RABAT – A year ago, Tuareg rebels from the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) decided to launch an attack to take back the territory of Azawad in northern Mali that they claim as their native land.

They managed to chase Mali military troops from their land, but weren’t able to gain the upper hand over the terrorist groups and Islamist Tuareg of Ansar Dine, who also staked a claim on the region. This is because no foreign country has agreed to give them logistical support, or indeed to support them in their claim against Mali – even less to recognize their independence as a state.

The conflict taking place in northern Mali is not a simple one. It is not just a bloody struggle between “separatist” or “autonomist” Tuaregs, “Jihadist terrorists,” and Mali’s “corrupt military,” which is supported by France and certain member-countries from the  Economic Community of African States. There are also other actors involved in this conflict, who are pulling the strings from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, far-removed from the African hell that is the Sahel, with its unbearable heat and unforgiving terrain.

The Tuareg people and their ethnic brothers – the Songhai and Fula people – initially aspired to create a new independent, democratic and secular African state in the immense Sahara desert, just as the Eritreans and people from South Sudan were able to do.

When that didn’t happen, they agreed to the principle of an autonomous Azawad region inside Mali. You would have thought that the Azawadan rebels would have gotten sympathy and support from public opinion worldwide, from international organizations and institutions as well as from Western countries, for daring to stand up against the dictatorships and the established order. This was the “democratic spring” of North Africans, inspired by the Tunisian Jasmine revolution, as had happened in Egypt Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

Tuareg girls in southern Algeria - Photo: Touareg peuple nomade

Unfortunately, it was different for the Tuareg people, who were ignored by the international scene and mainstream media. They were the target of a flagrant misinformation campaign from the French media. Even worse, their noble revolution was hijacked by Salafist groups, who were supported and financed by Algeria and Qatar.

Economic interests

How could these two countries – Algeria and France – which have the most reason to fear the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists, whose citizens have been kidnapped by AQIM, countries with important economic interests in the region, leave the Tuareg to face the Jihadist danger alone, without any logistical, military or material support?

The answer to this question lies in the fact that Algeria and France chose to put their financial interests before human rights – not to mention peoples' right to self-determination, enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.

During the Feb. 17, 2011 Libyan revolution, France boasted that it was putting the interests of Libyans first over the economic interests of multinational corporations such as French oil giant Total. Nevertheless, France radically changed its position when it came to Azawad and its people.

Our Berber friends, the “Blue People” for whom freedom is a religion, are not only facing Salafist groups, but also terrorist groups that are subtly manipulated by Algerian military intelligence, whose generals are hiding out in Algiers. These Algerian generals who seized power many years ago, are worried that the threat to their interests might come from the south, from Tuareg territory, instead of from the northern Algerian Kabylie region, which is also ethnic Berber.

The Algerian Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) led by General Mohamed Tawfik Medien and Smaïl Lamari, are vehemently opposed to the creation of an independent Tuareg state, or even of a simple autonomous region on their southern border. This is why the successive negotiations between the Tuareg rebellion and authorities from Mali, which were held under Algerian supervision, have all completely failed.

Map of the conflict in northern Mali - Source: Orionist

Why? The first reason is that a stable Azawad – under Mali sovereignty or independent – would allow oil exploration to go ahead. The gas field there is of course the same as in the southern Algerian Tuareg region.

The second reason is that Algeria is obsessed by finding a route to the Atlantic Ocean for its oil and gas exports. Because they can’t go through Western Sahara, which is still a disputed territory, Algerian generals have been trying to find an alternative route that could cross through northern Mali and Mauritania. This is why certain Algerian AQIM groups have been trying to destabilize the fragile Mauritanian State. For Algeria this could be the second country to fall in their hands, after the “Islamic Azawad State” it established, complete with Sharia and all.

Algerian secret services

The Algerian intelligence services not only finances, advises and informs the Salafist mercenaries of the Sahel, but also provides candidates, which they recruit in Sahrawi camps in Tindouf province, Algeria. This is also how they recruited Muammar Gaddafi’s mercenaries to fight the MNLA rebels in northern Mali.

The other front that the MNLA rebels have to contend with is French company Areva. The nuclear giant, which has always had a notable influence on the French government – be it left or right wing – has just earmarked 1.5 million euros for the development of a new uranium mine. The new mine, which will supply almost all the energy for France’s nuclear power plants, is located 100 kilometers from the Azawad border. Areva is providing electricity for French families with the blood of the Tuareg people, whose natural resources they exploit.

MNLA rebels in Azawad - Photo: Magharebia

Areva puts a lot of pressure on the French government, and this is probably the real reason that led President François Hollande to go to war in Mali. He said his country had no economic interests in Mali. So why didn’t the French army intervene in Syria, since they’re so eager to do so in Azawad?

The French President doesn’t know that the only people who can ensure France’s economic interests in Mali, and by extension in Niger, are the MNLA rebels. Their leader, Bilal Ag Acherif actually made the trip to Paris, but the government declined to meet with him. Even though the right to self-determination in northern Mali is a fight the Tuareg people have been fighting for more than 50 years, French interests come first.

Ultimately, if we want to stop the terrorist groups multiplying in Azawad and Sahel (and in Algeria as well), there has to be an international investigation on the “dirty deeds” carried out by the Algerian secret service. All those responsible for the crimes of the DRS must be brought to justice, including those responsible for the In Amenas hostage crisis, where at least 39 hostages were killed by Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists at the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria.