July 30, 2012

“The 2012 Tuareg Revolt:  Regional Identities and Barriers to Reconciliation” – Barbara A. Worley, Ph.D.

© Copyright Barbara A. Worley 2012
Please type the citation to this article as follows:

Worley, Barbara A.
2012  “The 2012 Tuareg Revolt:  Regional Identities and Barriers to Reconciliation.”  Tuareg Culture and News.  July 30, 2012.  Accessed on the Internet  (add date) . http://tuaregcultureandnews.blogspot.com/2012_07_30_archive.html

“The 2012 Tuareg Revolt:
Regional Identities and Barriers to Reconciliation”

Prof. Barbara A. Worley
July 30, 2012


In the first half of 2012, the Republic of Mali was plunged into three conflicts: 
(1) Tuareg separatists in the north (National Movement for Liberation of Azawad, MNLA) undertook a revolt against Mali and declared the independence of the northern portion of Mali, which they call Azawad.
(2) During the fighting, a military junta in the south toppled the Mali government at Bamako, followed by a failed counter-coup.
(3) Tuareg jihadists in the north (Ansar al-Din), who had been fighting alongside the Tuareg revolutionists, took control of the north from MNLA.  Ansar al-Din was joined by its parent group, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and AQIM’s newest offshoot, Movement for Uniqueness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).  The three militant Islamist groups began implementing strict Sharia practices in Azawad, drove MNLA out of the major cities, and announced their intention to spread Sharia across the rest of Mali.   


South versus North

The 2012 “Tuareg revolt” in Mali is often characterized as an identity split between “the south” and “the north.”  Tuaregs, who are the predominant population of the north, have said that the long history of injustices and abuses against their people, along with southerner’s racialized hostility toward Tuaregs, makes it impossible to reconcile the two regions. 

Illustrations of the Regional Divide

“The first two days of February will remain forever in the history of our people. No one will forget these two days when Malians in the south drove Tuaregs from their homes, shouting "Death to the Tuaregs!"[1]

On February 1-2, 2012, families and friends of Malian soldiers began filling the streets and attacking Tuareg civilians, businesses, homes, and vehicles in Bamako, Kati, Segou, Sikasso, Koulikoro, and Gao.[2]  They were reacting to the deaths of soldiers in the north.  Tuareg sources reported that the attacks began on February 1 at a large Tuareg-owned pharmacy in Kati near the military base.  Mobs began a looting rampage, burning Tuareg homes and chasing Tuareg families, shouting "Death to the Tuaregs!"  

A Tuareg woman, Miriam[3], whom I have known since 2008, is a member of a large Tuareg family that has businesses and homes in Bamako and Kati, including the pharmacy at Kati.  Miriam and her husband, a Malian army officer, were living in Kati at the time of the uprisings.  Their home across from the Kati army base was looted and burned.  Everyone in their extended family was targeted because they were Tuaregs, according to Miriam.  There is a video of the looting on YouTube[4].  The video shows, at 0.47 minutes, a policeman riding through the looting scene on a moped.  Tuaregs allege that military and police did nothing to stop the rioters or to protect the Tuareg civilians who were being attacked.  In panic and fear, Tuareg families began fleeing Mali immediately.  They could no longer trust the state to protect them from fellow citizens.

According to Tuareg sources, an important factor in the mass exodus of refugees was the violence and hostility directed toward “anyone white who might look like a Touareg or an Arab of the Azawad.”[5]  Eyewitness Assan Midal, a Tuareg who works as a tour guide in Bamako, said “I saw with my own eyes people being attacked, stores getting looted, cars being set on fire.  People with light skin (Arabs and Tuaregs) were being targeted.”[6]  President Amadou Toumani Touré felt the need to urge Malians not to “confuse” Tuareg civilians with the Tuareg rebels.  The threats and damages to homes and property belonging to Tuaregs were so alarming, that “many senior Tuareg officials and ministers were forced to take refuge in neighboring countries.”[7] 

I have included the above accounts because they graphically illustrate the nature of regional divisions in Mali in photographs, video, and eyewitness testimony.  Among peoples of “the south,” there exists intense hostility against peoples perceived as having “white” skin color, specifically Tuareg people.  This hostility is not limited to the events of February 1-2, 2012.  The Tuareg people say they have been living in fear of hatred and exclusion since Mali’s independence from France in 1960. 

Skin Color and Regional Divisions

In Mali, the south-north division appears to be based on southerner’s perceptions of northerners’ skin color.   Tuaregs with whom I have spoken tell me that the southerners characterize themselves as “blacks” and they think of the Tuaregs and Arabs as “whites.”  Tuaregs, the majority group in the north, say that Tuaregs are the principle target of the southerners’ animosity.

Religion is not a factor.  Some 90% of the people of both southern and northern Mali are Muslim, with the remainder animist, and 1% Christian[8].  There are cultural differences between southerners and northerners, but the southerners seem focused on the northerners’ skin color. 

Over the decades since colonialization and independence, racialized discrimination based on skin color has become a dominant theme in the split between south and north Mali.  Conflicts between southerners and Tuareg people over the past two decades have brought this black/white consciousness into intense focus.  Especially with the 1990s Tuareg rebellions, the peoples of southern Mali began characterizing Tuaregs in terms of a black-white racial dichotomy, according to Tuareg sources. 

Southerners – the predominant Bambara, along with the Songhay – view themselves as “blacks.”  Today, the southerner’s perception of “whites” lumps Tuaregs (who do not think of themselves as “white”) with Arabs.[9]   This term “white” is not a compliment.  It is used as a pejorative, in a discriminatory way.  The term “white” historically stems from a usage for Arabs[10].  According to Tuareg sources, this is because people in the south tend to think of Arabs and Tuaregs as “the same people,” and cannot tell them apart – much the way that most Westerners do.  Both Tuaregs and Arabs wear turbans and ride camels.  But they are not “the same people.”

The skin color factor is significant in understanding the regional hostility – but racism is a symptom of the more serious frustrations that the citizens of Mali have been facing since independence:  seriously damaging corruption by political elites that impedes real progress toward democracy and economic development.  Corruption exists in all countries; but in a country where the majority of people live on a dollar a day or less, high levels of corruption are seriously damaging to the morale and functioning of society as a whole.  The corruption in Mali has kept the country poor, even though Mali has significant resources in gold, uranium, and oil. 

Unfortunately, racism can become a powerful motivator for frustrated citizens.  Racism is a means of excluding a sector of the population based on skin color.  In a democracy, everybody needs to be included.  For decades, the national government in Mali, dominated by the Bambara in the south, has stigmatized, excluded, and abused members of the Tuareg population.  Tuaregs feel that it is based on their skin color. 

Factors such as racial or ethnic hatred may not be the ultimate cause of conflict.  However, they can lead to mass rioting and genocide.   Tuaregs feel that numerous massacres and summary executions of Tuareg civilians over the decades are a sign of ongoing genocidal tendencies that could erupt into something bigger at any time. 

The Northerners

Paradoxically, only a small percentage of the people in the north view themselves as whites, and these are the Arabs.  The majority population in the north (as much as 90 percent, by some accounts[11]) is Tuareg.  Most Tuaregs view themselves as “red” (ichaggaghan, in Temasheq).[12]   Tuaregs whose ancestors were slaves view themselves as “black” (ikawellan).  These are known as Bella, the Songhay word for ‘slaves’ which was applied to them by French colonialists.[13]

The north includes several other peoples:  Songhay, Fulani, and Arabs.  The Songhay view themselves as “black.”  The Fulani view themselves as either “red” or “black,” depending on the particular group.  Only a small percentage of the population in the north actually regards themselves as “whites,” and these are the Arabs. 

Like all humans, the Tuareg people have a mixed genetic background.  Geneticists have determined that the ancestors of Tuaregs over the past 10,000 years came together as a group in the Sahara from 4 different regions: Europe, Western Asia, East Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.[14] [15]  Tuaregs have a wide range of “light” and “dark” skin color because of this diversity.  

From the Tuareg perspective, however, skin color is not the major determinant of their identity.  Tuaregs identify themselves as people whose native language is the Tuareg language, Temasheq.  Tuaregs do not call themselves “Tuaregs[16],” but Kel Temasheq, ‘people who speak Temasheq.’

The Tuaregs are Not Arabs

The Tuaregs are not the same as Arabs.  This crucial point escapes many Westerners, as well as many Malians.  Tuaregs are indigenous peoples of North Africa, and Arabs originated in Saudi Arabia.  Tuaregs speak a Berber language[17], and Arabs speak Arabic[18].  Tuaregs are “red” or “black,” but not “white” like Arabs.

Differences between Tuareg culture and Arab culture are enormous.  For example, Tuareg women have a public presence, do not wear veils, and have political positions and influence, whereas Arab women are often sequestered, wear veils, and do not have a public presence.  Tuaregs practice courting before marriage, allow women to divorce, and regularly assign custody of children to their mothers, which is not normally the case for Arabs in Mali. The treatment of women is a major divide between Tuaregs and Arabs. 

Both Tuaregs and Arabs ride camels, but their camel saddles are entirely different; the Tuareg camel saddle has a tall, highly decorated back and a large three-pronged structure on the front to hold onto, while the Arab camel saddle lacks these features.  Both Tuareg and Arab men wear turbans, but Tuaregs use part of the cloth from the turban to veil their faces, to maintain respectful social interactions[19].  Tuareg men wear long pants that cover their ankles; Arab men prefer shorter pants that show the ankle.  Tuaregs may wear mustaches, and sometimes beards, but prefer clean-shaven faces otherwise; Arabs in Mali usually prefer full-length beards, and this is related to religious beliefs. 

The most significant difference between Tuaregs and Arabs, apart from the status of women, has to do with religion.

The Tuaregs practice a different kind of Islam than Arabs, although both are Sunni Muslims.  Tuaregs practice a moderate or “tolerant” form of Islam of the Malikki school that is significantly combined with animistic spiritual beliefs and worship of saints, which in some areas is connected with mystical, Sufi Islam.  I have been told that this type of “tolerant” Islam is practiced by nearly all of the other peoples of Mali, with the exception of Arabs, who prefer Sharia to regulate everyday problems.

Tuaregs believe in God and in saying their prayers.  But they do not practice Sharia.  Tuaregs have a strong moral code, ashaq, in Temajeq – ‘respect’ for others.  Tuareg morality places a strong injunction against men hitting or raping women, or harming them in any manner.  Tuaregs as a rule do not use violence on their children as punishment.  Tuaregs do not believe in stoning, flogging, or cutting off the hand of a thief, and they are adamantly against that sort of ideology. 

From the Tuareg perspective, Arabs practice a “different kind of religion” – “it’s not the Islam we were bought up with,” Tuaregs say.  “The Tuaregs are Muslim, but do not know Sharia.  We are an open people, and our culture, morals, and customs do not go with Sharia.”[20] 

Playing the “Slavery Card”

Western media accounts often assume that the hostility of peoples of the south toward the Tuaregs is about a grievance having to do with “historically ruthless slave-raids.”[21]  The “slavery card” has often been played against the Tuareg to sway Western support against them.  However, we must keep in mind that raiding, trading, and keeping slaves was practiced by many peoples of Africa, and by ancestors of practically all the cultural groups in Mali.  The dominant Bambara culture in Mali were no exception:

“One pagan state that was a major supplier of slaves was the Bambara state of Segu, located on the banks of the Niger River and founded in the early seventeenth century in the wake of Songhay’s disintegration. Its first ruler, Kalajan Kulubali, attracted a following of young men who ravaged the countryside. . . . Bands of men would waylay caravans, or kidnap children and the occasional farmer in his field. . . . So many slaves were taken in these campaigns that Segu became a major source of slaves for the European slave-ships in the Senegambia basin.”[22]

The “slavery card” is a propaganda tool that is used for certain purposes:  to stigmatize a people unjustly, to motivate Westerners and others to sympathize with the accusers, and to downplay or ignore the legitimate grievances of the people who are accused.  The United States, along with many European countries, also has a history of slavery.  It is a history that we share with many African peoples.  Like Americans and Europeans, African peoples are making the effort to move past that history.  

The Other Problem:  Islamism and Extremism

There is a third “identity” conflict between the armed Islamists and everybody else.  As it stands now, heavily armed jihadists have control of more than half of Mali.  They are applying strict Sharia – with shocking results similar to those of the Taliban in Afghanistan – and have stated their intent to continue to spread.  Since 2003, AQIM has been targeting European and American travellers in the Sahara, to kidnap them for ransom.  In July 2012, the extremists announced their intention to bring their jihad to the U.S.[23]  Azawad has become a center of the global terror threat.  Reconciliation of south and north is impossible with extremists in control. 

The spread of armed Islamism is germaine to understanding the overall conflict in Mali.  Islamism is about “religion,” but it can also have to do with the promotion of significant political and economic networks.  The application of strict Sharia is a means of controlling a population by individuals who wish to monopolize the political and economic networks. 

The expansion of Islamism in West Africa has been explained as “a growing conflict over culture and identity that has economic and political as well as social and cultural applications.”[24]  In southern Niger, for example, the Izala Islamist movement has been replacing traditional Sufi Islam since the early 1990s[25].  Women’s seclusion and veiling are now common practices in areas where this movement has spread.  In Mali, along with the spread of Islamist religious ideology come certain forms of political control and economic enterprise. 

For the past decade, the Islamist terror group AQIM[26] originating in Algeria, has been connected with the multi-billion dollar narcotics, weapons, and cigarette traffick[27] across the Sahara.  This lucrative business is supplemented by occasional kidnappings[28] of Europeans for ransom.  Tuaregs have alleged that AQIM also gets funding from certain people or countries, including Algeria and Qatar[29] [30].  One observer is dubious[31], but admits “Anything remains possible.”[32] The network of certain powerful Arab families in Mali and Algeria involved in the trans-Saharan traffick has been described in detail[33], but the relationship of this network with AQIM is unclear. 

AQIM began to operate in Mali nearly ten years ago and gradually built up its force.  Tuaregs have alleged that Tuareg army soldiers on patrol discovered an AQIM installation within fifteen kilometers of a Malian army base, and were told by their commanders to ignore it.  Tuareg sources claim that certain Malian government and military officials were supporting AQIM, and that Mali has not cooperated with the U.S. in fighting it.  AQIM, with  a secure foothold in Mali, took advantage of the Tuareg struggle for independence to capture the north, through superior weaponry and financing.

