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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Tuareg in Niger

View Group Chronology

Niger Facts
Area:    1,267,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Niamey
Total Population:    9,672,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

The Tuareg in Niger exhibit several risk factors for rebellion, including territorial concentration and regime instability in the recent past. Many of the grievances that sparked the 1990 rebellion have yet to be resolved, although some progress has been made in implementing certain provisions of the peace accord, such as a limited reintegration of former rebels into the police and military. As an example of the government reintegration plan, in 2003, many of the Republican Guard members were former Tuareg rebels. Despite consistent efforts at negotiation, some efforts at reform and transnational support for peaceful change, the Tuareg remain at high risk given the recent rebellion in 2007, which led to a government-imposed three month state of alert for the region. The state of alert has given the government increased powers of arrest.

Risk for political protest is moderate. The Tuareg lack a consistent history of political protest. However, they do suffer from continued cultural and political restrictions, largely due to historical neglect. Additionally, economic grievances remain highly salient. Unlike the Tuareg in Mali, the Tuareg of Niger remained politically organized and represented by various organizations.

The peace is tenuous as insurgency seems to be arising again in the North. The amount of time the government takes to adequately uphold the agreement of the 1995 cease-fire and to provide essential resources for the Tuareg will determine the likelihood of the continuance of peace in the region. As the years go by and the Tuareg remain dissatisfied, they become increasingly prone to violence.

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Analytic Summary

The Tuareg are a nomadic people, a segment of the Berber culture, who traditionally range across areas of the Sahara in Mali, Niger, Algeria and Libya. They are known as the "blue men" because at age 25 men start wearing a blue turban. In Niger, the Tuareg are concentrated in the northern half of the country in the Agadez region (GROUPCON = 2). Tuareg nomads have wandered the Sahara since before the arrival of the Arabs in the eighth century. Their constant struggle to exist in one of the world's harshest environments has bred a passionate devotion to the desert and a strong sense of identity and culture. However, they are slowly becoming more stationary as droughts in the 1980s and 2000s and desertification have impacted their ability to live as nomads. Before colonialism, the Tuaregs ruled much of the Sahel region of the central Sahara after deposing the Songhai rulers of the then-major trading city of Timbuktu (AUTLOST = 1.25). During the 18th and 19th centuries, Tuaregs enslaved black Africans as their servants, laying the foundations for the poor relations that exist between the two populations to this day. In 2003, the practice of owning slaves was prohibited by the government. Slave ownership is now punishable with prison time, although complaints of slave ownership among the Tuareg continue.

Niger was part of French West Africa. Although French efforts at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony. Under colonialism and in post-colonial Niger, the Tuareg became increasingly marginalized and dispossessed. They were hostile to French colonial rule, having been coerced into forced labor, conscripted as soldiers, and dispossessed of grazing lands. They fought a bloody war against the French in 1917, but were suppressed and left without adequate grazing land to remain self-sufficient. The demarcation of French West Africa into separate territories prior to Nigerien independence fragmented the Tuareg, situating them in multiple states: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Libya.

Following independence, the situation of the Tuareg in Niger did not improve, as they remained physically, politically, economically and socially isolated from the new country's centers of power in the south. Governments dominated by the Djerma/Songhai ethnic groups since 1946 subordinated the Tuareg and prohibited the public use of Tamasheq, the Tuareg language. Tuaregs were also drastically affected by the desertification of the Sahel during the droughts of 1968-74 and 1984-85, which resulted in diminished sources of goods and income from trading. Many were forced to migrate to cities, where they were culturally and economically alienated. Completely impoverished, many lived in refugee camps outside of major cities in Niger and Mali. Others migrated to Algeria and Libya.

In the 1980s the governments of Mali and Niger promised resettlement projects if the Tuaregs would return from Algeria and Libya. Those projects never materialized, and the Tuareg found instead a hostile political climate throughout the region. When they spoke out about their dissatisfaction, they were met with repression at the hands of state authorities. The governments of both Mali and Niger refused to assist the drought-stricken Tuareg regions, while they expropriated humanitarian assistance funds designated for the Tuaregs by external donors, failed to inform the international community of the gravity of the situation, and in general ignored Tuareg needs, while directing most development funds to projects benefiting non-Tuareg populations. These inequitable policies fueled the rebellions and resistance movements that developed in both countries in the early 1990s (PROT90X = 3; REB90X = 5).

At the heart of the 1990 Tuareg uprising in Mali and Niger was the protection of Tuareg culture, and the nomadic way of life that sustains that culture. Thousands of Tuaregs affected by drought were forced to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. Many young Tuareg fled north and joined guerrilla groups and the Libyan army, and many elderly fled south to beg in the larger cities. They began to return to Niger in 1990 from Libya and Algeria, and demanded greater autonomy, development projects that would ease the damage wrought by the famine, and an end to their exclusion from local political power. Some returning Tuareg had served in the Libyan army, and brought guns and rocket launchers home with them. They found themselves in trouble with the authorities and attempts to disarm them led to violence and arrests. The conflict soon escalated into a full rebellion, with the Tuareg demanding regional autonomy and development projects for the region.

