The Tuareg are mainly a nomadic or semi-nomadic people. Their natural habitat is the arid and semi arid area of the Sahara and sub-Sahara zone and stretches through Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya.
The right to self-determination is the main principle of international law and thus every people should be free to choose their own country. Unfortunately many borders of today go back to the time of the colonial era and have been drawn often by European colonial powers. This is also true for the Tuareg which live in countries which were ruled by the French for two centuries or even more. Under the French rule these territories belonged to the same empire and one could move more or less freely across the borders, which do separate the new nations in our time.
The partition of the Tuareg living environment
After independence the complete territories of these colonies, such as Niger, Algeria or Mali became independent nations and nobody thought about their internal ethnic structure. In this manner ethnic minorities such as the Tuareg were separated by new borders. The Tuareg being a nomadic or semi-nomadic people could no more freely travel through their lands. One must keep in mind that their living environment is very arid and the Tuareg are forced to follow the rain in order to find pasturelands for the cattle.
The entire Tuareg population is estimated to be at around 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 society1.
The curse of natural resources
Algeria, Mail, Burkina Faso and Niger “inherited” the Tuareg inhabited regions from the French and with this also the natural ressources of these lands. Needless to say, that there does not exist any interest of such central governments to grant autonomy or even freedom to the Tuareg. The main export good of Niger is uranium, which according to some sources is believed to sum up to 80% Niger’s exports2. In the south of Algeria there are gas and oil fields which are exploited by the government and international oil and gas companies. Besides resources of international interest and value there are also local resources, which become short. Probably connected with the climate change, the Sahel gets drier and pasturelands gets scarcer so there is a competition for land between the Tuareg and the other ethnic groups.
Since the 1990s the Tuareg started to demand concrete political and institutional rights. Underrepresented and marginalized by the corresponding majorities of the dominant peoples of the Bambara in Mali and the Djerma in Niger, the Tuareg started to revolt. 1991 and later in 1997/98 resistance from the Tuareg against the authorities inflamed. They demanded federalism, more autonomy and ultimately secession. A new movement started in the early 2007 when the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) was founded which took up the old issues of the 1990s again. They fought for a bigger share of the uranium extraction, comprehensive development programs and federalism. In 2012 the situation escalated in Mali when the new National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) drove the Malian Army from northern Mali and declared the independence of the area of a new state called Azawad.
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 states3.
1,2,3: Mohand Salah Tari: http://www.amazighworld.org/studies/articles/forgotten_poeple.php