Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: Mali

Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: Mali

Article excerpt

In February, news reports emerged suggesting that as many as 130,000 people have been internally and externally displaced after fighting broke out in northern Mali between Tuareg rebels and government forces. The number displaced represents nearly one per cent of Mali's estimated population of 15 million, and the arid north is already affected by food insecurity. Consequently, it's feared that a major humanitarian crisis, affecting Mali. Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, is now imminent as local capacity for dealing with the refugees is overwhelmed. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently issued a crisis warning.

As a traditionally nomadic people, the Tuareg have long criss-crossed the national boundaries of a number of African states. The Tuareg rebellion, which began in January, is the result of a number of factors. Some are historical, in the sense that there have been a number of Tuareg-led rebellions during the past 50 years. More pertinent, however, is the influx of Tuareg who had previously served in Libya in Muammar Gaddafi's armed forces and lost their positions after the downfall of his regime.

In October 2011, it was announced that a new group called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad was seeking further autonomy in northern Mali. In response, the Malian government accused the group of forging relations with al-Qaeda groups and thus being complicit with international terrorism. Such a connection was denied, but there is evidence of growing fears within Mali that anti-Tuareg sentiment might lead to revenge attacks. The Malian president. Amadou Toumani Toure, called for restraint and calm, at the same time as reports suggested that his air force was bombing camps in the country's north.

A land-locked nation in West Africa with an area of about 1.2 million square kilometres (about five times larger than the UK and similar in size to South Africa), Mali has an arid north and a fertile south and east dominated by the Niger River basin. Although it's one of the region's largest cotton producers, it remains poor and indebted. Gold mining and agricultural products also provide revenue, but the country is dependent on foreign aid and markets, and the role played by subsidies for cotton farmers in Europe and North America is a source of continual resentment.

About 80 per cent of the population is involved in agriculture and mining (with some river-based fishing). Development of the country's tourism industry, exploiting, in particular, its renowned traditional and popular musics, has been hampered by ongoing perceptions of insecurity. …

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