Last week the government of Mali was deposed by a military coup d’état. The northern part of Mali, which borders Algeria to the north, Mauritania to the west and Niger to the east, is largely desert, roamed by the Tuareg people who have not forgotten that their traditional land was divided up amongst Mali, Niger, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Burkina Faso at the end of the French colonial era, leading to a continuing struggle for autonomy.
The Arab Spring, which eventually resulted in the removal of the Gaddafi regime from Libya, also resulted in many disaffected Libyan fighters and their weapons streaming across the Sahara Desert into Mali. The Libyan militias and Tuareg secessionists have combined to make a powerful force for violent unrest in the north of Mali, and the people of Mali have been dissatisfied with the government’s lukewarm response with a severely under-resourced army.
The leader of Mali’s coup, Captain Amadou Sanogo, has said that he will seek peace talks with the Tuaregs. The prospects of success in such talks do not seem to be high, given the substantial influences of the Libyan militias and Al Qaeda affiliates in the northern rebel forces. Elections in Mali were due at the end of next month; it is not clear now how long it will be before the country is restored to civilian government.