July 30, 2008

Niger's Human Rights Groups Take the Government to Task

Human rights groups in Niger took an important step today toward getting some clarification on where all the money is going in the deals between China's national petroleum organization (CNCP) and the Niger government.

This suggests heightened levels of popular action to fight government corruption through civic agencies. Government officials' appropriation of public funds is one of the main factors that has limited development in Niger. Neglect for development of areas inhabited by the Tuareg people in the north (jobs, education, medical care, economic programs, and environmental safety and conservation) has been one of the main motivating factors in the current Tuareg-led conflict.

China struck up a $5 Billion dollar deal on June 3, 2008, to exploit Niger's oil, and now, Nigeriens are beginning to question where the $300 Million dollars in up-front "signature bonuses" are going. The rights groups are organized into a "Network of Organizations for Transparency and Budgetary Analysis" (ROTAB). (Reuters, July 29, 2008)

ROTAB has called for a parliamentary investigation of the $5 Billion dollar oil contract. The rights groups are concerned that the funds won't be used to benefit the people of Niger, because the deal was made in secret, and Niger government officials refuse to explain to people how the money will be used. A mining union in Niger said that not only was the deal made in secrecy, but it was made with impunity, "with contempt for regulation" (BBC News, July 30, 2008) Analysts have noted that in many African countries, funds from foreign resource exploitation have benefited the political elites, without disclosure of where the funds went. (AsiaNews/Agencies, July 31, 2008)

During the colonial era, African populations never gained any significant development because their natural resources were appropriated by European colonizers. (BBC July 30, 2008) After Independence, the new African power elites have been making the deals for mineral exploitation, but still, development is sorely lacking in many areas. (See TCN's article on Neocolonialism in Niger, here.) Numerous energy-hungry countries around the world are vying for contracts and offering lucrative bonuses to government officials for contracts in Niger's mining and oil concerns. Enormous funds are going into government coffers, but they are not being parlayed into development projects to benefit the people.

The Tuareg-led Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) has been asking similar questions over the past year and a half. MNJ has alleged that the up-front cash advances that China provided the Niger government for uranium exploitation went into the pockets of the power elites, instead of being spent on development for the country. (MNJ, December 9, 2007) The MNJ also accuses China of supplying weapons to Niger in exchange for uranium concessions. (Reuters, July 29, 2008).

The Tuareg-led MNJ claims that the reason they took up arms in February 2007 was because the government kept refusing to listen to their demands for development and an equitable distribution of income from the uranium deals. The MNJ is an armed political movement that says they want a democratic voice, and inclusion of all ethnic groups, including the Tuareg people who have been marginalized for decades. The Niger government has labeled the MNJ "bandits" and "terrorists" because they have used illegal force, including attacks on military installations, to try to get negotiations with the government. The Niger government has refused to acknowledge that there is a rebellion in the north, refuses to open a dialogue with the MNJ, and has been pursuing a military solution to silence the MNJ's claims.

Government corruption has been an ongoing challenge in Niger, and the U.S. has made efforts on several fronts to try and help Nigeriens combat corruption, according to reports from the Department of State. If corruption could be tackled, there would be more funds for development of the country.

For example, before Niger's president announced a "state of alert" in August 24, 2007 when travel to the north became restricted, the U.S. was participating in youth-oriented programs throughout Niger to help bring awareness to corruption issues, and to promote peace and tolerance between groups, as well as freedom of the press, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of State. (U.S. DOS May 23, 2008).

On May 2 & 3, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Niamey helped organize a 2-day workshop to promote freedom of the press, something the U.S. did last year, as well. (American Embassy, Niamey, May 2-3 2008 announcement) The government of Niger has had heavy restrictions on journalists over the past year, and has jailed and threatened journalists with the death penalty for reporting on news that is not authorized by the government. (See TCNs article on the Climate of Repression in Niger, here.)

Also, the U.S. has provided $23 Million funding and public diplomacy programs to Niger, in part, to help government officials identify corruption and combat it, through the "Threshold Program" signed on March 31, 2008. (MCC March 17, 2008) USAID will administer the program in Niger. "The U.S. government funds programs to reduce corruption through activities such as strengthening the legal framework, improving public procurement systems, and supporting civil society and media anti-corruption efforts." (U.S. DOS May 23, 2008)

The rights groups in Niger, Network of Organizations for Transparency and Budgetary Analysis (ROTAB), are demanding to know how the Niger government is going to spend the $300 Million it has already gotten from China in signature bonuses for signing the oil contract. They say there hasn’t been any transparency. Niger has been one of the world's poorest countries for years, even though it's a major producer of uranium and soon will become a major producer of oil, too. Why does Niger remain so poor, even with all the income from uranium and oil exploitation? Where is the money going?

"Official corruption" was one of the government abuses cited in the U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights for Niger for the year 2007 (U.S. DOS March 11, 2008). "Government respect for human rights decreased during 2007," says the report, citing extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force by the army, arbitrary arrests and detention, interference by the executive branch of government with the court system, restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of movement, forcible dispersal of demonstrators, and violence against women. All these abuses have been documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which cited the rape of Tuareg women, forced "disappearances" of Tuareg civilians, slaughter of Tuareg civilians and their livestock, burning of Tuareg homes, schools and food stores, as well as mass graves of Tuareg civilians. (See TCN's article on the human rights situation in Niger, here, and a recent update, here.) Official corruption, considered a human rights abuse, increased during 2007.

According to the U.S. Department of State report, corruption in Niger "remained pervasive" in 2007 (U.S. DOS March 11, 2008). Judges feared they would be reassigned if they gave decisions unfavorable to the government, and kinship, clan and ethnic ties influenced court decisions; big-time criminal suspects were let go, and they could leave the country if they wanted to. Military personnel demanded bribes at checkpoints throughout the country, and civil servants demanded bribes from citizens for processes requiring bureaucratic red tape. Even though there are laws against corruption in Niger, "officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity," and the World Bank said that "corruption was a severe problem." Such practices were described in the DOS report as "a culture of impunity."

Among the corruption cases cited in the DOS report were embezzlement of $53,600 by the director of the government-owned city planning and construction corporation; $205,000 by the president of the Niamey city council, $89,000 by the president of the city council of Maradi, just to mention a few. (U.S. DOS March 11, 2008). In May 2007, Niger's government was dissolved after a "no confidence" vote in parliament, following allegations that the Prime Minister Hama Amadou and his cronies embezzled $1.2 Million dollars of international aid that was intended for Niger's impoverished schools. (IHT, May 31, 2007) He resigned in 2007 but remained in charge of the governing political party MNSD. In July 2008 the former Prime Minister was tear-gassed and violently arrested and jailed on new charges for embezzling nearly $240,000. He says the charges were trumped up to keep him from running for president in the upcoming elections, and to pave the way for the current president, Tandja Mamadou, to illegally extend his presidential term another five years without opposition. (TransWorld News, June 27, 2008)

Over half of the people of Niger struggle to survive off less than $1 a day (UN Common Database: 60.56% in 1995), and many are malnourished. This includes the majority of the Tuareg people in the north, living on the seasonal pasture lands where contracts have been handed out for foreign uranium mining, where there has been little government-funded development for decades. In 2005, some 3.5 Million Nigerians were reported by international agencies as malnourished and starving, and the government denied there was a famine.

A Gallup Poll of 1,000 Nigeriens that was conducted a year ago in August 2007 showed that people's trust in the integrity of the media and confidence in their government had dramatically declined since the previous year. Only a little over half (57%) of the people had confidence in the media, and less than half (47%) had confidence in the government. Two out of three Nigeriens say that government corruption is "widespread." Nigeriens have become increasingly less confident in the honesty of elections (46%) and the judicial system (49%). (Gallup Poll, July 22, 2008)

The United Nations has also pointed to the role of corrupt government leaders in connection with drug trafficking in West Africa. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), says that the drug cartels that have set up smuggling bases in Mali and Niger are fueled by "corruption in local governments and authorities." (Fletcher Pascal, Reuters, July 10, 2008)

Some foreign donors have been putting pressure on the Niger government to fight corruption, and a few citizens and civil society organizations have been trying to do something about it, although corruption in Niger's political and legal systems make people fearful of speaking out.

The U.S. has been providing funds and training to help Nigeriens remedy the corruption, through the new "Threshold Program" that just started this year. Citizens and officials have been afraid to speak out in the past, fearing government retributions. But now, it seems, the human rights organizations in Niger are finally beginning to come into their own, encouraged, in part by the American anti-corruption programs. This is a positive step in the direction of achieving a more democratic governance, but the rights groups must now follow through to achieve their goal of government transparency.

If the people of Niger can get control over the corruption problem, there's a chance that the country's income from uranium and oil could provide some much-needed development for the entire country, including the Tuareg people who live in the middle of the uranium mining area in the north, who are living in abject poverty, as well as the many Tuareg refugees who have fled in fear of the army's killing and torturing of civilians over the past year.

The human rights groups have made a good start. The move toward democratic processes must come from the people themselves.

For a good introduction to the problem of government corruption in African countries written by a Kenyan student, click here. (Business Daily Africa July 28, 2008)

For an incisive overview of China's role in Africa, with commentary on China's role in promoting government corruption, click here. (MailOnline UK, July 18, 2008)

Sources:

American Embassy, Niger
U.S. Sponsored Media Workshop on Press Freedom.
May 2-3, 2008.
http://niamey.usembassy.gov/

Amnesty International. December 19, 2007.
Niger: Extrajudicial executions and population displacement in the north of the country.
http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/niger-extrajudicial-executions-and-population-displacement-north-country

AsiaNews/Agencies. July 31, 2008
Protests in Niger Over Oil Extraction Deal with China.

http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=12896&size=A

BBC News. Will Ross.
Outcry Over China-Niger Oil Deal. July 30, 2008

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7534315.stm

Business Daily Africa. Mfonobong Nsehe (Kenyan student, communications major).
Leaders' Excesses Will Sink Africa Into Deeper Poverty. July 28, 2008.

http://www.bdafrica.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9020&Itemid=5821

Fletcher, Pascal. Reuters. July 10, 2008.
World Must Act to Halt Drugs Threat to West Africa -UN
http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnBAN046389.html

Gallup Poll. Magali Rheault. July 22, 2008.
Trust in Government, Media Declines in Niger.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/108982/Trust-Government-Media-Declines-Niger.aspx

Human Rights Watch. December 19, 2007.
Niger: Warring Sides Must End Abuses of Civilians.
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/19/niger17623.htm

IHT. International Herald Tribune. Associated Press.
Niger's Government Dissolves After No Confidence Vote. May 31, 2007.

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/06/01/africa/AF-GEN-Niger-Government-Dissolved.php

MailOnline. UK. Andrew Malone.
How China's Taking Over Africa, and why the West should be VERY worried.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1036105/How-Chinas-taking-Africa-West-VERY-worried.html

Massalatchi, Abdoulaye. Reuters. July 10, 2008.
Thousands Protest In Niger Against Power, Food Woes
http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnL10394992.html

MCC Millennium Challenge Corporation
Niger Launches $23 Million Millennium Challenge Threshold Program to Promote Girls’ Education, Combat Corruption, Reduce Red Tape

March 17, 2008

http://www.mca.gov/press/releases/documents/release-031708-niger.php

Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) Blog.
http://www.m-n-j.blogspot.com/

Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ)
The man worth 3.5 million. December 9, 2007.
http://www.m-n-j.blogspot.com/

PANA. June 16, 2008.
Amnesty International Nails Niger Over Extra-Judicial Killings.
http://www.afriquenligne.fr/news/africa-news/amnesty-international-nails-niger-over-judicial-killings-200806166786.html

Reuters, Abdoulaye Massalatchi
Niger groups condemn $5 bln oil deal with China
July 29, 2008

http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKL943557920080729?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0

TransWorld News.
Former Niger Prime Minister Hama Amadou Arrested on Corruption Charges. June 27, 2008.

http://www.transworldnews.com/NewsStory.aspx?id=51872&cat=5

U.N. Common Database

http://globalis.gvu.unu.edu/indicator_detail.cfm?IndicatorID=50&Country=NE

U.S. Department of State
Niger: Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports 2008
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
May 23, 2008
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/afdr/2008/104740.htm

U.S. Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007
March 11, 2008

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100497.htm


July 18, 2008

Who are the Tuareg people?


Photo of a lovely Tuareg girl in Niger, by professional photographer Jason Hall, extremeboh, on Flickr.


Who are the Tuareg people?

The Tuareg people are Berber-speakers who trace their ancestry to the indigenous peoples of North Africa in ancient times. They share the same language family as the Berber-speakers of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Tuaregs live primarily in Niger, Mali, Algeria and Libya, with diasporas in many surrounding countries.

Like most of the people in the northern third of the African continent, the Tuareg people adopted Islam over the past few centuries. Because they are Muslim and herd camels, many Americans and Europeans have confused them with Arabs. But the Tuaregs are not Arabs, and they do not descend from Arabs. Although they adopted some Arab customs in connection with herding practices, Tuareg social traditions are very different from those of Arabs, and they do not claim any affinity with Arabs. They identify themselves as Berber-speakers - Amazighan (pronounced slightly different in each region).

Tuaregs, like other Saharien peoples, including the indigenous African peoples who formed the basis of ancient Egyptian society, describe themselves as "the red people," in contrast to other Africans who are "white" or "black." The ancient ancestors of the Tuaregs lived west of the Nile Delta; they traded with the Egyptians, and several of their leaders ruled pharaonic Egypt for over 200 years.

The Tuareg homeland today is in the Central Sahara, where they have lived for several thousand years since their ancestors began migrating from the northern Sahara following colonization of coastal North Africa by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs.

About 100 years ago, the Tuareg people were divided up into separate countries, under separate administrative governments and artificial national boundaries established by French colonizers. Massacres of Tuareg people began over 100 years ago when they repeatedly resisted French colonial rule. Ever since the independence of these former French colonies, Tuaregs have been minority groups within modern nations ruled predominately by members of sub-Saharan ethnic groups, and Tuareg marginalization and exclusion has continued to the present.

Many Tuaregs were routinely denied food aid and medical care during the major droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, when thousands of Tuaregs and their livestock died from deliberate neglect, and their territories have been excluded from economic development.

They are among the world's most impoverished and disrespected people, and yet they are widely admired for their historic position as sovereigns of the trans-Saharan trade routes in pre-colonial times, and for their bravery in warfare. They are known as the "Blue Men," for their indigo-dyed garments which leave dark blue pigment on their skins, and as the "Knights of the Sahara" for their generosity, desert hospitality and respect for women.

"Endangered Minds of Niger's Future Generation" Al Jazeera

"Human Cost of War in Niger" - Al Jazeera

July 11, 2008

The Tuaregs at "Ground Zero" of Climate Change



Photo credit: (MNJ) Captain Asharif Mohamed-Moctar.
MNJ claims Asharif, Vice-President of MNJ, was taken alive by the Niger army during MNJ operations that destroyed two MI 24 helicopters that President Tandja had bought with public funds, one crashed at Arlit and the other was brought down at Amar n-Ibliss.
Tandja had sent the helicopters to try to destroy the MNJ base
at Tezirzayt on June 28, 2008, but Tandja's plan failed.
The Niger government claimed that Asharif died in the fighting.
But his body was not recovered. MNJ suspects that the Army is keeping him a prisoner of war.
MNJ has vowed to step up their efforts if they find out he was harmed or killed by the Army after being taken alive as prisoner.
MNJ has abided by international agreements and treated prisoners of war with respect, and releases prisoners of war unharmed.
Asharif ("Asha") is missing in action.


THE TUAREGS AT "GROUND ZERO" OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Last night, the Tuareg-led MNJ (Niger Movement for Justice) staged a commando raid and mortar attack on the military post and governor's headquarters in Agadez (regional capital of northern Niger), according to today's MNJ website article, which also features a photograph of an MNJ soldier hoisting a rocket launcher. They say this is only a prelude to what is yet to come. Independent news from Niger is impossible to obtain, since the government of Niger has banned freedom of the press, has forbidden any reporting on the conflict in the north, and has jailed and threatened with the death penalty numerous French and Nigerien reporters who have attempted to report on the conflict.

According to posters on the Agadez-Niger Forum (an Internet blog), it was said that MNJ fighters attacked in massive numbers in vehicles equipped with heavy artillary, launched rockets, and sent the soldiers fleeing in 80 military vehicles back toward Niamey, the capital of Niger. One blog poster also claimed that sporadic gunfire is still being heard in the city tonight; another rumored that the governor's headquarters had been destroyed; and another speculated the MNJ may have taken hostages. (Update: A poster on the Agadez-Niger Forum offered a provisional death toll from the fighting, which they said was confirmed informally through local Agadez sources: 37 military personnel dead, including 3 stationed at the governor's headquarters, and the rest presumably at the military garrison. The same poster also said there were skirmishes between mutinous soldiers and pro-Tandja soldiers. Agadez-Niger Forum, July 12, 2008).

The only authorized sources of news from Niger are certain government officials, and since they represent the state position on the conflict, they are likely to be biased. (Update: The governor of Agadez later told Radio France International that the MNJ raid involved "rocket and heavy weapons fire" but the damages and casualties were not "serious." - Reuters July 12, 2008).

Last week, MNJ also took down two helicopters sent out by the government of Niger to attack the MNJ base at Tezirzait, according to their website. Niger's president continues to deny there is any rebellion, a year and a half since the start of the fighting, and doggedly refuses to open a dialogue.

Shortly before the MNJ attack on Agadez yesterday, and some 700 miles away, 30,000 Nigeriens marched in the streets of Niamey, protesting ongoing electricity blackouts and significant increases in the price of basic foods, in the same country that made international headlines in 2005 when 3 ½ million of its citizens were starving. Back in 2005, Niger's president denied there was any famine. The people want to know: Why is Niger the world's third largest supplier of uranium, which provides cheap electricity for their former French colonizers, but Niger continues to be one of the world's poorest countries, and lacks reasonably priced food and reliable electricity? (Reuters July 10, 2008).

Many Nigeriens have important reasons for being discontented and angry at the government. In the north, many Tuareg families today are hungry, frightened, and fleeing their homeland following months of violent conflict, where the government has targeted the ethnic group living in the midst of the uranium regions, and sent its army to commit human rights abuses, arbitrarily arrest them, burn their homes, slaughter their livestock, poison their wells, rape, torture and kill them, all documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (Amnesty International Dec. 19, 2007; Human Rights Watch Dec. 19, 2007; PANA June 16, 2008).

The strategy of Niger's leadership seems to be aimed at emptying Tuareg communities where Chinese and other countries' uranium and oil interests have lined his pockets. He is using the public coffers to buy war toys to fight with the Tuareg-led movement for justice, while neglecting the hungry, angry, confused people across Niger. In his determination to deny famine, deny political grievances, and deny the rebellion, he has let Niger go to pot.

In the past year the president of Niger has handed out contract after contract to numerous companies in China, France, Japan, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the U.S., to exploit Niger's material wealth -- uranium and oil, buried in the ancient territories of government-oppressed Tuareg people. For each contract he has accepted funds, guaranteeing the exploitation of natural resources that have yet to be mined and drilled, and that can't be mined and drilled, because the Tuareg-led MNJ is fighting for justice for the people of Niger -- for a distribution of the uranium funds that will ensure development of the country.

The Tuaregs don't agree that they should be living in abject poverty and starving, when they are living on land that is rich with uranium. They want food, jobs, schools, education, and development. Others in Niger feel the same way. Why is Niger continually suffering from food insecurity and severe poverty, when it has all these resources? Where is the money going?

With the uranium and oil proceeds, the president of Niger has purchased millions of dollars of weapons, including expensive helicopters and hired mercenaries (the MNJ website says one of the helicopter pilots was Moldavian), for the sole purpose of attacking Tuareg insurgents and terrifying the Tuareg nomad families and gardeners who live around the Azawagh Valley and the Air Mountains, to "finish off" the rebellion, rout the Tuaregs out of the mining areas, and make way for foreign investors to exploit the uranium and oil.

The Niger power elites have continually framed the MNJ fighters as "bandits" and even "terrorists," in a bid to gain military support from the same world powers who have bought into the uranium and oil contracts.

But the MNJ fighters have a clear goal: they want justice, and they are willing to fight for it, since the Niger power elites are deaf to their grievances; blind to the reality of malnutrition, starvation, and high food costs; and have failed in their responsibility as governors to provide basic food security, energy, and development for the people.

The United Nations has also begun to look more critically at the activities of government leaders in West Africa: According to Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the drug trafficking problem detected in West Africa in 2004, and the drug cartels that have set up smuggling bases in Mali and Niger, are fueled by "corruption in local governments and authorities." (Fletcher Pascal, Reuters, July 10, 2008)

In early June, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on conflict, Jan Egeland, traveled through conflicted Mali and Niger to visit the "ground zero of vulnerable communities struggling to adapt to climate change," and he noted that the rural people are apparently "feeling very marginalized from the development process," which is an important source of the conflict. He said that "the UN could and should do more to help with reconciliation at the local level, local development and empowerment for farmers and agricultural communities in the north and pastoralists." Egeland also said, "There are people here who are advocating for a military solution to the rebellions, armed attacks and smugglers," but he points out that "The army is a solution against smuggling and drug trafficking certainly, but legitimate social, political and cultural grievances cannot be met that way. They require investment, development and dialogue." (IRIN, June 2 & June 4, 2008)

SOURCES:

Agadez-Niger Forum (discussion blog)
Riposte du MNJ: Agadez à feu et à sang. July 11, 2008.
http://www.agadez-niger.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3059

Agadez-Niger Forum (discussion blog)
Attaque d'Agadez: Bilan 37 Morts. July 12, 2008.
http://www.agadez-niger.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3066

Amnesty International. December 19, 2007.
Niger: Extrajudicial executions and population displacement in the north of the country.
http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/niger-extrajudicial-executions-and-population-displacement-north-country

Egeland, Jan. IRIN. June 4, 2008.
United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks
West Africa: Sahel Climate Change Diary - Day 2
http://allafrica.com/stories/200806040692.html

Fletcher, Pascal. Reuters. July 10, 2008.
World Must Act to Halt Drugs Threat to West Africa -UN
http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnBAN046389.html

Human Rights Watch. December 19, 2007.
Niger: Warring Sides Must End Abuses of Civilians.
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/19/niger17623.htm

IRIN. June 2, 2008.
United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks
http://allafrica.com/stories/200806021260.html

Massalatchi, Abdoulaye. Reuters. July 10, 2008.
Thousands Protest In Niger Against Power, Food Woes
http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnL10394992.html

MNJ Blog. July 12, 2008.
Attack on the military company and the governorate of Agadez.
http://www.m-n-j.blogspot.com/

PANA. June 16, 2008.
Amnesty International Nails Niger Over Extra-Judicial Killings.
http://www.afriquenligne.fr/news/africa-news/amnesty-international-nails-niger-over-judicial-killings-200806166786.html

Reuters. July 12, 2008.
Niger Rebels Attack Northern Town With Mortars.
http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnBAN251582.html

April 09, 2008

Tuareg University Students Take Up Arms

Tuareg university students? Yes, indeed, the Tuaregs are represented in numerous universities around the world! In America, a number of Tuareg men and women have pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees at major universities. Tuaregs are smart and ambitious, and numerous Tuaregs have taken high paying jobs in business, banking, engineering, and university teaching careers in America and Europe. They cannot forget their families and people in the Sahara, and the injustices they suffer in Mali and Niger.

Mano Dayak, the famous leader of the Tuareg rebellions in Niger in the 1990s who was killed in an airplane crash in 1995, was educated at the University of Indiana and at the Sorbonne. He spoke fluent American English and French, in addition to Temajeq and Hausa. He was an ambitious and successful businessman, a renowned Tuareg leader, and a valiant negotiator for peace.

Phuong Tran, reporter for Voice of America, traveled to Mali and Niger in November and December 2007, to find out about the current Tuareg rebellion, and got this story of two Tuareg university students who traveled for weeks in order to join the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ).

* * *

The following article written by Phuong Tran, VOA (Voice of America)
Visit the VOA website to see video clips of the town of Timbuktu in Mali and MNJ fighters in Niger, photo of students, and hear the broadcast -- this is one of Phuong Tran's most interesting articles, from the cultural perspective, following her visit to the Tuaregs, and this video that accompanies her report is particularly worth seeing (click on video link on the website below).

http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-04-09-voa33.cfm

Nigerian Students Clandestinely Join Mountain Rebellion



09 April 2008


In West Africa, ethnic nomad Tuareg rebels last year launched attacks in Niger's Saharan north, demanding more money and power for their desert communities. More than half the country is under a state of alert, making it easier for security forces to arrest anyone suspected of rebel ties. VOA reporter Phuong Tran recently accompanied two Nigerian university students on their clandestine trip to join the mountain rebellion.

Tuareg students Amoumene Ag Haidara and Mohamed Serge Maurice wait at a bus stop with other tourists visiting the desert town Timbuktu, Mali.

But touring one of the world's most ancient cities is not what brought them here.

They are meeting the second in command of the rebel Movement of Nigerians for Justice to get his help to cross over into Niger to join a mountain rebellion.

Mountain rebels have renewed decades-old violence, demanding more power and services for the mostly Tuareg population in the north.

Despite the risks of this clandestine crossing, Maurice does not see another option. He says, "There are injustices and hatred that Tuareg endure, but there is no way we can talk about it openly. No one will listen to us, so there is nothing else we can do but to take up arms."

