The name "Azawad", or "Azawagh", designated traditionally the basin of an ancient tributary of the Niger river, a region now spanning Algeria, Mali and Niger in the central Sahara. An arid territory for centuries, the region was affected by a series of continuous droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, which severely impacted on the populations living there, mainly Tuaregs —a part of the Amazigh people— and Arabs.
Over the final years of the 1980s and especially in the early 1990s, several politico-military groups mainly made up of Tuaregs and/or Arabs began to use the name "Azawad" to designate those territories of northern Mali and Niger which they sought to declare independent from those two postcolonial states, which they blamed for having abandoned Tuareg and Arab populations to their fate.
More recently, and especially since the 2012 rebellion led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the term "Azawad" has been increasingly used to designate northern Mali, an area roughly spanning from the administrative region of Mopti to Mali's northern and eastern borders, and therefore incorporating part of the Niger river basin, which is home to not only Arabs and Tuaregs, but also to Songhais, Peuls and others. At this point, the MNLA and its allies made an effort to restyle Azawad as a stateless, multiethnic nation made up by Tuaregs, Arabs, Songhais and Peuls —and distinct from the rest of Mali, where the Bambara and Soninke form the majority of the population. However, MNLA opponents argue that, in reality, the Azawad sovereignty movement is only supported by Arabs and Tuaregs —and still only by certain clans among them— and pursues an exclusively Arab and Tuareg agenda, while Songhais and Peuls largely remain pro-Malian.
(Last updated May 2017)