain degree in the central area of the country.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. But at the same time it has various mineral resources. Thus, for example, Mali is the third largest producer of gold. At least two Canadian mining companies – Lamgold Corporation and Avion Gold Corporation – exploit the local resources.

Mali is a multi-ethnic state, where about 30 different ethnic groups are living. Therefore, the national question in Mali is very important. The north of the country is very sparsely populated, mainly by the Tuareg people. The Tuareg are a nomadic people who inhabit much of the Western Sahara. The fact that large parts of these people live as nomads and semi-nomads, they are only to a limited degree integrated into the capitalist economic system. Many of them, but also large parts of other ethnic groups in northern Mali, live and work under pre-capitalist conditions. This means that large sections of land in Mali are not owned by any private person or any company. Because of the economic backwardness, there is only a small working class in northern Mali. Large sections of the population are small farmers, nomads or semi nomads.


The struggle of the Tuareg for Azawad


The Tuareg people label the area of their settlement in the heart of the Sahara as Azawad. In the 1960s and the 1990s there were major uprisings of the Tuareg, where they openly fought for their own country. These rebellions were violently put down. Even before 1960 there were sporadic uprisings of the Tuareg against the French colonial power. And between and after the major uprisings in 1960 and 1990, there were minor armed conflict between the Tuareg and the Malian army. Since the 1990s the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is fighting in the north of Mali for an independent state of the Tuareg. The MNLA is a bourgeois-nationalist force. It stands at the forefront of the desire of the Tuareg for a separate state.

There are about 6 million Tuareg, who live in the sparsely populated heart of the Western Sahara (mainly in Mali but also in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Niger). The Tuareg people are oppressed by the various bourgeois governments of North Africa. Their language is a discriminated, it is made difficult for them to give up voluntarily the nomadic life, to send their children to school or get medical care (in the north of Mali, there are almost no schools or hospitals). The government does not officially recognize them as a national minority, but consider them as "vagrants".

Although the MNLA is a bourgeois force, one has to take into account that it is at the forefront of a legitimate and just struggle. You also have to say that the MNLA, contrary to the denunciations of the various imperialist powers (especially the former colonial power France), is relatively progressive. It emphasizes the separation of church and state, not only for the Tuareg, but for all peoples of the Azawad. It also sees itself as an anti-imperialist force.


The Uprising today


The spark of the revolutionary wave in the Arab region also jumped over to Mali. At the end of February, the MNLA started an offensive against the armed forces of Mali's central government. In a very short time they conquered a large part of the north of Mali. While the Malian army withdrew, a particularly reactionary sector of the army staged a coup against the elected president of Mali, Traoré Dioncounda. They accused the government not to fight decisively enough against the Tuareg rebellion, i.e. to suppress the Tuareg too little.

But the coup did not produce the desired result. In fact, it strengthened the position of the Tuareg, because it weakened the army which was already on the retreat. But one can expect that in the future it will be easier for a Malian military regime to take action against the young Azawad than for a bourgeois-democratic Mali. The question is rather, how will the Malian working class and poor peasants in the south of the country act towards such a government.


Socialist Perspectives


Our international organization - the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) - advocates a socialist perspective for the liberation struggle of the Tuareg. It is necessary that the Malian workers movement, in alliance with the poor peasants and the urban poor, supports the movement of the Tuareg and opposes the military, the exploiters, the landowner and the international corporations (and the imperialist states behind them). Especially today, when the Malian government does not even have enough forces to fight the uprising of the Tuareg, the workers and poor people of Mali take action. The unions should prepare to organize a general strike, the poor peasants should take over the land of large landowners and foreign companies, the oppressed need to arm themselves and form councils in the cities, villages and enterprises.

In Azawad the workers should take over the enterprises. The land of the big landowners must be divided among the peasants. All property of foreign corporations and the rich countries must go into the possession of a new state. The oppressed masses should organize themselves in councils and the Tuareg militias have to be organized democratically. These councils in towns, villages and in the army must form the basis of the new state. Such councils are sovereign organs of the oppressed, major issues shall be discussed there at mass meetings and delegates should be selected on the basis of the decisions made. These delegates should be recallable at any time and should have no privileges.

