|Tuareg : the tragedy of a Forgotten People
The AIgerian Tuareg
Libya and the Tuareg
The Tuareg of Mali and Niger
The Tuareg of Mali
The Tuareg in Niger
The Tuareg country
|By Mohand Salah TARI* in Imazighen Assa
Hardly a day goes by without the world
media pausing and commenting on the civil war that has been
tearing the former Yugoslavia apart for the last three-and-a-half
years. The battleground of this conflict, which has claimed
some 200,000 victims, has been the heart of Europe. It, therefore,
seems to have raised the concern and fears of the West as this
new war of 'ethnic cleansing' threatened to disturb Europe's
quietness and peacefulness. It has every sign of risking to
bring back the nightmare of two devastating European civil wars.
the same period, and on the other shore of the Mediterranean,
a 'behind closed doors' savage war, opposing Algeria's military
regime-determined to cling to power-to its new islamist enemies,
has claimed some 50,000 victims. Without media uproar, this
does not seem to have moved the same West, which gives the impression
of implicitly endorsing the military's policy of eradication.
in the south, in the Sahel countries of Mali and Niger, genocide
has for years been perpetrated by the regimes of the two countries
against the Tuareg people, and to which the entire world seems
to turn a blind eye. The Tuareg tragedy has not been a priority
of world opinion simply because it is a slow burning conflict.
Not unlike the Kurdish people but without media fuss, the Tuareg
have been the subject of systematic repression and massacre.
The objective of this paper is to try to briefly introduce the
reader to the Tuareg, their history, their way of life and to
bring to light the plight of these agonizing people who, as
a consequence of the emergence of post-colonial states, have
become fragmented, uprooted and subjected to dislocation and
The Tuareg belong to the large Berber community, which stretches
from the Canary Islands to Egypt and from the Mediterranean
Sea to the Niger River. They are the only Berber speaking community
to have preserved and used the Tifinagh writing. Nomads of vast
arid lands, the common denominator of the dispersed Tuareg is
the language, Tamasheq. Consequently, they identify themselves
as Kel Tamasheq (people of Tamasheq). The Tuareg are a 'white'
race who had originally lived in the northern tier of Africa
but were later chased southwards by successive Arab invasions.
At the independence
of African States the Tuareg found themselves scattered among
various states (Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, etc.).
Now they are threatened in their survival even for reasons of
the establishment of borders, which had been unknown before,
and also because of the economic evolution and climatic conditions.
They find themselves dominated, humiliated and, for some, reduced
to the state of refugees. Because of administrative constraints
and their political marginalisation, added to their geographical
isolation, it seems an uphill task to establish a true figure
of the Tuareg and their distribution.
The Tuareg themselves claim to be more than three million. Yet
their number has variously been estimated at some 1.5 to 2 million,
with the majority of some 750,000 living in Niger, and 550,000
in Mali. In Algeria they are estimated at 40,000, excluding
some 100,000 refugees from Mali and Niger, and the same number
is officially admitted to live in Burkina Faso. Proper figures
are not established in Libya and other West African francophone
Prior to the
independence of African countries, the Tuareg had been organized
into 'confederations' and traditionally lived in a clearly hierarchical
society, which included:
(the nobles), former warriors who today constitute a very small
(the religious), literally meaning Muslims, in charge of law
and Muslim traditions. This is a clear indication of the secular
nature of the Tuareg society;
or former slaves descendants of the captives. The latter, known
as Bella in Mali and Bouzou in Niger, are of black or half-cast
origin. Today they form a sizeable part of the Tuareg society
and, like their former masters, they speak Tamasheq. The lklan,
however, are distinguished by a number of categories:
often settled and freed for several generations;
half-cast born of marriage between lmrad and lklan. They are
freed by their parents;
(captives of the dunes), shepherds and cultivators of lmajeren;
Iklan, servants living with their masters.
hierarchical society, however, has for the last three to four
decades been in full mutation under the effect of urbanization,
of modern transport and also of dissidence and the will of the
authorities to forcibly alter the Tuareg's way of life.
Left in oblivion since the end of the French 'pacification'
of the Sahara in 1920, the Tuareg have been rediscovered by
the international media, in search of exoticism during the big
Paris-Dakar rallies of the
|The AIgerian Tuareg
ancient history of the Berbers in the Sahara and the settlement
of the Tuareg in the Ahaggar are not sufficiently known. It
seems, as it was suggested by Johannes Nicolaison1, that during the first centuries
of the Christian era, camel breeding shepherds had conquered
another Berber population composed of goat breeders already
settled in the Ahaggar. Nicolaison held that these noble shepherds
had introduced the camel in this part of the Sahara, and by
invading the Ahaggar they were at the origin of the division
into nobles and vassals, which was to become the foundation
of the political system in the social formation of
the Tuareg. Hence, the dominant/dominated relationship goes
far back in time.
The majority of the Ahaggar inhabitants claim their roots back
to the mythical queen Tin-Hinan and her Road companion Takama,
who were alleged to have travelled from Tafilalet in Morocco
to the south, the country of the Tuareg. Thus, most of the noble
Tuareg pride themselves in claiming their ancestry from Tin-Hinan,
while the vassals refer their roots to Takama.
The interest of different versions of this myth lies in fact
in the nature of the relationship between these two presumed
ancestors, Tin-Hinan and Takama. This difference in view permits
the nobles to justify their domination over the vassal: by holding
that Takama was Tin-Hinan's servant, while the vassals conceive
that class relationships should be marked by the same respect
as between a young girl and her older sister.
The vassal tribes are known as Imrad or Kel Ulli, literally
meaning people of the goats, because of their economic dependence
on goat breeding in distinction from camel breeding. Jeremy
Keenan2 argues that this tribal organization
goes back to 1660. At that time, the Berbers, who lived in the
regions of Ajjer, Ahaggar and Adrar-n-Iforas, were dominated
by the noble tribe Imunan, who alleged to be descendants of
the Prophet. It was then that the noble tribe Uraren rose against
the Imunan. The former assassinated the Imunan's supreme chief,
Gama, and then brought the regions of Ajjer, Ghadames and Ghat
under their control.
As for the French colonisation of the Ahaggar, it lasted from
the defeat of the Tuareg at the battle of Tit in 1920 until
Algeria's independence in 1962. This period had witnessed a
gradual disintegration of the Tuareg traditional way of life,
albeit several fundamental characteristics of the Tuareg society,
such as the traditional distribution of authority and social
stratification, were to survive. Indeed, the social and economic
structures of the Tuareg were not deeply disturbed during the
colonial era. The Iklan, for instance, constituted an important
lever of the Tuareg economic system. The crucial interest throughout
the colonial period was in the position of Iklan. The Tuareg
considered them as an integral part of their system. They were
unable to imagine a Tuareg society without Iklan. And if there
is a question that ought to be considered as crucial or even
symbolic in the Algerian-Tuareg conflict, it is, without doubt,
this question of Iklan3.
terms, the main aim of Algeria's policy in the Sahara was to
integrate the Tuareg in the Algerian system, a system whose
'socialist' values, such as 'freedom' and 'equal opportunities,'
are incompatible with the traditional values of the Tuareg.
Thus, one of the first priorities of the Algerian authorities
was to settle Iklan in towns in order to fit them into the official
economic circuit, whereby the Tuareg would end up, in time,
in a narrow dependence. The intention is therefore clear, a
dialectal reversal of social conditions: yesterday's slave will
become tomorrow's master.
If the French administration had established relations with
the Tuareg through the traditional chief, Amenukal, later on
the Algerian administration proceeded with a complete change
in the distribution of
The Amenukal lost his status of traditional chief and became
nominally the 'elected' representative in the new 'popular democracy,'
receiving a salary as a member of parliament.
Authorities in Algeria have always cast a suspicious eye toward
the Tuareg, not hesitating to take measures for the destruction
of their hierarchised traditional society in order to better
assimilate them. Since Algeria's independence, a policy of settlement
has been forced upon them, but also by the voluntary encouragement
for the settlement of people, civilian and military organisations,
coming from the north of the country. The total exercise of
the central authority over the Ahaggar became effective since
1965 with the nomination of Mr. Aktouf as the Sub-Prefect of
the region. He was in charge of the integration of the Tuareg
through their settlement, particularly within the framework
of agricultural co-operatives. This obviously entitled the policy
of breaking up the nomadic way of life. Aktouf himself once
declared: "The Tuareg of the Ahaggar would either settle
as Algerians or leave the country and go to Niger"4. It is true that anyone who refused
to espouse the official ideology of the regime was invited by
Comedienne to 'leave the beautiful sun of Algeria'. And as the
Tuareg had no other choice, they were forced to pay the cost.
The warrior Tuareg aristocracy was compelled to submit to the
uniformism of the Algerian republic.
In 1986, Algeria did not hesitate to expel more than 15,000
Tuareg refugees from Tamanrasset, only to find themselves in
camps in the borders of Mali and Niger. Without papers, and
hence without citizenship, the Kel Tagglemoust people were being
bounced from one country to another.
Today, Algeria has adopted an ambiguous attitude with regard
to the suffering of the Tuareg of Mali and Niger. It seems to
be split between the desire to expand its diplomatic influence
and the will to play on the issue of the community of origin
of the 'white' Tuareg and Algerian populations in order to enjoy
privileged relations with the governments of Niamey and Bamako
and to appear as the natural protector of these populations,
while in other respects, the agitation of the Tuareg of the
south overcome their brothers in Algeria. This anxiety has become
a deciding factor with the increasing flow of refugees stationing
Ahaggar. This also explains the very active mediation role played
by Algeria in an attempt to appease the Tuareg rebellion in
Mali and Niger.
A symbolic Berber solidarity expressed by the Algerian Kabyle
Berbers (mostly militants or sympathisers of the Socialist Forces
Front-FFS) in 1990, by sending some lorries carrying food and
medicine for the
refugees in the Ahaggar, was far from pleasing the authorities
|Libya and the Tuareg
enormous oil revenues in Libya since the early 1970s attracted
tens of thousands of migrant workers from the Sahel countries,
particularly from Mali and Niger, of which a significant proportion
These young people, fleeing harsh climatic conditions as the
result of frequent drought, had often been forced to enroll
in the so-called Islamic Legion, an army of mercenaries sponsored
by Kaddafi to fight for
his ideals in Africa and the Middle East.
Following the death of Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1970, all Kaddafi's
dreams for uniting Arabs were shattered. Nasser's demise marked
the beginning of the end of the Pan-Arabist revolutionary rhetoric
and, consequently, the influence of the revolutionary regimes.
By now, Egypt was no longer the cradle of Arab nationalism,
as its weight in population power and prestige was being directed
towards creating a different reality in the Middle East. This
has essentially been based on reconciliation and accommodation
with Israel, as wished by the now wealthy and, therefore, powerful
conservative Arab States.
Isolated and rejected by the Arab Middle East, Kaddafi shifted
his interest towards Africa, eyeing the Sahel countries as a
potential for realizing another dream, that of an 'Islamic Empire.'
And in order to achieve this, he conceived an army—the Islamic
Legion—to subdue or, if needed, to destabilize the Sahelian
regimes. Thus, Libyan recruits among the Tuareg nomads, notably
prior to 1987, had created the conditions by which those returning
to northern Mali and Niger could be targeted as foreign-armed
troublemakers. Indeed, in 1980, Niger broke its diplomatic relations
with Libya, accusing her of offering refuge to opponents. Two
years later, tens of Tuaregs were arrested in Niger and Mali,
working to destabilize the two countries. And in 1985, Tuareg
rebels attempted to take over the Prefecture (administrative
headquarters) of Tchin-Tabaraden in Niger. They were arrested
and sentenced to life imprisonment. This climate of persecution
continued until the death of Niger's president Seyni Kountché
by Ali Seibou, the latter advocated a policy of relaxation towards
the Tuareg. Consequently, he visited Libya in 1989 in order
to meet Tuareg refugees, promising to favour their eventual
return to the country, where a general amnesty would be issued
for all those implicated in political events since 1974.
By now, however, Libya had already anticipated the expulsion of
nearly 20,000 Tuareg, most of whom were from Niger. The change
in Libya's attitude towards the Tuareg was dictated by foreign
policy constraints. Between 1986-87, the Libyan army suffered
heavy defeats in Chad. At the same time, Libya was being accused
of sponsoring international terrorism and it had, somehow, been
punished by the US
bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986. The international
pressure exercised over Libya was to compel Kaddafi to review
the orientation of his foreign policy. No longer able to count
on his former Soviet 'ally,' Kaddafi sought reconciliation with
Arab and African countries. Such being the case, he started
to downgrade his support for opposition movements. Gradually,
the Tuareg quit the ranks of the lslamic Legion, clandestinely
entered their countries, and began to constitute the first nuclei
of armed struggle in Niger and Mali.
his unpredictable and maverick behaviour, however, Kaddafi has
often been a constant threat to his neighbours. Invited by the
Algerian President to the Djanet (Algeria) summit in September
1990, to examine the Tuareg problem and anticipate the reinforcing
of border controls and measures for resettlement and reintegration
of refugees, Kaddafi arrived masquerading as a Tuareg. In the
presence of presidents of Mali and Niger, he arrogantly and against
historical evidence, as well as the ideological orientation of
the Tuaregs themselves, declared that the Tuareg "were Libyan
Arab tribes ( ).” And in order to 'save' them from genocide, he
invited them to go back to Libya, "their original homeland"6, a veiled threat, which hid anew the
shadow of the Libyan Islamic Legion.
|The Tuareg of Mali and Niger
to move across the Sahara throughout their history, the Tuareg
have witnessed the consecration of borders following the independence
of African countries. Thus, the seasonal migration with their
search of water and pasture came to an end, and so did the meetings
with the cousins of neighbouring countries and the freedom of
trans-border exchanges. The present political situation of the
Tuareg in both Mali and Niger emanates from complicated origins,
some of which date back to the colonial era. Since the independence
of the two countries in 1960, two phases can be distinguished
in the development of the 'Tuareg question':
-The 1960-89 period was characterised by the Tuareg exodus towards
urban centres, as well as by exile towards neighbouring countries,
notably Algeria and Libya. Exodus and exile were essentially
due to both
economic and political reasons (drought, loss of cattle, repression
in Adrar-n-Iforas in 1962 and again in 1964, a coup attempt
in Niger in 1967).
-The 1989-95 phase has been characterised by repression, perpetrated
by regular armies, and by the birth of the Tuareg armed resistance.
For over thirty years a considerable segment of the Tuareg people
have known only exile and refugee camps. Return to their countries
has often been received by violence and massacres. Finally,
an intense feeling of exclusion, combined with repression, created
a sense of ill-being among the Tuareg, which translated into
the birth of armed resistance.
In Mali, the Adrar-n-Iforas was integrated in 1960 with independent
Mali, under the dictatorial regime of Modibo Keita. The new
president followed the policy of forced settlement in this region
and the collection of taxes already installed by the French
administration. Daily humiliation of Tuareg chiefs, harassment
by officials, and the tax burden, added to isolation and political
marginalisation, were all piled up to provoke the exasperation
of the population of the Adrar-n-Iforas, pushing them to take
up arms. The revolt was countered by ruthless army repression,
massacring both people and cattle. This was taking place with
the complacency of Ben Bella's Algeria, who offered the Malian
soldiers the right of pursuit of the Tuareg in the Algerian
territory. Worse, the leaders who took refuge in Algeria were
extradited back to Mali to be imprisoned. After the repression
in Adrar-n-Iforas, the Malian government ordained this region
a military zone.
Besides this exodus, provoked by the repressive policy of the
Malian regime, there was also the quasi-total climatic catastrophe
to the Tuareg pastoral economy. The drought, which had affected
the entire Sahel from 1968 to 1985, had destroyed an essential
part of the cattle. The symbolic international aide destined
for the victims would not reach them since it was frequently
repossessed by the public authorities.
Since 1990, in Mali as in Niger, the Tuareg country has been
through fire and blood with hundreds of victims, not only among
the fighters, but principally among the civilian population,
leading more families to
flee, once again, and take refuge in camps on the Algerian and
Mauritanian borders. In Niger, since their return, the Tuareg
had been under high surveillance by the regime's political police.
Several were arrested and jailed. Irritated by such abuse, some
of their free comrades attacked the prison in May 1990 to free
them. During the altercation that followed, a guard of the Tchin-Tabaraden
prison was killed. The event served as a pretext for the government,
which then raised the claim of a plot and, thus, engaged in
a ferocious repression against the Tuareg civilian population.
Those who escaped the massacre fled to Mali, only to be arrested
by the Malian authorities and, consequently, to be jailed in
the town of Ménaka. A few weeks later, during 1990, they were
liberated by the Malian Tuareg, who attacked the town's military
barracks. This was to spark the beginning of the Tuareg armed
rebellion in Mali.
|The Tuareg of Mali
At the outset, the Malian Tuareg were gathered within the Popular
Movement of the Azawad (MPA), led by Iyad Ag Aghali. It was
with this movement that the Malian President, General Moussa
Traoré, signed an agreement in Tamanrasset (Algeria), on January
6, 1991, for the cessation of hostilities7. After a few months, however, the rebellion
resumed its armed struggle; Moussa Traoré and his regime were
to be toppled the following March. Meanwhile, the Tamanrasset
accord was soon contested by some Tuareg, leading to splits
within the MPA. Hence, the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Azawad (FPLA), led by Rhissa Ag Sidi Mohamed, and the Revolutionary
Army for the Liberation of the Azawad (ARLA), led by Abderrahmane
Gala, came into being. Later on, in a move to co-ordinate the
actions of all these tendencies, they joined forces under the
Unified Fronts and Movements of Azawad (MFUA).
At the same time, the new leader in Mali, President Alpha Oumar
Konaré, announced liberal measures, which included the return
of the army to the barracks and the suppression of the special
courts. Then he solicited Algeria's mediation.
Led by Algeria's foreign affairs minister, with the participation
and support of two other personalities, Ahmed Baba Miské (Mauritania)
and Edgar Pisani, a former French minister, negotiations between
the Malian government and the Tuareg rebellion resulted in a
peace agreement known as the National Pact, signed in the Malian
capital, Bamako, on April l1, 1992, between the Malian government
and the Coordination Bureau of the MFUA. The FPLA refused to
adhere to this pact, considering it a divertive maneuver by
the Malian government. A year later, the FPLA joined the ranks.
The Bamako National Pact, which hoped to end two years of armed
rebellion, defined the details for implementation of the cease-fire
and organised a particular status for the northern regions of
Mali. More importantly, it foresaw the gradual integration of
the Azawad armed rebels in the Malian army. Yet, after having
raised considerable hope, the National Pact did not live to
its expectations. It was just a matter of weeks before attacks
and repression resumed their course. The fragility of the pact
was revealed as the government came under attack for undermining
the peace plan, when the following May, in Gossi, Tuareg civilians
were shot by Malian gendarmes. The essential point here is the
question whether the governments of Mali and Niger are really
in control of their armies.
Through Algeria's mediation, another agreement was signed on
11 February 1993, between the Malian government and the MFUA
leaders, emphasising the principles agreed upon in the National
Pact of April 1992. Two days earlier, the Algerian and Malian
governments had reached an agreement on the repatriation of
some 100,000 refugees living in camps in southern Algeria. Another
round of mediation by Algeria took place on May 10-15, 1994,
in Algiers, when a follow up of the April 1992 Pact tended to
resolve a number of issues, including agreement on the reintegration
of the rebel fighters into the government institutions. The
responsibility for the implementation of this agreement was
given to a tripartite committee composed of representatives
of the MFUA, the Malian government and Algeria8. Three days later, on May 19, came the
birth of a black racist movement advocating the extermination
of white skins (Tuareg) in Mali. A settled black militia known
as the Patriotic Ganda Koy (masters of the land) Movement, representing
the Songhay population, officially and openly exhibited its
hostility to the Algiers agreement. It expressed its determined
opposition by massacring 25 Tuareg at Tacharene9 on May 22. The MPGK, led by a former
army officer, benefits from the sympathy of the army and from
the active support of the majority of political parties opposing
the National Pact. Thus, since May 1994, the conflict entered
a new phase of violence, as it gradually moved away from its
political nature towards an inter-community or ethnic confrontation,
opposing Tuareg to Songhays and leading to more refugee flights,
which the HCR reported to number some 100,000 in Algeria, 80,000
in Mauritania, and 50,000 in Burkina Faso. These figures are
unanimously contested by Tuareg associations, among which are
the Association of the Refugees and Victims of Repression of
Azawad (ARVRA) and the Association of Tuareg Refugees in Burkina
Faso, which put the figure at 250 to 300,000 refugees.10
In fact in 1992, the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF) organised an international day on the populations
in danger, in which it revealed that the Tuareg are among the
ten most threatened people on our planet, as repression and
desertification had caused the death of thousands of people
and animals while international aide had never reached the victims.
The hunt for the 'white man' by the Ganda Koy in Gao and Timbuctu,
added to the smudges of the army, have increased the climate
of suspicion. With the event of the MPGK, all the ingredients
of a civil war are present, a war that will not risk raising
the interest of the media since the Tuareg have always been
a forgotten people.
|The Tuareg in Niger
The Tuareg problem in Niger is quite different from that of
Mali in a number of ways. The geographical proximity of Libya,
an immediate neighbour, has weighed heavily, at least in the
past, when, as has already been mentioned, Kaddafi showed himself
particularly active. On the other hand, the northern region,
fief of the rebels, is crossed for nearly 1000 km by the Trans-Saharan
Highway, which links Algeria to the Gulf of Benin. This vital
axis for exchange includes the excellent route of uranium extracted
in the Arlit region of northern Niger, and consequently, the
presence of important uranium mines around Arlit, between Agadez
and the Algerian border, gives this Tuareg region an exceptionally
important economic weight as uranium counts for 80% of Niger’s
This particularly explains why the leaders of Niger ought to
be hostile to any idea of a genuine decentralisation let alone
autonomy for this northern region.. In fact, uranium exploitation during the last three decades
has not equally benefited this mining region, but rather Niamey.
Thus, in addition to a hostile ethnic prejudice, or even social
antagonism founded on old memories, there exists an economic
motivation to stifle any Tuareg protestation.
Niger achieved its independence from France in August 1960.
The country's constitution was suspended in 1974, following
the military coup that toppled Hamani Diori. He was replaced
by the Supreme Military Counci1, under the leadership of Seyni
Kountché until his death in November 1987. Then the Supreme
Military Council appointed the chief of staff of the armed forces,
Brig. Ali Seibou, who, as mentioned earlier, promised liberal
measures and general amnesty for the Tuareg rebels. Yet, the
army’s repression and massacre of the Tuareg, repatriated from
Libya and Algeria at Tchin-Tabaraden in May 1990, and which
claimed 600 victims, sparked the armed resistance. A national
conference in the autumn of 1991, which was supposed to seal
reconciliation between the government and the Tuareg rebellion,
ended in failure and led to the birth of the Liberation Front
of the Air and Azawaghll (FLAA) in September 1991, headed by
As was the case in Mali, repeated attempts at negotiations
between the regime and the Tuareg dissidence led to splits within
the FLAA. Thus, after the June 1993 truce, came the birth of
the Revolutionary Army for the Liberation of the Northern Niger
(ARLNN), led by Attaher Abdelmoumin, followed by the Temoust
Liberation Front (FLT), led by Mano Dayak, and the Patriotic
Front for the Liberation of the Sahara (FPLS), led by Mohamed
Anako, in January 1994.
As in Mali, differences between Tuareg dissident movements
in Niger are not clear. Thus, in order to unify their political
and military actions they were assembled in the Coordination
of Armed Resistance (CRA), presided over by Mano Dayak. Accordingly,
on 9 October 1994, an agreement was signed in Ouagadougou between
the CRA and the government of Niger, with the mediation of Algeria,
France and Burkina Faso12. This agreement established a three-month
truce, tacitly renewable, and had as a principal consequence,
the institution of an administrative decentralisation, foreseen
in the constitution, thus discarding all claims for federalism
advanced by some members of the Tuareg fronts. In fact, the
Ouagadougou agreement has sidelined all vital measures concerning
the economic, social and cultural future of the region.
Everything tends to prove that the peace agreements between
the Tuareg armed fronts—notably in April 1992 for the Malian
side, and October 1994 for Niger—are simply hol1ow packaging,
carefully proscribed by the governments' press, while opposition
and rival currents within the parties in power venture to denounce
the dysfunctioning of the accords. Moreover, the failure of
attempts for settlement have often been attributed to the Tuareg
without, at any time, questioning the role of the army and the
militia. Thus, while the Malian regime turns a blind eye on
the massacres perpetrated by the Songhay militia of the MPGK
against the Tuareg, Libya and Niger armed Arab militia against
the Tuareg. Allergic to anything which is Berber, Algeria and,
particularly, Libya have often worked to cloud Berberness with
Arabness and Islam. Niger, on the other hand, endeavoured to
transform the political problem into an 'ethnic rivalry.’ As
governments pretend to commit themselves to peaceful solutions,
their armies and militias beat the war drum.
Today, there is nothing astonishing if voices have already
been raised to warn against the dangers of inter-ethnic drift
in the region. The events of black governments in Mali and Niger
have marked a radical change of balance. The rude remark of
an irritated Tuareg leader, "We have become the slaves
of our former slaves"IJ, says it all. No doubt, the raids
of the past have left scars in the spirits of both sides, even
though these practices have now ceased to exist for decades.
It is also true that the plight of the black populations in
Mauritania, Sudan, and Chad continues to upset those of the
Sahel. The rancour of the blacks revives with the thought that
the abductions of the past are witnessed by the subsistence
of this cringing caste of Iklan (Bellas and Bouzous) even though
the hierarchy of the Tuareg society has hitherto been put into
question. Here comes the clumsy and exclusive reactions of the
administrations born out of independence. The absence, in the
administration and army, of representatives issued from the
local Tuareg population, has not helped the situation. As for
the armies of Mali and Niger, they have more often acted as
instruments of revenge in the past than as the crucible of national
unity, which they could have been cementing since independence.
Today, the drama of the Tuareg of Mali and Niger makes it necessary
and urgent to seek solutions, at the same time political, administrative,
economic, and cultural, to the problems of ethnic groups of
multiple nationalities living within the same state, and those
dislocated between several states.
The centralised state units, issued from decolonisation, concentrate
on the reproduction of the colonial administrative system, and,
in particular, they contribute to its rigidity by its institutionalisation.
By totally adapting themselves to European societies, these
regimes are in a complete time-lag with pluri-ethnic societies,
whose ways of life are radically different and firmly fixed
mentally, namely, nomadic and sedentary. In the name
of 'national unity,' the modern centralising state overlooks
regionalism and diversity, especially as the state is, in essence,
the expression and the historic product of settled elites. Thus,
the feeling of agony and depression by the Tuareg community,
particularly with the emergence of the new states, is understandable.
Throughout their demands for autonomy, the different armed
Tuareg fronts believe that the problem they are facing highlights
the failure of the centralised unitary state. They emphasise
the non-representation of the Tuareg community within their
states' institutions, for they have always been seen as second-class
The unitary state has permitted the concentration of economic
and political powers in the hands of a few ethnic groups, at
the expense of many others. Accordingly, a feeling of frustration
and marginalisation invaded the minds of the Tuareg. The Tuareg
movements, in their majority, are in no way secessionist. On
the contrary, they acknowledge they belong to the national entities
born out of decolonisation. Their sole fault, in the eyes of
their regimes, is to claim self-administration of their regions
and the respect of their identity in all its aspects. The different
armed fronts, whether in Mali or Niger, call for federalism.
In Mali, it is abandoned for the benefit of the 'particular
status' of the northern regions of the country, contained in
the National Pact of April 1992. This pact, which foresaw a
large economic and political autonomy of the regions claimed
by the MFUA, has not achieved any effective implementation since
the date it was signed. In Niger, too, federalism has been ignored
in favour of the 'autonomy of administration' of the regions
claimed by the Tuareg opposition. The government proposed an
'enforced decentralisation' of all regions of Niger.
The first condition for defusing the Tuareg problem is, of
course, the return of peace. This would only be achieved if
the black leaders have the courage to come to an agreement on
a real autonomy for this distinct community, instead of seeking
to dissolve it. Autonomy does not necessarily mean secession,
but rather the ability to self-administration, at least in regions
where the population is entirely, or in its majority, Tuareg.
Without significant local representation, the feeling of frustration
will subsist. On the national level, the Tuareg ought to be
brought from the periphery into the mainstream of their countries’
development. Their integration in the state's institutions would
signify an action in the right direction.
As for Tuareg Society itself, we have seen to what extent it
has been shaken, transformed and drastically shattered during
the last three decades. Accordingly, it must make efforts of
adaptation in order to preserve its culture, language and personality.
The decline of nomadism, the levelling of social classes, settlement,
adaptation to technology, and the constraints of the modern
world are so many problems to solve, of difficulties to surmount,
of changes to accept. As for the present, it seems doubtful
whether this cloud over the heads of the Tuareg will give way
to a silver lining.
|The Tuareg country
1. Johanne Nicolaison, Ecology and Culture of the Pastoral
Tuareg, Copenhagen, 1963, pp. 411-479.
2. Jeremy Keenan, "Social Change Among the Tuareg of Ahaggar
(Algeria)," in Ernest Gellner & Charles Micaud (eds.),
Arabs and Berbers, From Tribe to Nation in North Africa, Gerald
Duckworth & Co. Ltd., London, 1973, pp. 345-360.
3. Jeremy Keenan, Op. cit. p. 354.
4. Jeremy Keenan, Op. cit. p. 360.
5. What collective interest would the Kel Tamasheq have to
fight under the banner of Kaddafj's Panarabism? Iyad Ag Aghali.
General Secretary of the Azawad Popular Movement (MPA), confirmed
in the Autumn of 1989: "We owe Libya nothing," see
GEO. n. 134, April 1990. p.31.
7. On this occasion, with the incitation of Algeria and Libya,
a new movement known as the Arab Islamic Front of the Azawad
(FIAA), was created with the hope of eclipsing the Tuareg-Berber
movement (MPA). The FIAA, led by Zahaby Ould Sidi Mohamed, is
the only front to openly claim Arabness and Islam. It apparently
benefits from the aid of a rich trading bourgeoisie, as well
as from some Arab states, particularly Libya.
8. See Keesing's Record of World Events, Vol. 40, N. 5, 1994.
9. See Supplément à Imazighen Ass-A (Paris), N.3 August 1995.
10. See Tidawt (Dakar) N.OO September 1995.
11. The Azawad is the Western Plain of the Adrar-n-Iforas in
Mali. The Azawagh is the Western Plain
of the Air in Niger.
12. Le Monde Diplomatique, April 1995, p.31.
13. Marchés Tropicaux et Mediterranéens, N. 2478, 7 May 1993,
(*) Visiting Researcher, Department of Politics and International
Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, GB.