Ansar al-Din[34] is an offshoot of AQIM and is controlled by AQIM.  Tuareg sources allege that Iyad ag Ghaly controls the traffick through Azawad.  The Ansar al-Din group consists of only about two dozen Tuareg individuals, largely relatives and clan members of Iyad ag Ghaly, along with several hundred Arabs and Songhay individuals[35].  The Ansar al-Din group, founded by Tuareg Iyad ag Ghaly, is an anomaly.  It is the only armed Islamist group that has any Tuareg members.

Islamism has been vigorously rejected by Tuaregs, because of the enormous restrictions and changes it would impose on Tuareg culture.  Islamism would destroy Tuareg culture.  Tuareg cultural identity is heavily invested in values that honor women and promote tolerant Muslim practices.  The exception to this pattern is the emergence of the Ansar al-Din group.

The underlying political motive of the Tuareg-founded Ansar al Din group, which is said to be financed and supported by the terror group AQIM originating in Algeria, appears to be more than simply “religion.”  Many Tuaregs[36] feel that the real purpose of the Ansar al-Din group is to assist AQIM in controlling the trans-Sahara narco- and weapons-traffick, as well as the kidnapping of Westerners for ransom. 

In addition to the Tuareg-led Ansar al Din group, certain Arab clans, as well as AQIM and MUJAO[37], are assisting Ansar al Din in enforcing strict Sharia on Tuaregs in Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao, as a means of controlling the population, according to the accounts of many Tuaregs.  Certain Arab clans in Mali, connected through trans-national networks centered in Algeria, control the trans-Saharan traffick[38]


Westerners have been confused about the reasons for the Tuareg revolt.  From the Tuareg viewpoint, the MNLA revolution is not simply about Tuaregs – it is about nationalism.  With the understanding that “the north” is not 100% Tuareg, the leaders of MNLA have emphasized that they are multi-ethnic, and that their goal is a secular, democratic nation. 

The problem of reconciliation

The Tuareg people have been subjected to massacres, stigmatization, and exclusion for over 100 years.  The French subdued them with great difficulty, because the Tuaregs resisted.  Since independence, the Tuaregs in Mali have rebelled against the state in 1962-1964, 1990-1996, 2006-2009 and 2012, in attempts to gain autonomy and relief from what they have experienced as an oppressive government.

Because the Tuaregs were seen as a threat to French control, they were placed off-limits following colonization.  Tuaregs remained inaccessible to researchers until the 1980s;  Kidal was largely off-limits after that because of the rebellions.[39].  This explains why there was so little anthropological fieldwork among Tuaregs until relatively recently.[40] 

Over the years the Tuaregs have been the target of acute economic and political marginalization, as well as serious violations of human rights that have never been investigated or recognized by the international community.  The Tuaregs have lived in fear of retaliation if they speak out and pursue these claims.

I present here (see Appendix I) a testament to the history of injustice during the rebellion of 1990-1995 showing a day-by-day account of pillaging, massacres of civilians, and extrajudicial executions of Tuaregs committed by Mali, including an “anti-white” demonstration against Tuaregs.  These deep wounds present an enormous problem for reconciliation, one which the Tuaregs say is impossible.  

Next, I present (See Appendix II) testimony given to me personally by a 27-year old university-educated Tuareg refugee[41] from the Timbuktu region who was among the people interviewed by Erin Burnett for CNN on the July 24, 2012 broadcast.

Finally, I would also like to include a reference to the testimony (See Appendix III) of one of the senior MNLA commanders, Colonel Machkanani[42].   He provides a personal account of government atrocities he experienced, recorded at Gao in early April, 2012

Short Biography

Barbara Worley is a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.  She teaches a wide range of anthropology courses, including Peoples and Cultures of Africa.  Dr. Worley has an M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in New York.  Her current research is focused on the 2012 Tuareg crisis.  She is writing a book on Tuareg culture and identity.

Prof. Worley has 38 years of experience working with Tuaregs in Niger, Mali, and Algeria.  She has undertaken extensive fieldwork totalling nearly four years living among Tuaregs.  She has driven overland through much of West and North Africa and the Sahara, including   Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Mali, and Senegal.  She conducted fieldwork in Temasheq, the Tuareg language.  She speaks French, and studied Hausa, Arabic, and Pharaonic Egyptian for her earlier linguistics studies of Temasheq.  Her research encompasses other peoples and cultures with whom the Tuaregs have social relations, especially the Hausa, Fulani, Arabs, and Songhay. 

Prof. Worley’s fieldwork and research have been funded[43] by several agencies and institutions.  These include Fulbright-Hays, the Social Science Research Council, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.  She has received faculty grants through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Austin Kelly III research grant and Richard Carly Hunt Memorial Fellowship), as well as travel and research funds through the University of Massachusetts. 