Tuareg rebels say Niger government officials have neglected nomad communities in the north, even though the region's uranium is one of the country's biggest moneymakers. The government refuses to negotiate with the rebels, calling them drug traffickers.

The rebels say a decade-old peace deal has failed to bring change to one of the most difficult places in the world to live.

The students join rebel leader Acharif Ag Mohamed El Moctar. They continue together to the Mali-Niger border. "But no safety. No security. [switching to French] Mie on s'approche de la frontière, il n'y a pas de la securit é. Ça c'est Claire," El Moctar said.

As we approach the border, the more dangerous it will become, he warns. They finish trip preparations in an abandoned house in Mali.

After a moonlit tire change, the group drives through the night, arriving at a plateau hidden by rocky boulders, within one hundred kilometers of the Niger border. This hideout becomes their base to buy and assemble weapons. Local Tuareg help them buy smuggled oil from Algeria. New military uniforms.

Three weeks and hundreds of kilograms of rice, barrels of oil and cartons of cigarettes later, the students continue to Niger. "When we take off, we will make it safely. God willing, we will arrive," Amoumene Ah Haidara, a rebel recruit said.

The group speeds into Niger, passing within kilometers of military garrisons, without encountering one control post. They stop only once to refuel.

One month after their trip began, the students arrive at the rebels' base in the Air Mountains of Niger. "At university, we debated different theories of social justice and reform. We have always wanted the chance to put into practice those ideas. Now is the time," Maurice said.


April 03, 2008

Amnesty International Documents New Wave of Niger Army Atrocities on Tuareg Civilians

DOCUMENTED: Niger Army Atrocities on Tuareg Civilians

Amnesty International appeals to Government of Niger to IMMEDIATELY END THE NIGER ARMY'S ATROCITIES ON CIVILIANS


SUMMARY: Amnesty International Report documents the following, April 3, 2008:

1. Niger Army new wave of extrajudicial executions of Tuareg civilians in the Agadez region.

2. Niger Army executed at least 8 Tuareg civilians between March 22-25

3. Niger Army launched retaliation attacks on Tuareg civilians

4. Niger Army stole/looted personal property from Tuareg civilians, at Dabaga and Tamazalak

5. Niger Army burned Tuareg civilians' homes and camps, at Dabaga and Tamazalak

6. Niger Army used Tuareg civilians as a human shield against land mines; several civilians wounded as a result, on the Dabaga-El Meki road

7. Niger Army killed 77-year old farmer, Baregha Hada, at Dabaga, near Agadez

8. Niger Army arbitrarily arrested, tortured (mutilated and burned), and killed merchant, Aboubakar Attoulèle

9. Niger Army arbitrarily arrested, severely beat (with rifle butts), and shot 66-year old gardener, Mohamed El Moctar, at Tabouhait

10. Niger Army shot 3 other people, at least, including two on March 22, 2008 at Tamazalak

11. Niger Army abducted 4 people, including Al Wali, village head of Tourayat, March 30

12. REFUGEES: Residents of Dabaga and Tamazalak have fled to take refuge in Agadez. Other villagers have fled into the mountains to avoid roads where the military are carrying out arbitrary civilian arrests.


13. FREEDOM OF SPEECH THREATS TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS: Elected officials at Dabaga threatened by soldiers, who accused them of having provided information relating to the atrocities that were committed by the Army.


14. Land mines - Amnesty calls for an end to land mines used by both the Niger Army and the MNJ



April 3, 2008


Niger: executions and forced disappearances following reprisals carried out by the Army


Amnesty International is very concerned about the new wave of extrajudicial executions committed by the Nigerien Army in the Agadez region, which has been shaken for more than a year by a rebellion led by an armed opposition group, the Movement of Nigerians for Justice (MNJ).


"We urgently appeal to the Nigerian authorities to immediately give orders to the security forces to put an end to extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances of civilians in the north. The government must open an investigation on these facts, bring those responsible to justice, and provide reparations to relatives of those victims," said Veronique Aubert, Deputy Director of the Africa Program on April 3, 2008.

At least eight civilians were arbitrarily executed between March 22-25, 2008 following clashes between the MNJ and the Nigerian army. In the context of these confrontations, several soldiers were killed and several army vehicles were destroyed by mines. Following these human and material losses, the army launched a retaliation attack against the civilian population, executing and arresting civilians, and seizing personal property from residents of the local community.


Amnesty International has learned that on one occasion, on March 26, 2008, on the Dabaga-El Meki road, soldiers forced civilians to drive in a vehicle in front of the military convoy, in order to protect the military against possible antipersonnel mines on the road. Despite this, the military vehicle was unable to avoid a mine and the vehicle was damaged. The driver and two passengers of the civilian vehicle, which was leading the convoy, were beaten by the soldiers, who accused them of having been trained to ambush them. The convoy got started again on the road and a little later, the civilian vehicle was blown up by a mine. The soldiers then took the wounded to a medical clinic.


Baregha Hada, a seventy-seven year old farmer, was returning from pasture with his donkeys on March 25, 2008, when he was extrajudicially killed by soldiers in the town of Dabaga (Agadez region).


Another civilian was tortured before being killed. A merchant, Aboubakar Attoulèle, called Kouzaba, was arrested by soldiers on March 26, 2008. According to information received by Amnesty International, this man had his ears cut off, and his head and hair burned, before being stabbed.


Another civilian was severely beaten before being shot. Mohamed El Moctar, a sixty-six year old gardener, was arrested in his camp located at Tabouhait, on March 24. The soldiers beat him with their rifle butts before slaughtering him. Three other people, at least, were killed by bullets, including two on March 22, 2008 in the village of Tamazalak.


"If the security forces have the legitimate right to respond in a manner proportionate to armed attacks, they can not blindly attack defenceless people," says Veronique Aubert, Deputy Director of Program Africa, on April 3, 2008.


In addition, these extrajudicial executions are a violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that: "The right to life is inherent in the human person. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." There is no exception to this right under any circumstances even in a state of emergency, which is currently in force in the region of Agadez.


Amnesty International has also been informed of several cases of forced disappearances and arrests. Four people including Al Wali, village head of Tourayat, were abducted on March 30 by the military and, in spite of their searches, their families have been unable to obtain any news of their relatives who "disappeared" since then.


The Niger Army soldiers had also stolen personal property from the villagers, and then burned their homes and camps, notably at Dabaga and Tamazalak. Residents of both villages have fled to take refuge in Agadez. Other villagers have fled into the mountains to avoid roads where the military are carrying out civilian arrests.


Amnesty International has also learned that elected officials in the region of Dabaga were threatened by the soldiers, who accused them of having provided information relating to the atrocities that were committed by the army.


The organization is also concerned about the use of land mines in the context of this conflict between the Nigerien security forces and armed elements of MNJ since February 2007. Each of these two parties blames the other for the responsibility of the land mines, which have already claimed many civilian and military victims. Amnesty International calls on both sides to put an immediate end to the use of land mines which constitute a danger to all the people moving about, including civilians, who are at risk of losing their lives or limbs if they walk over the mines.


Original article is in French.

TCN translation to English.


Source:

APO - African Press Organization - APPABLOG (original article in French)
http://appablog.wordpress.com/2008/04/03/niger-executions-et-disparitions-forces-suite-a-des-represailles-menees-par-l%E2%80%99armee/
April 3, 2008

March 18, 2008

Abe Lincoln in the Sahara


"We will bring our confrontation to the heart of the country, in the heart of this monster that absorbs all the soul of a democratic country whose sons have shed their blood, to emerge as "the power of the People by the people and for the people." -- Tuareg-led Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), March 18, 2008


Abe Lincoln in the Sahara

The news blackout continues in Niger, and the only news about Tuaregs these days comes from news releases from Niamey to the international press, or else the Tuareg-led rebels' internet site. Both local and international journalists have been incarcerated and threatened with the death penalty for attempting to report impartially on the rebellion in the North. The Niger government refuses to open a dialogue on significant social, economic and political issues that the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) has made public through its website and through interviews with its representatives which have made international press. The Niger government has persistently labeled the rebel movement "armed gunmen" and "bandits," denying that there is any "rebellion" going on in Niger.

However, the facts speak for themselves: the multi-ethnic, Tuareg-led MNJ is a modern army with political objectives. Their actions over the past year reveal that they are a well-trained and highly successful military organization with a focused, clearly articulated political agenda. They have attacked numerous military installations, appropriated substantial government arsenals and vehicles, and taken dozens of military hostages, including government representatives. Their range of operations extends well beyond their Air Mountain stronghold, to Tanout in the south -- and this week, just 125 miles north of Niamey at Banibangou in the far west. They have initiated one successful attack after another, and have demonstrated that they are a substantial force to be reckoned with. Niger's army has been defeated repeatedly.

A daring pair of French reporters made a clandestine visit to the MNJ headquarters in northern Niger a few weeks ago. On French TV they aired candid views of MNJ President Aghaly ag Alambo seated amid some of their prisoners, including the Prefet of Tanout (see TCN news summary in the left-hand sidebar; view photo story here). The video footage reveals what appears to be a well-organized military operation, MNJ soldiers in uniforms, substantial sophisticated weaponry, rigorous training programs, and a calm, focused leader.

The actual number of MNJ forces is unknown, but according to their website, as of seven months ago they had over 2,000 fighters. They have received more fighters since then, including many soldiers who have defected from the Niger army and the FARS (the Tubu-led Forces armées révolutionnaires du Sahara), headed by Commandant Kindo Zada. They are a multi-ethnic force that includes Hausa army officers.

MNJ has an elite commando unit, the TIR (Troupes d'Intervention Rapides) that has staged many highly-successful commando-style surprise attacks, for example, the Agadez airport last summer and the major military installation at Tanout in January to mention a few. Many MNJ members were trained by U.S. marines as part of the Pan Sahel and Trans-Sahara anti-terrorism initiatives in 2003-2006. One source suggests that all 130 members of the U.S.-trained Niger Rapid Intervention Company defected from the army to join the MNJ. The MNJ, then, appears to be far more than "armed gunmen" or a "tribal army," but a modern military organization with seasoned soldiers trained in the best of traditions, by the American military. What makes the Tuareg-led MNJ formidable vis-à-vis the national army is their heritage of native navigation capabilities and combat experience in the Sahara, in addition to their sophisticated military training with U.S. marines and their ability to mobilize their units quickly, efficiently and effectively. In short, the MNJ is well-equipped and well-prepared to handle security issues in the Sahara. It has been suggested that Niger would do well to create a special force of these skilled trackers and fighters, and use them to protect the country's borders, instead of waging war on them (Thomas-Hensen and Fick 2007).

MNJ says that it is pro-democracy, and the reason they are fighting is because there is no democracy in Niger: the national government is a sham, a cruel and corrupt dictatorship run by a few political elites who have created a climate of repression and fear in the general population through threats, intimidation, arrests, rape, torture and extrajudicial executions (all of which have been documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Dec. 19, 2007).

According to MNJ (March 18, 2008), there is no legitimate government in Niger. The current regime came into power through the criminal assassination on April 9, 1999 of the people's democratically-elected president, Mainassara Baré, and then the same criminals put themselves in power and wrote a new constitution absolving themselves of the crime. Amnesty International (2000 report) called for an investigation, but there never was one. MNJ says that those in power in Niamey are the very criminals who assassinated the legitimate president, and therefore, MNJ does not recognize them as a legitimate government.

From the perspective of MNJ, there are no democratic channels they can go through to pursue their claims peacefully, because there is no democratic government in Niger. They claim that Niger is a government of unpunished crooks and assassins operating outside the Constitution, who create ethnic hatred, promote inequality, oppress the people and embezzle public funds instead of putting the funds toward the country's development and alleviation of the dire poverty in Niger. They claim that the current regime persistently abuses human rights and suppresses freedom of speech so that citizens are afraid to speak out, identify and discuss the issues.

Following their successful attack Monday, March 17, 2008 on the administrative post at Banibangou just 125 miles north of Niger's capital at Niamey, MNJ says it is dedicated to the establishment of true democracy in Niger, and they will continue their fight: "We will bring our confrontation to the heart of the country, in the heart of this monster that absorbs all the soul of a democratic country whose sons have shed their blood, to emerge as "the power of the People by the people and for the people," referencing a famous statement by American President Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, which is reproduced below:

"Four score and seven years ago [1776, the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence] our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war [1861-1865, the American Civil War], testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war [Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where a decisive battle was fought July 1-3, 1863; it was the battle with the most casualties, often considered the turning point of the American Civil War]. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people [democracy], shall not perish from the earth." (Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address dedicating a national cemetery to those slain in the battle there.)

Sources:

Amnesty International
Niger: The Right To Justice. [Call for investigation of Pres. Mainassara Baré's April 9, 1999 assassination.]
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR43/001/2000
2000 report

Amnesty International
Niger: Extrajudicial executions and population displacement in the north of the country.
http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/niger-extrajudicial-executions-and-population-displacement-north-country
December 19, 2007

Human Rights Watch
Niger: Warring Sides Must End Abuses of Civilians.
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/19/niger17623.htm
December 19, 2007

Mouvement Nigerien pour la Justice (MNJ)
The Constitutional Lies of an Illegitimate Regime.
http://www.m-n-j.blogspot.com/
March 18, 2008

Thomas-Hensen, Colin and Maggie Fick
Foreign Assistance Follies in Niger. CSIS Africa Policy Forum. (Center for Strategic and International Studies).
http://forums.csis.org/africa/?p=59
Sept. 4, 2007

VSD
Jean-LucManaud.
Pourquoi les rebelles touareg se battent. Photo story.
http://www.vsd.fr/contenu-editorial/photo-story/l-oeil-de-vsd/57-niger-pourquoi-les-rebelles-touareg-se-battent

Wikipedia
Second Tuareg Rebellion. [Note: None of the sources referenced in this article by the statement that all 130 members of the Niger Rapid Intervention Company defected from the army to join the MNJ actually contain that information; therefore, while it could very well be true, the information remains merely an opinion or suggestion until the source is properly verified.]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Tuareg_Rebellion


March 06, 2008

Tuareg Concerns About Uranium Mining In Niger


Photo: Map showing areas of Niger affected by uranium mining and aquifer depletion.
Photo credit: Targuinca

All of the areas on this map have been the traditional homeland of the Tuaregs for hundreds of years.
The blue area denotes the Agadez Aquifer (Grès d'Agadez) water table (groundwater).
The Azawagh Valley, an immense drainage basin where Tuaregs pasture their herds in the summer, and where many Tuaregs currently live, extends over most of this map except for the Air Mountains (in orange) and the areas south of Agadez. Much of the Agadez Aquifer is also part of the Azawagh Valley.
The dark purple lines denote areas where the government of Niger has awarded uranium permits.
The light purple lines denote areas where more permits might be awarded because they may have uranium.
The orange-brown area is the Air Mountain range.
The yellow areas are sandy areas and dune beds outside the aquifer zone, where many nomads also currently live. Wells (small circles) are distributed throughout.
The dark purple square near Arlit shows the location of Areva uranium mines for the past 40 years.
Paved roads are denoted by darker black lines; the other lines are dirt roads and tracks.

Why are Tuaregs in Niger concerned about uranium mining in their areas?

Tuaregs in Niger are concerned about the uranium mining in the areas where they live because it affects them in several significant ways.

The uranium companies exclude the impoverished local Tuareg people from employment opportunities in the mining industry, but even more importantly:

(1) uranium mining produces cancer-causing radioactive waste, including radon-infused gas and dust that pervades the groundwater ("aquifer") that Tuaregs drink, as well as the seasonal pasture lands where Tuaregs herd their livestock; and

(2) uranium mining makes extensive use of groundwater to process the uranium, depleting the aquifers, resulting in a low water table, dry wells, and a severe shortage of drinking water for both people and livestock.

(3) uranium mining poses an acute threat to the Tuareg way of life; within the next two decades they will no longer be able to survive in their homeland due to radioactive pollution and aquifer depletion.

Water scarcity is a critical factor for the survival of livestock-herding nomads in the desert environment, and in just the past few decades, the uranium industry has dramatically hastened the critical point at which the Tuaregs will no longer be able to survive in their homeland because of radioactive pollution and the depletion of water aquifers caused by the uranium industry.

Where do the Tuaregs live, and how do they nomadize?

Map, showing where the Tuaregs live in the central Sahara, with the Azawagh Valley marked: (Air-Voyages-Niger)
http://www.air-voyages-niger.com/Air%20medias/Map-touareg.jpg

Map, showing network of river-beds in the Azawagh Valley: http://italy.indymedia.org/uploads/2005/07/niger-map.jpg (Indy Media)

Peoples living in the northern and central Sahara have been engaged in livestock herding for thousands of years. Nine thousand years ago, the Sahara was not a desert; it was green and relatively lush, with forests and grasslands spreading across the top third of Africa, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. The Sahara is as large as the United States, and is shared by eleven African countries.

Farming and pastoralism developed in the Sahara by around 8,000 years ago -- not long after it emerged in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dates reveal that inhabitants of the central Sahara were already expert at managing wild Barbary sheep as early as 8000-8900 years ago (Hull 1998:84), and in the Adrar Bous and Arlit (Azawagh Valley) areas (Niger) by 5000-6000 years ago (Hull 1998:88). Sheep and goats seem to have been the main herds in early times. Starting about 7000 years ago, cattle were raised in some parts of the central Sahara. Many early (difficult to date) rock carvings and paintings display strong symbolic connections with livestock. Some sites suggest that local transhumance patterns (movement from a dry-season home area to a summer-season pasture area) were well-established thousands of years ago.

As a result of global warming, the Sahara began the slow process of transformation from well-watered woodland savannah to sparsely-watered desert at the beginning of the Holocene around 10,000 years ago, accelerated around 8,000 years ago with the introduction of farming, and wound into high-gear around 5,000 years ago, making it increasingly difficult over the next few thousand years to raise cattle in the Sahara.

By about 2,000 years ago, the ancestors of Tuaregs in the northern Sahara had adopted the camel as a means of transport and major milk producer in lieu of cattle, and with the drying of the Sahara, gradually migrated further and further south, into the Ifoghas (Mali), Ahaggar (Algeria), and Air (Niger) mountain regions where there is greater pasture and water availability, enhanced by the Azawagh Valley drainage system which produces abundant rainy-season pasture.

Tuaregs today raise camels and goats; they also keep sheep, and some Tuaregs keep cows, as well. Cows and sheep are grazers (depend on ground-vegetation, grass), whereas goats and camels are browsers (they can reach up and eat higher vegetation such as leaves on trees and bushes). Cows and sheep are the first to go in a drought, since they depend on grass; camels and goats can survive a drought better, because they can eat leaves on trees and bushes.

In Niger, Tuaregs live in the "northern" part of the country, most of which is north of the 100 mm isohyet -- an artificial line that delimits the areas of very low annual rainfall, less than 100 millimeters throughout the year, that defines the Sahara (some scientists include areas as far south as the 150 mm isohyet in the Sahara, or even as far south as the 200 mm isohyet). By contrast, the area south of the Sahara called the Sahel has rainfall up to 800 mm per year. The Sahel is a transition area between the Sahara in the northern third of Africa, and the African savannahs to the south of the Sahara.

