Just when you thought Muammar Qaddafi's murderous legacy was beginning to fade, his former mercenaries go and destabilize one of West Africa's most tranquil democracies. As you may have heard, a coup d'etat is underway in Mali and in no small part, it's thanks to Qaddafi-armed nomads whom the deceased dictator enlisted to fend off Libyan rebels last year. Since January, these nomads, from the Tuareg ethnic group, have been attacking towns in northern Mali in a rebellion that has already displaced 200,000 civilians. A group of junior Mali officers have been so upset with how the government has handled the Tuareg rebellion, on Thursday, they decided to take it over, declaring the country's institution "dissolved" and Constitution suspended. Here's where Qaddafi's menacing began.
Last March, the BBC reported that a large number of men from the Tuareg ethnic group left Mali to join pro-Qaddafi militants. "It's true many young men are leaving. It all started about a week back, " a man from northern Mali said. They were reportedly paid $10,000 to join and $1,000 for every day of fighting. The BBC report was corroborated by an AFP story in which a Mali official gave a prescient quote: "It's very dangerous for us because whether [Qaddafi] resists or he falls, there will be an impact for our region."
That prediction started to come true in August when the AFP reported that "hundreds of armed Tuaregs from Mali" who fought for the toppled Libyan regime were returning to Mali. What's worse, the Tuaregs were integrated into Libya's elite military unit, according to AFP, and were heavily armed. "What's going to become of these fighters? They have vehicles, weapons and expertise," said a teacher from Bamako University. "This is dangerous."
At the time Foreign Policy's Josh Keating viewed the development with concern. "Qaddafi has been meddling in African politics for decades and his downfall is likely to have widespread and surprising ripple-effects throughout the continent." Historically, the Tuaregs have sought acknowledgement of their heritage and have lobbied governments in the southern Sahara to put money into the impoverished areas they dwell in. But with Qaddafi weaponizing them, the rebellion has become more powerful than in years past.
The Guardian reports that besides displacing hundreds of thousands of people, the rebellion has also caused food shortages. The Mali government's inability to smooth over the chaotic region is at the source of the current coup. Cheick Oumar Sissoko, leader of the Mali opposition party African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence, explained why large swaths of the military were driven to overthrow the government. "Mali's army has been very angry since the Tuareg rebels started attacking towns in the north," he said. "They say they are very disappointed that the government has not done more to help them with equipment or food, and that the government has no capacity to resolve any of those problems. So they decide to stop them and now to try to continue the democracy with new elections." In short, thanks a lot, Qaddafi.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.