1990-1995 History of pillaging, massacres of civilians, and extrajudicial executions of Tuaregs committed by Mali, including “anti-white” demonstration

HISTOIRIQUE JOUR PAR JOUR de tous les massacres commis par le Mali de 1990 à 1995

27/07/90 Massacre of 12 elderly, near Tejerert
12/07/90 Massacre of 22 people at Tawarde, among the refugees returned from Algeria
29/07/90 7 Tuaregs murdered and 12 arrested, at Alkit
22/08/90 12 Touaregs murdered at Zakak
24/08/90 Public execution of 11 Tuaregs including a woman, at Gao
26/08/90 Execution of 5 Tuaregs at Menaka
27/08/90 Execution of 9 Algerian Tuaregs at Kidal and Fanfi
12/08/90 Execution of 3 people at Kidal
13/08/90 Massacre of 62 people at Sehene and 1 at Kidal
23/08/90 Execution of 9 people at Tadaloq and 1 at Gao
23/09/90 Execution of 8 people at Inakarot and 1 at Tin-Essako
28/04/91 Pillaging of Tuareg and Moor families at Gao, 2 dead, deportation of 325 people at Intahaqa
12/05/91 Execution of 35 people and demonstrations at Timbuktu
14/05/91 Pillaging at Sévaré
15/05/91 Vandalism at Diré, Goundam and Bamako on Tuaregs and Moors
16/05/91 Pillaging at Douentza
17/05/91 Pillaging at Niono
22/05/91 Attack on Goundam: 15 dead; rebels: 2 dead and 1 wounded; 37 notables publicly shot at Léré
28/05/91 Execution of 9 people at Larneb
12/07/91 Execution of 3 people at Menaka
15/07/91 Massacre of 25 people at N'Garma north of Léré
27/07/91 Execution of 36 people at Ain Sebil near Timbuktu
31/07/91 Massacre of 36 people around Timbuktu
13/08/91 3 FIAA fighters assassinated by the army at Timbuktu, after the peace accords. 
19/09/91 Massacre of 72 people at Fatihamane, Goundam
12/12/91 Death of 12 people at Timbuktu
5/03/92    Execution of 9 people at Léré
12/03/92 Execution of 13 people at Farach, Goundam
15/03/92 Execution of 9 Tuareg bellas at Léré
16-17/05/92 Summary execution of 12 people at Gossi
28/06/92 Installation of the President, Alpha O. KONARE; Execution of 12 people at Djindi, Goundam
17/06/92 4 nomads killed at Garbamé
22/06/92 14 people killed at Bourem
27/06/92 Execution of 9 people at Gao
22/07/92 Execution of 14 people at Fia, Bourem
25/08/92 Execution of 4 people at Barghabé, Gourma
28/01/93 Execution of 5 Nigerien Tuaregs at Menaka
25/02/94 Assassination of 1 person by l'ARLA [militia] at Inminas, near Gao
21/04/94 4 Tuaregs executed at Menaka, and demonstrations
12/05/94 Execution of 5 young Tuaregs at Diré and 13 at Tessit
26/05/94 Assassination of 9 camel herders near Tacharane, attributed to MPGK
27/06/94 7 integrated fighters, throats slit by their colleagues in the army at Gourma Rharous
9/06/94   Massacre of 6 people at Niafunké and 2 people burned at Tonka
12/06/94 Massacre of 26 Tuaregs and Moors at Andéramboukane
17/06/94 Attempt to assassinate the customs guide at Kidal
12-29/06/94 Massacre of 52 civilians at Timbuktu
19/06/94 Massacre of 72 people at Ber, “anti-white” demonstrations at Mopti: 2 deaths
16/08/94 Massacre of civilians at Dofana, 22 deaths
25/12/94 Assassination of Jean-Claude BERBERAT and 2 of his colleagues of the Coop Suisseat Niafunké
13/12/94 Massacre of 42 civilians at Bintagoungou
22/12/94 Gao: 15 civilian deaths
23/12/94 Massacre of more than 53 Tuareg and Moor civilians at Gao and at a village of Kel Essuk, including the elderly chief
??/11/94  16 Tuaregs executed at Intahaka, of which 5 were women
30/11/94 16 notables of kal Ihkakane executed at Rharous
13/12/94 Massacre of 18 people at Amasakor, Niafunké
26/04/95 Execution of 17 Tuaergs at Izilili, near Ménaka


Testimony given to me personally by a 27-year old university-educated Tuareg refugee[45] from the Timbuktu region who was among the people interviewed by Erin Burnett for CNN on the July 24, 2012 broadcast.

We need the International Community to know that there has been a genocide in northern Mali from 1963 to 2012 – especially from 1990 to 1996.  What was happening in northern Mali during this time was only surpassed by Rwanda

I remember in 1991, the army of Mali came to my village two days after a rebel attackAt that time, I was a child. They took all of the high-level Tuaregs who worked with the Norwegian Church Aid (NEA) and they assassinated all of them between Gossi and Gourma Rharous. The survivors who escaped before the army got to their homes included my big brother, [name protected] and my uncle, [name protected]. Both are still alive, and are refugees in Burkina Faso.

Tuareg families, livestock herders, were murdered by the Malian army without anyone knowingAnd afterward they said on the radio they had killed rebels.  The [village] markets were closed on account of the “red skins” or “rebels.” 

A militia of Songay was formed to exterminate the Tuaregs who lived in villages.  The militia that killed Tuareg civilians was called cocadje, which in Bambara means “cleansing.”  

The cities where they raped and massacred are Gossi, Rharous, Gourma, Lere, Timbuktu, and Gao.  At Gao, many Tuaregs were burned.  

If we had hard feelings, we would kill all of them them without thinkingBut we must forget all of this to deal with our friends the Songhay. Mali is trying to sway Songhay by telling them that the Tuaregs regard the Songhay as slaves.

The Tuareg people are faced with fighting Mali, Algeria, certain Arab and Songhay militias, and terrorists.  We have no choice left.

I am asking the International Community to settle the Tuareg’s problems.”


Filmed testimony of one of the senior MNLA commanders, Colonel Machkanani.   He provides an account of government atrocities he personally experienced, and reasons for the rebellions. 

The recording was made after the MNLA victory at Gao in early April, 2012, before the Islamists took over. 

I went to Libya as a youth in the early 1970s [during the drought] to train in the army, and later returned to Mali to take part in the 1990s revolution.  The men [of my unit] were arrested and most of them died after being tortured between 8 AM-2 PM, by army soldiers using electricity, along with deprivation of water and food. 

After that, the soldiers brought in an 85-year old traditional chief of one of the Tuareg tribes, along with ten youths, to be tortured in the same manner.  We were kept bound in prison.  The elderly chief was accused wrongly; he was innocent.  They killed him by torturing him repeatedly. 

The soldiers then dismembered the ten youths, cutting off their arms and legs, and beheading them.  The few men who survived were made to applaud each time the soldiers killed one of their comrades.  A few of us escaped at one point.  

I am asking the International Criminal court (ICC) to pursue the Malian officers who were the authors of these crimes.  We want justice done for these innocent civilians. 

The following week, the army attacked and burned a village of Tuaregs of the religious caste.  Among them were elderly, women, and children.  The army prevented the media from going there and reporting on it.  The soldiers burned the civilians; not a single one was left alive, including women and children.  The common graves where these people are buried can still be located near Gao. 

We are asking the ICC to undertake an enquiry into these crimes and pursue the perpetrators for which we have proof. 

The soldiers criss-crossed the nomad camps, pouring gasoline and lighting fires, to kill the civilian populations.  They did not even kill them with a bullet; they preferred to use gasoline to save their bullets. 

During this time, the Malian authorities kept journalists from coming to the area.  The world does not know about all these crimes. 

After we were subjected to all of that, the Malian authorities did nothing for us.  They did not try to make things better.  They did not even construct a hospital.  Mali wanted that us, the Tuareg people, to disappear in 1973.  They even poisoned our wells that we have to use for drinking water. 

It is true, there have been many deaths, but the international community is not paying attention, and this wounds us profoundly. 

Even animals are better protected than we are.  There are organizations that defend and protect animals.  But for the Tuaregs, no one cares about them or protects them. 

Thank God for these victories that our fighters have realized.  It is a great thing to liberate our territory.  It is a proof of love for the earth and our ancestors. 

We are asking that the Malian officers who committed these crimes be brought to court, along with those who attacked Tegerert, who committed atrocious crimes, who burned the population, the houses, and the livestock.  The Malian authorities know all of that, and they keep the media from coming to reveal the truth. 

If the ICC comes, we will show the proof of all of it.  The Malian authorities know all these crimes. 

They tied up elderly people and burned them, and put them in common graves. Even animals have more rights than us, why?  While we are peaceful, we do not want to hurt anybody, we do not want any other land, we only seek our interests and the right to exist, free and dignified. 

Now that we are liberated, in our hearts, we have never forgotten the injustices done to our relatives and our people.  It is thus that we have sought a new strategy to liberate our land from the unjust occupation of the Malian army that is killing our population, in the full view of everyone, without any reactions.

[1] Alghatek Ag Emasseye.  February 3, 2012.  “Combats à Tinzawatene, coups de feu à Kidal, tensions à Tombouctou.”  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://toumastpress.com/actualites/actualite/248-combats-tinzawatene-coups-feu-kidal-tensions-tombouctou.html

