In a 3 September 2012 Appeal to the African Union Commission Chairperson, the Association of World Citizens reiterated its proposal for a federation within Mali rather than the current division of the State into two independent halves: the Tuareg-led north now called Azawad and the southern half still recognized as Mali.
Since March 2012, Mali has been effectively divided into two roughly equals halves. The northern half is under the control of two rival Tuareg groups, the Movement national de libération de l'Azawad (MNLA) and the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). The MNLA is the larger but less armed group. Its main aim is to create an independent State, Azawad. The MNLA has already declared its formal independence, but no State has recognized its legitimacy. Ansar Dine is an Islamist group which says that it wants to apply Islamic law to all of Mali.
There were talks among the Tuareg to unify the two groups, but no agreement was able to be reached. Different segments of the north are held by each group, but some of the larger towns such as Timbuktu and Gao are also divided, different neighbourhoods held by one or the other.
In addition to the two Tuareg-led groups, a number of Islamic groups have entered the political vacuum, coming from Mauritania, Libya, Algeria, Niger and northern Nigeria. One Islamic group is Al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi), another is the Movement pour l'unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l'ouest (Mujao). There are probably smaller or less organized groups as well. Both Islamic groups have taken hostages. On 2 September 2012, the Mujao claimed to have executed an Algerian diplomat, one of seven taken from the Algerian consulate in Gao, northern Mali. Three of the diplomats had been released in July. The death of the Algerian vice-consul Tahar Touati at the end of an ultimatum demanding an exchange with imprisoned Jihadists in Algeria has not yet been confirmed by the Algerian government.
The execution of the Algerian diplomat highlights the growing power of the Islamist factions in north Mali. They are increasingly imposing their vision of Islam over the Tuareg population, more drawn to Sufi currents within Islam. Sufi shrines and tombs of Sufi saints have been destroyed in Timbuktu and others damaged in Gao. The Islamist reasoning, not unlike that of the Taliban, is that the Sufi shrines were supposed to protect the city while only God can protect. Repressive interpretations of Islamic law are also being applied in certain areas of the north. There were recent reports that a couple accused of having children outside marriage were stoned to death in the town of Aguelhok and the hands of thieves were cut in a number of towns.
The Tuareg and Islamist control of the north has led to more than 400,000 people to flee to the south or to neighbouring countries. The growing disorder has led to calls for a conquest of the north by the southern Mali government with the possible help of African Union or other outside forces.
In addition to the political uncertainty, the whole of Mali - as much of the Sahel - has been hit by lasting drought which has critically limited the food supply. Food is brought in by the United Nations Food Programme, but political conditions make distribution difficult. In any case, food aid can only be a temporary measure, and Mali needs ecologically-sound development, especially in food production.
Therefore, before more violence breaks out, the Association of World Citizens has called for the creation of a federation of north and south Mali rather than having the country split into two independent States with uncertain frontiers. Such a federation might be a measure acceptable to both the MNLA and the government of Bamako. A federal constitution could maintain the unity of the country while at the same time providing the needed autonomy to the north and a preservation of the Tuareg way of life. World Citizens also stress that there needs to be the creation of a positive atmosphere in which the drafting of such a federal constitution could be carried out.
Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens