Over the past few months Mali has faced one of it’s worst crises since the 1960s. In January secular Tuareg rebels rose up against the national army calling for a separate Tuareg state. The uprising was quickly seized upon by foreign backed Islamist factions and Al Qaeda fighters who since pushed out the rebels and now control the biggest cities in the north.
According to a recent Al Jazeera report (a good background on the current situation)
“Northern Mali has imploded from a mix of poverty, drought, guns, corruption, marginalisation – and destabilisation following the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – while the primary vector of this chaos remains the long-suffering Tuareg populace.”
After nearly six months of conflict, the north faces further destabilisation and violence while the Islamist factions are now imposing Sharia law across the region. In a worrying report by the great Sahel Sounds blog the northern town of Gao is nearly empty while Sonrai percussionist said this of the Islamist control over Gao:
“They’re redefining the city and changing the past, destroying historic sites as idols and burning instruments they consider harem. The electricity is out, food is expensive, and there is hardly anyone left.”
These events have inevitably led to mass Tuareg exodus from the area with families fleeing to refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. The people have lost the little they already had, provoking the area’s worst humanitarian crisis for years. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 280,000 people have been driven from their land. As always, it is the local people, the poor Tuareg nomads and families, already impoverished by drought and overlooked by the national government, who will suffer most from this conflict.
Tomorrow Glitterhouse Records will release “Songes for Desert Refugees” a benefit compilation of unreleased Tuareg music from across Mali, Niger and Algeria including names such as Tinariwen, Tamikrest, Bombino, Faris and more. It also features sleeve notes from UK journalist (and former Tinariwen manager) Andy Morgan. All proceeds from the album will go to two NGOs TAMOURDRÉ and ETAR who are working directly with refugees from North Eastern Mali.
Mali’s strife does not seem likely to end soon and while the international community decides what steps to take, regional African coalition ECOWAS is already readying military intervention in the north while experts have warned the country could become the “next Somalia”.