[2] U.S. Embassy Bamako, Mali.  “Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens – Civil Unrest in Bamako Area.”  February 2, 2012.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://mali.usembassy.gov/emergency_messages2212.html
[3] Miriam is a pseudonym.  Name is protected, for security reasons.
[4] Pillage clinique du Dr. Elmehdy Ag Hamahady.  Uploaded on YouTube February 4, 2012 by Azawad17Janv2012.  1:27 minutes.    Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KXCsuHd9cok
[5] France24.  “Tuareg civilians attacked in Bamako.”  February 3, 2012.  The article includes photographs of the destruction.   Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://observers.france24.com/content/20120203-tuaregs-attacked-malian-capital-retribution-rebellion-north-civilian-foreigners-fleeing-looting-soldiers-bamako
[6] (ibid.)
[7] Salima Tlemçani.  “Rebellion au Nord du Mali:  La crise provoque l’exode de 50,000 Touareg at Arabes maliens.”  El Watan.  February 20, 2012.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://www.elwatan.com//actualite/la-crise-provoque-l-exode-de-50-000-touareg-et-arabes-maliens-20-02-2012-159728_109.php
[8] CIA World Factbook – Mali.  Retrieved on the Internet July 27, 2012.  https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ml.html
[9] This pattern is similar in Niger.
[10] For a discussion of skin color perceptions in pre-colonial south Sahara, see Bruce S. Hall.  2007.  “The Question of ‘Race’ in the Pre-colonial Southern Sahara.”  IN: The Sahara: Past, Present, and Future, edited by Jeremy Keenan. 2007.  London and New York: Routledge.
[11] Census data for Mali does not provide information on ethnicity.  Therefore, all ethnicity numbers provided here come from estimates.  Estimates of the number of people who identify as Tuaregs in northern Mali vary:  anywhere from 50% to 90%.  The 50% estimate is based on a 2008 Embassy cable.  The provenience of the embassy data is unclear.  One source suggested that the embassy’s estimate might have come from town administrative bureaus based on something other than census data.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/04/08BAMAKO371.html. Most Tuaregs insist that the figures for Tuaregs in the north are much higher than 50% of the north’s population.  They say that the Malian government regularly obscures the public’s perception of Tuareg numbers in the north for discriminatory political reasons. Tuareg estimates are well over 50%, and as high as 90% (based on numerous private communications with Tuaregs – names protected for security reasons)
[12] Francophone Tuareg sometimes say that certain Tuareg groups who claim Arab ancestry are considered “white,” including some of the Kel Ansar (Kel Antessar) and certain Ifoghas.  However, anthropologist Dr. Alessandra Giuffrida, who does fieldwork among the Kel Antessar, says they identify as “red” except for descendants of former slaves, who identify as “black.” (personal communication)
[13] Michael Winter.  1984.  “Slavery and the Pastoral Tuareg of Mali.”  Cambridge Anthropology 9(2):4-29.
[14] Claudio Ottoni et al.  2011.  “Deep Into the Roots of the Libyan Tuareg: A Genetic Survey of Their Paternal Heritage.”  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 145:118-124.
[15] Luísa Pereira et al.  2010.  “Linking the Sub-Saharan and West Eurasian Pools:  Maternal and Paternal Heritage of the Tuareg Nomads from the West African Sahel.”  European Journal of Human Genetics 18:915-923.
[16] The word “Tuareg” is not a word in Temajeq. It originated in the early histories of the Sahara written by Arabic speakers who associated a place or group in Libya, Targa, with the Temajeq-speaking population.
[17] Tuaregs speak several dialects (depending on the region) of the Southern Berber language.  The Berber languages are one of the five language families in the Afro-Asiatic Language Family, which includes the Pharaonic Egyptian, Berber, Semitic, Chaddic, and Cushitic sub-families.
[18] Many Arab groups in Mali speak the Hassaniya Arabic dialect.
[19] Robert F. Murphy.  1964.  “Social Distance and the Veil.  American Anthropologist 66(6.1):1257-1274.
[20] Personal communication with a Malian Tuareg of the Kel Antessar group.  Name protected, for security reasons.
[21] Hannah Armstrong.  May 29, 2012.  “Racial Conflict in Mali.”  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://www.currentintelligence.net/analysis/2012/5/29/racial-conflict-in-mali.html
[22] Paul E. Lovejoy.  2011.  Transformations in Slavery:  A History of Slavery in Africa.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.  Pages 74-75.

[23] “Ansar Dine, allié du MNLA menace la France et les Etats Unis.”  Video uploaded on YouTube July 9, 2012 by Bouba Konare.  1:45 minutes.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1OcSRILVc0&feature=related

[24] Robert B. Charlick.  2007.  “Niger: Islamist Identity and the Politics of Globalization.”  IN:  Political Islam in West Africa: State-Society Relations Transformed, edited by William F. S. Miles. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne-Reiner Publishers.   Chapter 2, pp. 19-42.  
[25] Adeline Masquelier.  2009.  Women and Islamic Revival in a West African Town.  Bloomington:  Indiana University Press. 
[26] AQIM is the acronym for al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM in English, AQMI in French), a “terror organization” that originated in Algeria and has spread to surrounding countries.  As of January 27, 2012, AQIM has continued to be officially classified as a “Foreign Terrorist Group” (FTO) by the Bureau of Counterterrorism in the U.S. State Department.  Such an organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism threatens the security of U.S. nationals or threatens U.S. national security.  AQIM, formed in January 2007, evolved from the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), an Algerian group founded in 1998.  Retrieved from the Internet on July 25, 2012.  http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm  Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) are foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended.  http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/index.html.  GSPC, in turn, was an outgrowth of the Algerian group GIA  (Groupe Islamique Armée).  AQIM operates in Algeria, Mali, Mauretania, Niger, Chad, Senegal, and Nigeria.  AQIM’s ideology is described as “militant Islamic fundamentalism.” Ansar al Din (also spelled Ansar Adine) and MUJAO are two splinter groups of AQIM.
[27] For further information on AQIM and narco-traffick:  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://www.jamestown.org/programs/gta/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=37207&cHash=78ef2be13d
[28] For further information on AQIM and kidnappings:  http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/aqim.html
[29]Siwel.  July 27, 2012.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  “Azawad: deux convois militaires algeriens se diregent vers Gao et Kidal.   http://www.lematindz.net/news/8760-azawad-deux-convois-militaires-algeriens-se-dirigent-vers-gao-et-kidal.html
[30] Mossa ag Attaher, spokesman for MNLA, accused Qatar of  “intervening directly in the financing and material of the Islamists in Azawad.”  CNN broadcast, Erin Burnett OutFront.  July 24, 2012.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLf6L_xM6Z8&sns=fb

[31] The MoorNextDoor.  “RE: Canard Enchaîné, Qatar in northern Mali and Algeria”

June 20, 2012.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://themoornextdoor.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/re-canard-enchaine-qatar-in-northern-mali-and-algeria/
[32] TheMoorNextDoor.  “More on Qatar and Algeria and northern Mali: Two reports.” July 27, 2012.  Retrieved on the Internet July 29, 2012.  http://themoornextdoor.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/more-on-qatar-and-algeria-and-northern-mali/
[33] Judith Scheele.  2012.  Smugglers and Saints of the Sahara: Regional Connectivity in the Twentieth Century.  Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press.
[34] Ansar al-Din is a splinter group of AQIM.   It is often spelled the way Tuaregs pronounce it, Ansar Adine, or Ansaradin.  Ansar al-Din, ‘supporters of Islam” or ‘defenders of the faith, was founded by
Tuareg rebel leader Iyad ag Ghali on December 15, 2011. Retreived from the Internet July 27, 2012.  http://www.memrijttm.org/content/en/blog_personal.htm?id=5631&param=GJN http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/01/20121274447237703.html 
[35] Private communication, names protected for security reasons.
[36] Personal communications from Tuaregs in Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso, as well as refugees in Europe and the U.S.; names protected (for security reasons)
[37] MUJAO, a splinter group of AQIM, “is composed of the old Malian militias Gandezo and Gandakoy, along with the Arab militias.”  The quotation is from a closed Facebook group, name protected (for security reasons)
[38] Judith Scheele.  2012.  Smugglers and Saints of the Sahara: Regional Connectivity in the Twentieth Century.  Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press.
[39] Nicolaisen, Johannes. 1963.  Ecology and Culture of the Pastoral Tuareg.  Copenhagen:  National Museum. Page 566 ff.
[40] Several books, mostly historical analyses, that have appeared in recent years include: 
M. T.-F. Maiga.  1997.  Le Mali: de la secheresse a la rebellion nomade.  Chronique et analyse d’un double phenomene du contre-developpement en Afrique sahelienne.  Paris: L’Harmattan.
Pierre Boilley.  1999.  Les Touaregs Kel Adagh.  Dependances et revoltes: du Soudan francais au Mali contemporain.  Paris: Karthala. 
Hureiki Jacques.  2003.  Essai sur les origines des Touaregs: Herméneutique culturelle des Touaregs de la région de Tombouctou.  Paris: Karthala. 
Baz Le Cocq.  2010.  Disputed Desert : Decolonisation, Competing Nationalisms and Tuareg Rebellions in Northern Mali..  Boston: Brill Academic Publishers
[41] Testimony presented to me July 26, 2012.  Name protected, for security reasons.

[42] Video uploaded July 19, 2012 by SuperAZAWAD.  “La révolte ignorée d'un peuple.”   

15:26 minutes.  Dialogue in Temasheq.  Testimony of MNLA Colonel Machkanani.  A history of the rebellions, government atrocities, and reasons for the rebellions; recorded in early April, 2012 at Gao.
[43] I would like to express my deep gratitude to these agencies and institutions for their generous support. I would also like to thank my friend Prof. Carol Henderson (Rutgers University) for her generous feedback on an early draft of this analysis.  I owe a very great thank you to the many Kel Temasheq individuals who have assisted me with information for this analysis (names protected, for security reasons).
[44] List provided by Tuareg sources.  Names protected, for security reasons.
[45] Testimony presented to me July 26, 2012.  Name protected, for security reasons.

[46] Video uploaded July 19, 2012 by SuperAZAWAD.  “La révolte ignorée d'un peuple.”   

15:26 minutes.  Dialogue in Temasheq.  Testimony of MNLA Colonel Machkanani.  A history of the rebellions, government atrocities, and reasons for the rebellions; recorded in early April, 2012 at Gao.