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Tuareg : the tragedy of a Forgotten  People

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The AIgerian Tuareg

Libya and the Tuareg

The Tuareg of Mali and Niger

The Tuareg of Mali

The Tuareg in Niger


The Tuareg country

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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.

During 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.

Further down 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 alienation.

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 countries.
Prior to the independence of African countries, the Tuareg had been organized into 'confederations' and traditionally lived in a clearly hierarchical society, which included:

  • lmajeren (the nobles), former warriors who today constitute a very small minority;
  • lneselmen (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;
  • lmrad (free men);
  • Iklan (slaves) 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:
  • The lderfen, often settled and freed for several generations; 
  • The lborroliten, half-cast born of marriage between lmrad and lklan. They are freed by their parents;
  • The Iklan-n-Eguef (captives of the dunes), shepherds and cultivators of lmajeren;
  • The tent Iklan, servants living with their masters.  

This 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

The 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.

In general 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 in the
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 in Algiers. 

Libya and the Tuareg

The 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 were Tuareg.
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, accused of
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 in 1987.

Replaced 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.    Touareg 1.JPG (59286 octets)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. 

With 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

Free 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 cattle in
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 exports.

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 Rhissa Boula. 

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 citizens.

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
taoureg2.jpg (792574 octets)

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.

6. Ibid.

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. p. 39996

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, p. 1188...YI...

(*) Visiting Researcher, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, GB.

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