Al-Qaeda collects famed Timbuktu
MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, June 18 2012
We hear little of Libya these days. Gaddafi is dead. The former Rebels are in power. A fortnight or so ago a branch of these seized and closed Tripoli’s airport for a day and a half. The Central Government protested: they had nothing to do with his disappearance.
Whatever the real story, Tripoli airport remained closed for a day and a half. It is perhaps this inconvenience which led a BBC commentator to drop a sentence or two admitting that Libya’s central government had little control over the patchwork of tribes, clans, sects, cliques, each with its private army or militia, which makes up today’s Libya. Gaddafi had kept them together by a mixture of settling disputes, maintaining tribal customs and by those suitcases of cash. Gaddafi’s death and the manner of his death destabilised not only Libya, but the vast desert area of the “Sahel” in Southern Libya, Algeria and on to Mauritania. It is here that there are the nomadic tribes. Among them there is the Touareg. These, close to Gaddafi were given informal citizenship. That ended with the death of Gaddafi.
Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is given to those droughts which hit the Sahara every few years, increasing its acreage of sand. It is also a country with the proud record of being among the handful of those which have kept a democracy. That is until a few months ago when some junior army officers staged a coup d’état, chasing the President, AmadouToumaniTouré from power. They claimed as their motive the inability of the President to end the Touareg rebellion. In the confusion which followed, the Touareg declared that they had won the Malien war. They now had a homeland: Azawad.
It turned out that the rebellion consisted of a “Liberation Movement”, largely led by the Touareg in France and Mauritania, allied with a Jihadist Islamic group of Salafist leaning: the AnsarEddine, itself allied to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. The “homeland” consisted of the north of Mali. It is more than half the country and will pass from the mixture of African tribes to Arab Touareg control.It includes Timbuktu. This is like what is happening in the countries of the Arab Spring. It is Fundamentalist Islamic Partieswhich have been able to take over when the Arab dictators were thrown out.
In the case of Libya, the “mercenaries”, as they were called, were at first the Touareg. The title “mercenary” was then given not to the Touareg but to anyone who was Black. It justified pogroms, confiscation of property, and sometimes torture and indefinite imprisonment as Islamisation was coupled with Arabisation.
Fabled Timbuktu is perhaps one of the greatest of the African cities marking the trade route between West Africa and North Africa.
We know that by the sixteenth century it was a major centre of learning as well as of trade. This trade included the lucrative slave trade across the Mediterranean and into Europe.
This would lose some of its importance with the Atlantic slave trade and the rise of coastal West African slaving city states.
It has been a dogma that African cultures south of the Sahara were oral cultures with neither reading nor writing until the expansion of Christianity and of Islam in the sixteenth century.
However, about a decade or so ago this dogma was blown apart, probably aided by sandstorms.
There beneath the sand lay buried a library of manuscripts, some dating back to the twelfth and fourteenth centuries and preserved by the dry Sahara climate. This surprise library was in Timbuktu.
Most of the manuscripts are now kept in South Africa.
It is the only African country able to afford the carefully acclimatised rooms needed to house the fragile manuscripts.
Well on the 25th May the Islamist leaders of the Azawad “liberation movement” published their “protocol of intent”: Azawad would be an Islamic State, with laws following Koran and Hadiths. It split the “Liberation Movement”. Its members abroad now called for urgent UN Security Council intervention both to secure them Azawad and to preserve its secular nature from Salafists and Al- Qaeda. Whatever the secular nature this legitimised the Touareg rebellion, the division of Mali and the establishment of an Arab State.
What is passing strange is the silence of the African diaspora. After all NJAC, which claims African-ness, is part of the PP Government.
And yet we hear nothing of Timbuktu and Mali.
We hear nothing of Kano in Northern Nigeria even if the first biography of an African woman in anthropology was written of a woman from Kano and by the wife of the Jamaican social anthropologist MG Smith.
The patient work to discover an African past, partly destroyed by the economics and wars of slavery, is still being done largely by Europeans. I wonder why?