The Dream of Azawad.



BlaiseP is the pseudonym of a peripatetic software contractor whose worldly goods can fit into an elderly Isuzu Rodeo. Bitter and recondite, he favors the long view of life, the chords of Steely Dan and Umphrey's McGee, the writings of William Vollman and Thomas Pynchon, the taste of red ale and his own gumbo. Having escaped after serving seven years of a lifetime sentence to confinement in hotel rooms, he currently resides in the wilds of Eau Claire County and contemplates the intersection of mixed SRID geometries in PostGIS.

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34 Responses

  1. Avatar Gloria Silva says:

    I live in Mali for 5 years, I am portuguese, married to a Malin, I congratulate you on this PIECE, its the very best PIECE I have seen over 5 years on the REAL ACCURATE situation of the Tuaregues and of Mali.
    Its very hard for me to understand all that especially Europeans have written over the Tuaregue Tribes, as I do not see it in Mali (But I see when they write about it that its a DREAM) Thanks you once again for this SUPERB article.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Is there a case to be made for cutting loose the Northeast and declaring it a no-man’s land, mounting a punitive expedition from time to time if and when the local shenanigans spill across the (new) borders?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      The French played Divide and Conquer with all their subject peoples. In 1916, they put down a revolt among the Mossi and Bobo tribes, creating Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) to isolate the troublemakers.

      Mali is divided enough. The borders are irrelevant. All the Islamists want is to be left to their own horrible devices, chopping off hands, creating their own little Islamic hell on earth. They really need to be beaten down hard before any talk of further Balkanising of Mali. The world at large has come to an understanding of what happens when we leave these infections untreated.

      If the right thing were to be done in that situation, all those wretched little Sahelian countries would be dissolved and confederated into some larger entity: individually these nations are meaningless and their borders even more so.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Like Sudan and the country once upon a time called Zaire*?

        *I can never get straight which Congo is which now.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Hell, neither can I. It’s like trying to sort out the Thirty Years War. The analogy is pretty good: eventually the warlords of Europe had to come to some sort of grudging truce so they could put down rebellions in their own conquered territories.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          There are a few useful mnemonics:

          It’s clear on a map because Zaire was the bigger one.

          If they’re identified by capitals, the former Zaire’s kept the African name Kinshasa, rather than renaming it back to Leopoldville (for obvious and excellent reasons), which the other one has always been Brazzaville.

          The former Zaire was the bloody, corrupt dictatorship, so it is of course the Democratic Republic of the Congo while the other is simply the Republic.Report

  3. Avatar Gloria Silva says:

    Difficult, Malians would accept if we hand over KIDAL to the Tuaregues, as this is the only City were its Tuaregues that live, all other cities, BIG Cities Like GAO and Tomboctou, Tuaregues are a minority, so they would never ever accept to hand over their land to Tuaregues, and then the Nomadas/Shepards, you have a lot of Pheuls (Fulas)Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Les Touaregs sont presque perdus dans cette image, que les Pachtounes sont perdus dans l’image de l’Afghanistan. Dépassé par les événements, ils sont devenus des pions dans un jeu d’échecs qu’ils ne comprennent pas. Ils ont joué avec le feu et ils seront brûlés.

      Les grandes questions de la souveraineté Touareg aurait dû répondre depuis longtemps. Les nomades franchiront les frontières. . Malheureusement, il n’ya pas de place pour eux et leurs cruautés anciens. Je n’ai aucune pitié pour les Touaregs: ils étaient toujours prédateurs, vautours et esclavagistes.

      Ici, aux Etats-Unis, nous avons subi les séquelles de l’esclavage. Pourtant, il ne peut pas comparer à la perturbation, le chaos et l’anarchie agissait sur les peuples noirs d’Afrique de l’endroit où les esclaves ont été prises, un héritage de l’horreur et de la déprédation qui continue à ce jour.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:


      The Tuareg are almost lost in this picture, as the Pashtun are lost in the picture of Afghanistan. Events have overwhelmed them, they’ve been reduced to pawns in a chess game they don’t understand. They played with fire and they got burned.

      Tuareg sovereignty should have been settled long ago. Nomads will cross borders. Sadly, there’s no place left for their ancient cruelties. I have no pity for the Tuaregs, they were always predators and vultures and slavers.

      Here in the USA, we have gotten through the aftermath of slavery. Bad as it was, it can’t possibly compare to the disruption, chaos and anarchy they brought upon the black peoples of Africa from where those slaves were taken, a legacy of horror and depredation which continues into modern times.Report

      • Avatar Taliate N'Azawad says:

        ” I have no pity for the Tuaregs, they were always predators and vultures and slavers.” I thought that you said in your essay that there were no good guys or bad guys? So much for being impartialReport

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Don’t tell me about impartiality. The Kel Tamashek have made their beds hard, running cocaine through the desert, still enslaving the Bouzou and running their little Songhai plantations out on the wadis. They have made bad friends. Let them now lie in that hard bed.Report

          • Avatar Taliate N'Azawad says:

            You are funny. No one is still enslaving bozos or running a Songhai plantation. Sometimes I wonder which Tuaregs you met. If you could provide the name of the village or people that you are referring to, that would be helpful because I seriously believe that you have misled by your sources. As far as the cocaine trade, ATT’s government is the one to blame…they facilitated and watched from the side. Their government did absolutely nothing to stop it. Tuaregs are not at all responsible. A few might have participated because of their knowledge of the terrain, but as a population the Tuaregs are not involved. The only bad friends they made are Islamists who allured them with the money that they offered to a youth that wants to take the easy way out. And I guess indirectly you can say that the ones who fought with the Islamists are indirectly linked to the cocaine trade because the Islamists profit from the trade and from the kidnappings, but the Tuaregs who have joined them are not even running the show. And please don’t come back with Iyag Aghaly because he is only one man. Not a nation.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I lived in Niger Republic for eight years, in Dungas and Tahoua. I spend some time in Gao, in Mali. Interesting turn of phrase, No one is still enslaving bouzous or running a Songhai plantation. I don’t speak but a few words of Tamashek but I speak perfect Hausa and French and quite a bit of Fula.

              You know perfectly well the French were never able to stop the slavery and nobody since has been able to stop it. As you are an authority on Kel Tamashek, tell these people the truth. Kidnapping and gun running pays better these days, doesn’t it? Kel Tamashek would die as a culture without hartani and ikelan slaves and where they’ve been forced off the desert and into houses, their culture does die, mostly of diseases of the Green Lands they’d never get in the desert. Oh, to look at them, you wouldn’t know the Tamashek keep slaves. You might fool this bunch. You don’t fool me. The Tamashek, as I said, made bad friends among the Islamists. But the Tamashek absolutely control the cocaine trade and it all runs through Gao.

              When’s the last time you went back, copain? Do you speak Hausa? Ba shi da hujja. It’s a long way from Azawad to New York City and lower Manhattan, n’est-ce pas?Report

              • Avatar Taliate N'Azawad says:

                My experience with the Tuareg (kel tamashak) has obviously been very different. I have been assisting with projects in some of the poorest Tuareg villages north of Timbuktu for four years now. The project leader is a light skinned Tuareg, in charge of selecting the villages eligible for aid. Mind you he added Zouera to the list, a village inhabited mainly by ekelan (former slaves).

                So my friend, does he sound cruel to you? Maybe there is an evil plot behind his impartiality?

                You are entitled to your opinion, however you are dead wrong on the cruelty of the nomads who live in the Sahara. They are warm and welcoming. If I may, I would even advise that you check out the ‘Festival au Desert’, a world famous music festval organized every year by Tuaregs. Unless you think that this is another plot by these cruel people to hide their true colors?
                I can’t wait to read more of your stories about the Tuaregs and their evil ways. This is even better than Hollywood. Sey anjima!Report

        • Avatar Taliate N'Azawad says:

          Blaise your essay is very well written. I give you that much. And you definitely have a lot more insight into the African crisis than an ordinary toubabou (westerner)…but to accuse Tuaregs of selling most of the slaves to the West is definitely a bit far fetched…would love to know where you got that information from. So you mean to tell us that a minority that lived in the desert managed to sell slaves from south central and west Africa all at once? So maybe Chaka Zulu was Tuareg as well? Maybe The Tuaregs sold the slaves in Gambia and Congo and Nigeria? And let’s not forgot that they were not even sharp to begin with, right? The hard truth is that all Africans, dark and light skinned alike, engaged equally in slave trades before and after the west came to Africa. As far the caste system goes, it is engrained in every ethnic group in Mali. The dark skinned malians also to this date have a caste system of ‘griots’ and ‘blacksmiths’, and it is no secret that a Coulibaly can not marry a Kouyate in southern Mali. And finally Tuaregs are too poor to afford slaves. Black Tuaregs are descendants of the Tuareg slaves but live freely alongside their former masters…they are known as ‘Bellas’. Some of them intermarry and others don’t. Just like it is in the US, where they are known as African Americans. Tuaregs are no more evil than any other race. It is also not a tuareg cultural practice to leave people to die in the desert. Most tuareg families are herders and very welcoming. if a few tuaregs transported people and left them to die, they are criminals. Let me remind you that criminals and bandits exist in every culture. You can not judge a people by a few bad apples. The only true crime Tuaregs are guilty of is to want their independence. They are free spirited people who refuse to recognize an imaginary border drawn up in Europe few decades ago.Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    This does not sound like the same planet, but like some alien world in a sci-fi/fantasy novel.

    It’s very difficult for most Americans to imagine such a place. Tonight, I may well wish I hadn’t as my dreams torment me.

    Blaise, what of women? How are they treated by various groups?

    Gloria Silva, thank you for joining in, and I’d value your opinion and experience on how women and girls are treated.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Oh, you’d be surprised what you’ll find on the surface of this planet.

      The ancestors of the Tuareg didn’t live in a desert. They lived in an Eden, a savannah full of game, the rivers full of hippopotami. They left cave paintings all over. When the Sahara began to dry out, oh, three or four thousand years ago, it didn’t happen all at once. The Tuareg had time to adapt.

      Along the Mediterranean, coming south, the Berbers are much the same: the Tuareg are an offshoot of the Berber. America fought its first foreign war against the “Barbary” pirates who were enslaving American sailors. The Romans knew them well. The Berber / Tuareg raided their outposts, too.

      Women, ecch… that depends entirely upon which tribe and clan you’re talking about in this context. African women are awfully tough and enterprising, I wouldn’t weep too many bitter tears over their fates, they’re tougher than the men. But the Islamists are just awful, trying to repress them.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’d like to echo Zic’s praise. And also Gloria welcome to the League.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Sadly, by historical standards, the strife that Blaise is talking about is closer to the norm, and what we live in is the alien environment. A society like ours would be utterly incomprehensible to most historical humans.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    With all the talk of international coalitions and leveraging local knowledge, it’s curious to see France going in there on it’s own, and with ground troops.

    Sure, ECOWAS is saying (now, finally) that they’ll get involved, but the vision of the UN mandate from last summer was a ECOWAS/AU ground force with (mostly) French enablers.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      France is getting sick of this situation. Every time they turn around, their erstwhile colonies are causing trouble. The French arrived late to the conquest of Africa: Napoleon thought he’d seize Egypt and get the best bits but we know how that ended up.

      The French weren’t half bad administrators. They never looked down their noses at their subject peoples, as did the British. The Belgians, well, they were by far the worst but the French liked Africa and still do. Lots of French people still live in Africa and France has a military presence in Tchad and Niger. American military trainers have also been seen in Mali, I’m quite sure we’ve got operators there this very minute.

      Mali was a great country for a few decades, as I said in the essay. I’ll say more about it anon.

      Everything I’m looking at, piecing through the breathless reporting, seems to be screwed up or contradictory or too stupid for words. The Salafists are fighting rather well and they’re extremely well armed. They were, after all, Gaddafi’s mercs and they’ve been fighting in Algeria for many decades. These aren’t chumps out there in the dunes, these guys are tough.Report

  6. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    Fascinating, Blaise. When you write like this I just sit back and learn.