Since in Azawad not only Tuareg are living but also other ethnic groups (mainly Moor in the west and mainly Peul and Songhai in the south), it is particularly important that they get full national rights. In those areas of Azawad, where these groups represent the majority of the population, they should be able to implement their wishes by local self-government.

Poverty, hunger and illiteracy are widespread in this part of Africa due to the economic backwardness, which is caused by the oppression and exploitation of the imperialist countries. It is important that a future workers’ government based on the poor in urban and rural areas, develops a plan to combat these plagues of the capitalist system. Only then can Azawad be really free and independent.

The RCIT advocates the abolition of the state language and the complete equality of the languages of the various national groups of a country. These demands are particularly important in Africa and for the Tuareg people. Only through the struggle for complete equality can the goal of the closest possible union of the peoples be achieved.


Imperialism and Islamism


The major imperialist powers, especially France, denounced the Tuareg uprising immediately after its beginning and accused the MLNA of using “violent methods”. The French foreign minister called the Declaration of Independence as "null and void." It is characteristic for the EU and France, which lead currently a bloody colonial war in Afghanistan with thousands of deaths, to shed crocodile tears for a few hundred dead Malian soldiers. In reality, France and the EU do not fear the violence, but a decline of its economic influence in Mali.

The second reaction of the former colonial masters was this: they warned of an Islamic theocracy in the north of Mali. We believe that it is for the workers, workers and peasants in Mali to fight against the reactionary Islamism – and not the corporate bosses and generals in Paris, London and Berlin. It also has to be stressed that there is a strong secularist tendency in the MLNA and amongst the people. True, due the pressure of the military struggle and the hostility of all regimes around Azawad the MNLA is pushed to collaborate with the Islamist forces of Ansar Dine and to undertake joint military operations against the Malian armed forces. On 26th of May an agreement between the MNLA and Ansar Dine about the creation of an Islamist state was announced but this was renounced by the MNLA on the next day. There have been a number of conflict and even armed clashes between the MNLA and the Ansar Dine militias in Timbuktu (one of the largest city in the south of Azawad).

Anyway the Islamist threat is used by the imperialist countries of Europe and bourgeois African States to justify a possible military intervention. Several West African countries are already planning an attack on Azawad, for fear that the oppressed national minorities in their countries could follow the example of the Tuareg. The regional alliance of bourgeois African governments Ecowas has said it is preparing to send 3.000 troops to Mali to help the regime fighting against the Tuareg.

For years, U.S. imperialism is trying to expand its influence in the region. In 2005, the U.S. created the so-called "Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership." This includes 11 African so-called "partner countries”: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya (when Gaddafi was still in power!), Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The alliance organizes annual joint military exercises under the code name "Flintlock".


Expand the Uprising!


The boundaries of the West African run straight through the desert. So they cut for example the settlement area of the Tuareg in five parts. This is because the boundaries were drawn by former colonial ruler at the card table. Hence not only the social but also to national problems in West Africa exist across the borders of Mali.

As we said, various states plan to attack Azawad. It is important to extend the uprising of the Tuareg, to liberate all the oppressed national minorities in the southwest of the Sahara and bring the poverty and exploitation to an end. A future socialist government in Azawad needs to work for a federation of republics in the south of the Sahara, in which the workers, poor peasants and the urban poor keep the power in their own hands!

The RCIT is in solidarity with the liberation struggle of the Tuareg people. It is urgent that the international workers movement in Africa, Europe and beyond fights against any intervention by the imperialist powers and their allied African governments. It will be crucial that in Mali and throughout the region, new, revolutionary workers parties are created. Such parties will consistently fight for the liberation of oppressed nations and combine this with the struggle of the working class for a socialist revolution. Bourgeois organizations such as the MNLA can not lead the people to liberation. Only a revolutionary combat party with a communist program can do this.