The Tuareg are a nomadic people of the Sahara Desert often
referred to as the Blue Men of the Desert after their dyed blue
robes and they are famous for their artwork and fighting prowess.
Estimates as to their overall population range from one to five
million, with one million living in the Republic of Niger.
The Tuareg, 'meaning abandoned by God' (although
they call themselves Imohag ~ free men), also
live in Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso.
The Tuareg are known to still practise slavery and
it is estimated that 8% of the population where they
reside are classed as slaves, the property of their
Rebellions by the Tuareg can be traced back to at least 1916,
and whilst there continues to be ongoing activity, the last
major rebellion took place between 2007 and 2009 affecting both
Mali and Niger where it was largely contained within the Agadez
Region until a ceasefire brokered by Libya was established in
May 2009. Earlier rebellions had taken place between 1916-1917,
1961-1964 and 1990-1995. The exact number of casualties is not
known however it is estimated that some 60 Mali
citizens were killed during the rebellion along with
around 200 Niger citizens.
The rebellion centred on a widely held belief that the Tuareg
were marginalised within Niger, and, with living conditions
becoming ever more harsh, they were failing to capitalise on
Niger's income from the country's mineral wealth, especially the
French operated uranium mines around Arlit. They claimed that
the government of Niger had failed to uphold parts of the 1995
ceasefire that promised them a larger slice of this wealth as
well as other concessions. Whilst known as the Taureg Rebellion,
it was more a Niger Movement for Justice's rebellion, a northern
Niger militant group comprised mainly of Tuareg but also Toubou
and the Fulani.
The group was led by Aghaly ag Alambo (below right)and Mohamed Acharif who
defected from Niger's military in 2007. Because of the nature of
the organisation, and a crackdown by the Niger government on
reporting of its activities, the exact number of its forces are
not known, however it is believed to be in the region of 3500,
including many former Niger soldiers.
The rebellion started in early 2007 when the Niger Movement
for Justice attacked Niger military outposts, then, in June of
that year, northern Niger's main airport at Agadez and another
military post in the Air Mountains, taking 70 prisoners of war.
Within months, Taureg in Mali had joined the rebellion, tearing
up their 2006 ceasefire agreement, however the Mali government
responded swiftly and saw a ceasefire there in December 2007.
The conflict continued throughout 2008, however by early 2009
it was becoming clear that the Niger Movement for Justice's aim
of securing their objectives was making little progress. With
the local population suffering from the economic stagnation due
to the conflict, a collapse of any tourism in the region and an
increasing number of refugees in Adadezm, the leadership of the
NMJ split, peace talks were convened and an uneasy ceasefire
declared in May 2009, effectively ending the rebellion.
The United Nations stepped in to help repatriate some 20,000
refugees with their World Food Program distributing food and
other humanitarian aid, however the affected area continued to
be under a state of emergency until the end of August 2009
allowing the Niger government to ban gatherings and make
'preventative' arrests to secure the ceasefire. Today there are question marks as
to whether the Tuareg are allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb, however are not considered Arabic themselves. The short video documentary above shows pictures and images
of the recent Tuareg rebellion together with more background
information whilst the video opposite provides a pro-Taureg
perspective, a people with a home.