  7. Avatar James K says:

    This is a brilliant piece BlaiseP, you bring insight into a conflict I’m barely aware of.

    You’re a real asset to the League.Report

  8. Avatar Matty says:

    Like a lot of people this is all new to me, about the only thing I’d heard about the Tuareg before was that they wear veils in the desert to keep the sand out their eyes. That said your comparison to AfPak has me wondering about common denominators, could it be that both areas have landscapes that are hard for a central government to control and this leads to separatism? It might also explain the relative success of Jihadists in both areas as a persuasive ideology where people police themselves may be the only kind of control possible.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      The putative Azawad is larger than the state of Texas. I’m looking at the topographic maps of Mali now: if I was in charge of suppressing the Islamists, I’d seize control of the wadis and cut off their access to water.

      The problem of Separatism — well, let’s put this another way, there’s no unity. Mali speaks dozens of languages. Black Bamako has nothing in common with the Berber / Tuareg north. I suppose the problem is fostering Together-ism but there’s no good reason for any of these Francophone countries. Nobody cares about the borders. They’re not well-defined, except where the British Empire rubbed up against the French Empire, as in the border of Niger Republic and Nigeria. The French were constantly reordering their administrative districts: there’s no reason why they couldn’t be reordered again to form a large-ish Confederation of the Sahel. But that’s for another post.Report

  9. Avatar Wardsmith says:

    Blaise, thanks for this. One point that is often lost amid the perpetual breast beating lamentations of the white man’s guilt is that slave traders existed long before their exploitation by the Powers of the 16th century and beyond. However, as I’ve said before, slavery is a losing game economically, the care and feeding of slaves continues regardless of their productivity. It is akin to having draft animals vs mechanized equipment on a farm. Malthus understood his equations for his time, but back then 40% of the land a farmer had was engaged in production of fodder for his work animals. And of course you had to keep feeding them all fall and winter even though they wouldn’t work again until spring.

    I know a family from Mali, who have been “adopted” by a local Christian church here. The stories I heard were blood-curdling. Slavery isn’t confined to scenes from “Django”, it is alive and well in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the middle east. There are “domestic servants” who are in all respects modern day slaves today. Like the drug trade, the slave trade continues to exist because of the customers. Tuaregs could only own so many slaves before their own lack of food makes that problematic. Unfortunately they can sell them…Report

  10. Avatar Gloria Silva says:

    Girls, women, Mali lifestyle
    All the girls/women that I met and that have gone to school they know their RIGHTS. The others, they are not badly treated (Mali does not have the Habit of hitting their women) they respect them as they are looked upon as the Mothers.
    In Rural areas that I visit a Lot, these women Cook /Wash and do agriculture.
    They all now go to School, minimum 4 years, it’s not good but it’s already very good for the one of the poorest countries in Africa.
    Races, even in the Countryside they were living together (all tribes); but lets say the truth, the only tribe you really have to have the Police going over to get their children to go to school is the Tuaregues, and one important thing, in North were you have tuaregues you have 2 to 3 schools, there is no Hollidays, as once you let the child off school, he will not come back, it’s the Police that the next year have to look up for thw family and take them to school.
    I have lived, in Guine Bissau, Guine Conakry and Angola, and the only Government Hospital, that I can go into is Mali. All the others are RUBISH, no cleaning no decent doctors, no nothing, I was amazed as Mali, the same for state Schools, it was really working.
    Excision, on girls, its still practiced, but in a low percentage, girls of 15 years old, difficult to find that they have been through this ritual even in the Bush.
    What else, I learnt to like this country, even if after 3 months I need to go over to Europe to have an European Bath, but I found it one of the best to work, and I only deal with Farmers.Report

  11. Avatar Frances56 says:

    Thanks for this piece Blaise P,looking forward to an update.Report

  12. Echoing everybody else, this is the best piece I found so far on Mali/Azawad. I sense that all is not right and that western intervention isn’t as well thought out as it ought to be. If you’re willing Blaise, I’d be interested in using your piece (or something like it) in the next interLib.Report