|In Niafunke, Mali, after purchasing my first turban, which
a Tamachek man had just taught me to wrap. 1986.
Though I haven’t spent all that much time in Mali (perhaps three weeks, in total), the country has been important to me. When I first tried to go there, crossing from Ouahigouya in Burkina Faso to get to Bankass on the way to Mopti, a war started and I spent a couple of rather peculiar days trying to get back home to Ouagadougou. The next time, I actually made it to Mali, and rode in the back of a mail truck from Mopti up to Tombouctou. The third time, I took a flight from Niamey in Niger to Gao, then a riverboat down to Mopti and route taxi from there to Bobo-Dioulasso back in Burkina Faso.
The route from Ouahigouya through Bankass and on to Mopti is pretty much on the line Frank Jacobs draws “for convenience’s sake” between the rebel-declared new country of Azawad and the rest of Mali.
The Tuareg leadership of the rebel group “has iterated that it will respect the colonial borders with the neighboring state,” according to Jacobs. This is an interesting statement, but I doubt it has much meaning. The Tuaregs are desert nomads who have never been comfortable with the European-imposed national boundaries crossing “their” Sahara, and it is unlikely that they will start respecting them now. Tuareg insurgencies have been a problem in Niger for a long time already… and I could easily see parts of Mauritania, Niger, and even Algeria coming under Azawad sway–if the nation does manage to establish itself.
Bankass, on Jacobs’ tentative dividing line, is on the southern edge of Dogon country, a hilly area south of the desert, a place where one sees few Tuaregs. Mopti, on the Niger River, is also south of the territory one would expect Azawad’s new rulers to covet–though these areas could both be important economically, Dogon for tourism and Mopti for trade.
No matter what happens, and no matter who the ruler of Mali turns out to be in the wake of the current rebellion in the north and coup in the south, I can’t see any Bamako regime allowing Mopti or the Dogon country to go without a fight. The war that barred my first entrance into the country, after all, was over a small bit of disputed border with Burkina Faso. I doubt that Malians today are any more willing to give up any land, especially land as valuable as that Mopti sits on, or that makes up the Dogon heights.
Though I have no idea what will happen in Mali, I doubt there is going to be an easy solution.