A major geographic feature of "the North" in Niger is the vast Azawagh Valley (Eghazer, "basin"). It is an immense drainage system extending from the Air Mountains, west of Agadez, north of In Gall, encompassing Arlit, all the way north to the Algeria-Niger border, and west, toward the Mali-Niger border. All of the uranium mines are in the center of this enormous region.

The Azawagh Valley produces seasonal grasses and plants and standing ponds of water with a high mineral ("salt") content that is nourishing for livestock. For hundreds of years it has been the practice of many Tuareg groups in Niger to move their herds to the Azawagh Valley from July to September during the summer transhumance, in order to take advantage of the abundance of vegetation there to feed their flocks during the rainy summer months.

During the rainy season, the main source of drinking water for people and animals are the temporary ponds that collect rainwater. After the seasonal vegetation there is exhausted in September, Tuareg families move back to their "home well area" at a distance from the Azawagh Valley, and slowly circulate with their herds during the nine-month dry season around a well to which their extended family has rights.

During the dry season, the main source of water for people and animals are the home wells, and water availability depends on the level of the underground water table and associated "aquifers" (underground water). Toward the end of the dry season, in April, May and June, the dry pasture around home wells begins to run out, the water table becomes low, and Tuaregs anxiously await the return of the rainy season so that they can move their herds to the Azawagh Valley and nourish them.

Tuareg dairy herders normally manage their herds so that camels give birth during the rainy season, when there will be plenty of pasture for lactating camels to sustain their offspring. The success of Tuareg dairy pastoralism in Niger depends on this complex cycle of transhumance, making use of the seasonal water and pasture supplies in the Azawagh Valley.

In the Sahara, rainfall is erratic and unpredictable, but Tuaregs have developed extensive patterns of pasture-sharing and well-calculated nomadic movements to maximize the available pasture and water in the Sahara. They have been able to survive in this hostile environment for hundreds of years, as a result of carefully-planned use of the available environment.

The Azawagh Valley and its seasonal mineral-enriched rainfall-water and pasture availability are key to Tuareg survival. But so is the water from wells, which comes from deep underground aquifers.

The ecological balance of water availability and herd management is fragile, and the uranium mining activities are steadily undermining the ability of the Tuareg people to making a living in their homeland. Within 20 years, groundwater sources will be exhausted through steady depletion caused by the uranium exploitation process, and the Tuaregs will not be able to survive the nine-month dry season which depends largely on the availability of (safe and abundant) groundwater to sustain people and herds for most of the year. Moreover, the water and land of the Azawagh Valley is being polluted by the uranium exploitation process, putting people and animals increasingly at risk for illness, cancer, stillbirths, and genetic defects.

Why does uranium mining deplete the groundwater?

Copious amounts of water are used in a variety of ways in the process of extracting uranium ore from the earth and processing it into convenient lumps of "yellowcake."

With "open-pit mining" techniques (conventional mining), the soil and rock ("overburden") on top of the underlying uranium-laden rock is removed by blasting and drilling, and water is extensively sprayed to suppress airborne particles, to reduce the workers' exposure to inhalation of radioactive dust. With "underground mining" techniques, shafts and tunnels are dug into the ground, and water seeps in and becomes perfused with radioactive and toxic waste. This is the most expensive method, because of the associated cost of blasting, drilling, digging and hauling, and because it is a lot slower.

With " leaching" techniques, liquids (solutions that combine caustic acids with water from wells that tap underground aquifers) are pumped into "injection wells" placed on one side of the uranium deposit, forced through the deposit, and then sucked up through "recovery wells" on the other side of the deposit, and thus leach out the uranium which emerges mixed with the large amounts of water pumped through the deposit. The large amounts of waste liquids must then be dumped somewhere, and they seep into the groundwater. This type of uranium extraction is the only type of uranium mining currently practiced in the U.S., and in the U.S. it is accompanied by environmental impact studies because the ground water can be affected adversely. This type of extraction is also the one most widely preferred, because it is the cheapest -- no extensive digging of volumes of overburden. Also, uranium companies get their uranium a lot faster this way.

What are the risks of uranium mining?

Uranium ore emits radon gas. During the 1950s in the U.S., after large deposits of uranium were discovered on Navajo reservations, mining companies hired a lot of Navajo Native Americans to work in the mines. Many Navajo miners developed small cell carcinoma as a result. Uranium mining also releases radioactive dust into the air and across the land. Uranium mining waste products from both conventional mining and from "leaching" procedures pose a great risk to people, animals and plants, through the pollution of aquifers -- the groundwater that seeps into wells, where people get their water for drinking and for watering livestock and gardens.

Where are the uranium mines in Niger?

For forty years, the French mining company Areva has been exploiting uranium around Arlit. Recently, the government of Niger issued mining permits to China, to explore for uranium and establish mines around Teguidda n-Tesumt and In Gall, south of Arlit. Numerous additional permits have been awarded to India, Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia and others for uranium exploration from the area around Agadez, to the west of In Gall, and in all of the areas north to the border with Algeria. Nearly all of these areas are right in the middle of the great Azawagh Valley which is key to the survival of most of the Tuareg people in Niger.

Where are the aquifers that are affected by the mining industry?

The Agadez Aquifer (Grès d'Agadez), the major water table (nappe in French, groundwater, aquifer) in northern Niger, extends throughout the area where uranium mining permits have been awarded, from the Falaise de Teguidit (south of In Gall and Agadez), to Agadez, all along the western Air Mountains, up to Arlit, and west to In Abangharit and Mabrouk. This is an enormous area, one that has been key to Tuareg pastoral nomadism for hundreds of years. This vast aquifer, which represents clean water collected in the ground over hundreds of thousands of years, is being depleted and polluted by the uranium mining companies in order to extract uranium that will be used to produce electricity and nuclear weapons in richer nations of the world. In order to gain some perspective on the enormity of the problem, please refer to the map below, which is a .pdf file accessed on the Internet:

Map showing the affected aquifer regions in Niger:

http://www.targuinca.org/documents/carte-nappe-concessions-uranium.pdf


Download a 53-page report prepared by Tchinaghen on the situation, "The Uranium Malediction: North-Niger, Victim of Its Riches"
http://tchinaforum.free.fr/DossierTchinaghen.pdf

Issouf ag Maha's organization, Tchinaghen: http://www.tchinaghen.org/article-15807934.html

Other sources:

Hull, Augustin F. C.
1998 The Dawn of African Pastoralisms: An Introductory Note. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 17(2):81-96, December 1998.