The FLAA, representing the Tuareg rebels, had been effective both in launching guerrilla insurgencies and in negotiating with the government to promote the group's interest. However, since July 1993, the FLAA has been divided into various factions. The break-up can be attributed to the ongoing rivalry between contending leaders within the FLAA organization and dissent over group objectives. In 1994, there was a series of peace talks between the government and four Tuareg groups in an attempt to reach a political settlement to the conflict. The two sides tentatively agreed on culturally and socially "homogeneous" autonomous regions for the Tuaregs. However, clashes between Tuaregs and state security forces occurred periodically throughout 1994 until October when a cease-fire was signed. Negotiations continued in 1995 until April when a comprehensive agreement was reached to end the four-year conflict. The peace agreement provided for incorporation of Tuaregs into the security forces and civil service, an amnesty for fighters from both sides of the conflict, and a law to speed up decentralization so as to ensure the development of all regions of the country. Throughout the rest of 1995, Niger was relatively peaceful. Yet little progress was made on implementing the peace accord. In 2003, however, the largely Tuareg composition of the Republican Guard shows the government attempting to uphold the reintegration portion of the peace agreement with the Tuareg rebels. However, there still exists dissatisfaction in the government's implementation of the cease-fire amongst the Tuareg. They want more control over their resources within their territory.

On 27 January 1996, Niger experienced a coup d'état. The new leader, Lt-Col. Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, claimed the previous government was about to derail economic reforms and the peace process because of internal squabbling. The new president claimed the peace with the Tuareg in the north was not in danger. There were occasional clashes involving the Tuareg in 1996, but the conflict appeared to have largely subsided. Separate agreements were reached with Mali and Algeria to begin the repatriation of Tuareg rebels.

By early 1997 all major Tuareg factions claimed to be committed to a peaceful resolution of their differences with the government. Yet claiming the government had not fulfilled its obligations, and that the government had launched a massive military assault on Tuareg strongholds in the Lake Chad region, the Tuaregs resumed their armed struggle with the government in September 1997. Following a month of heavy fighting between the government and a FARS/UFRA alliance, the government recommitted itself to peacefully resolving the dispute. After creating a new timetable for disarming and integrating Tuaregs into Niger's military and police forces the country was relatively stable for the rest of 1997 through 1998.

In early 1999 Tuaregs again issued declarations and signed petitions claiming the government was not holding up its end of the negotiated settlement. Further destabilization resulted when Mainassara was assassinated and replaced by Major Daouda Mallam Wanke by a coup in April 1999. Wanke attempted to appease the Tuaregs by appointing a former Tuareg rebel, Mohamed Anako, to the position of Interior Minister and special advisor to the head of state. A new constitution was approved in 1999, and the country held multiparty elections later that year, resulting in the election of Mamadou Tandja as president. In 2006, the Tuareg continued to complain of the government's inadequate implementation of the peace agreement, but the group has remained relatively peaceful recently. However, some sporadic banditry resulting in the death of two police officers in North in 2002 and the kidnapping of two soldiers in 2004 are suspected of being the work of Tuareg militants (REB02 = 1; REB04 = 1).

Economic and ecological factors continue to present additional challenges to the Tuareg. Continued desertification in the Sahel threatens the limited grazing lands under their control. There continue to be few development projects in the region, meaning economic opportunities are limited. Ecological factors have sparked a scarcity in grazing areas and water sources leading to conflict between the Tuareg and the Toubou. In 2002, fights over control of these resources broke out between the two groups and in October of 2003 the Toubou killed six Tuareg in reprisal killings for the 2002 violence (INTERCON03 = 1).

The Tuareg have a strong identity linked to their cultural distinctiveness. However, organizationally they are fragmented, even though in the recent past they have been able to organize more effectively. Several political organizations, including the FLAA and its factions and the Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice (MNJ), formed in 2007, continue to represent Tuareg interests in Niger.

Many of the grievances that sparked the 1990 uprising have not yet been resolved. The Niger Tuareg still desire greater regional autonomy (POLGR06 = 3) in addition to increased funds for development projects and increased economic opportunities (ECGR06 = 2). Cultural grievances were not recently aired by the group (CULPO206 = 0). However, in the past cultural grievances, especially regarding language, have been salient.

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References

Africa Research Bulletin. Various reports. 1993-1994.

Africa News. 5/13/2003. "Niger; Survey Finds Over 870,000 Are Still Slaves." UN Integrated Regional Information Networks.

Bernus, Edmond. 1981. Touaregs Nigériens: Unité culturelle et diversité régionale d'un people Pasteur. Paris: Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer.

LexisNexis. Various reports. 1989-2006.

Rasmussen, Susan J. 1999. "The Slave Narrative in Life History and Myth, and Problems of Ethnographic Representation of the Tuareg Cultural Predicament." Ethnohistory. 46:1. 67-108.

Reuters AlertNet. 10/24/2007. "Niger abuses civilians in Tuareg alert – Amnesty." http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L24873875.htm, accessed 03/19/08.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Niger. 2000-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006