Azawad is the name the Tuareg ethnic people use to describe their homeland. Tuaregs draw the boundaries of Azawad in the northern, Sahelian areas of Mali, comprising the regions of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu.

The semi-nomadic Tuareg people, a Sahelian ethnic group present in northern Mali, Niger, Algeria, and Mauritania have fought numerous rebellions seeking the independence or autonomy of the region. Following the uprising in 2012 by separatist Tuareg and Islamist groups, and a coup by parts of the Malian military, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared the independence of Azawad on 6 April 2012. The capital of the new, and unrecognised, state was Timbuktu.

Following continued unrest in the region, the MNLA rescinded its declaration of independence on 14 February 2013 in favour of beginning negotiations for increased autonomy within a unified Malian state.

Emily Mellgard, Centre on Religion & Geopolitics