Malian citizens set up community organisations in mining areas, such as Falea, protesting environmental degradation and the outflow of resources to foreign beneficiaries. Although Niger has been France’s primary uranium trading partner in the region, investors are currently estimating 5,200 tonnes of untapped uranium sources in Mali, making the requirements of a favourable government and a suppressed civil society all the more urgent.
A section of the Northern Mali population is Tuareg. The Tuareg, like other colonised nations, are split across the artificial borders constructed by the French, specifically where Northern Mali meets Niger. Tuareg on both sides of this border have been campaigning and fighting for secular autonomy since independence in the 1960s, and there has been a resurgence following the ethnic cleansing of Tuareg and other sub-Sahara Africans from Libya by the NATO-backed, Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels. In this context, a united Tuareg resistance has the potential to erode power from the central Mali government, and even control areas of land in which the Tuareg live, but the French want to mine.
In order to justify the invasion, the threat of Islamist terror had to at least appear tangible. According to Dr Jeremy Keenan, of SOAS, University of London:
“In 2004, President Tandja attempted to provoke the Tuareg into actions which could be portrayed to the Americans as ‘former rebels turning to terrorism’. He arrested and gaoled Rhissa ag Boula, the former leader of the rebel Front de Libération de l’Azawak et de l’Aïr (FLAA) and its signatory to the 1995 Peace Accord and subsequently a government minister, on a trumped up murder charge. He was released without charge after 13 months, but not until a number of Tuareg had been provoked into taking up arms. That enabled the government to send some 150 of its newly US-trained troops into the Tuareg stronghold of the Aïr Mountains”. (Adam Elliott-Cooper) More here.