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).

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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).


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.