This is a draft of a forthcoming article on the current crisis in Mali.
The mobilization of local ideas about racial difference has been important in generating, and intensifying, civil wars that have occurred in all of the countries that straddle the southern edge of the Sahara Desert (or Sahel) since the end of colonial rule. From Sudan to Mauritania, the racial categories deployed in contemporary conflicts often hearken back to an older history in which blackness could be equated with slavery and non-blackness (i.e. Arab-ness, Tuareg-ness, Fulbe-ness, etc.) with predatory and uncivilized banditry. This book traces the development of arguments about race over a period of more than three hundred and fifty years (1600-1960) in one important place along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, the Niger Bend in northern Mali. Using local Arabic documents held in Timbuktu, as well as local colonial sources in French and oral interviews, the book demonstrates that local arguments about racial difference long predated colonial conquest.