John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Racism in Mali and the Upcoming Elections

by John Campbell
June 7, 2013

Malian soldiers sit together as they drink coffee at a checkpoint in Gao March 4, 2013. (Joe Penney/Courtesy Reuters)


We tend to underrate the importance of racism as a factor in the ongoing crisis in Mali. A short item from Radio France Internationale–English is a good reminder.

It reports a statement by a spokesman for the French foreign ministry calling for the release of those arrested “because of the color of their skin” in the Kidal area.

Last weekend, residents of Kidal claimed to the press that members of the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) who control the district were attacking black people with the goal of driving them out. Predictably, MNLA spokesmen are saying that they were looking for “infiltrators,” presumably sent by the Bamako authorities against whom MNLA has fought. Tuareg, Arabs, and Berbers regard themselves as “white,” while they tend to see the Bamako political class as “black.”

The upcoming late July elections in Mali, which international allies and potential donors are strongly advocating for are likely to exacerbate racial tensions. Many fear that if the elections are rushed, they will provide only a veneer of legitimacy without addressing the core issues facing Mali, such as persistent racism and the alienation of the north that sparked the current crises.

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