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Tuaregs - Burkina Faso

Minority Tuareg communities in northern Burkina Faso are racked by extreme poverty, which is exacerbated by often refusing to send their children to school, a lack of consistent access to water, and decreasing reserves of livestock, which are their main source of income. Burkinabe Tuareg groups blame asylum seekers, bandits, or other Tuareg groups coming from Mali and Niger for increased insecurity in the region and for unjustifiably contributing to a negative perception of Burkinabe Tuaregs. They insist that they do not support the ideology of Malian and Nigerien Tuareg rebel groups, who are responsible for kidnappings and other violent crime. However, northern Burkina Faso is still susceptible to threats from these rebel groups. If poverty among these communities is not addressed there is potential for extremist influences from the Middle East or other regions, where some Burkinabe Tuaregs have financial ties.

In the Northern Province of Oudlaan, where the northern Burkina Faso cities of Dori and Gorom-Gorom are located, the Tuareg community accounts for about ten percent of the population. The community is traditionally nomadic, but has largely settled in the region and has inter-married with other ethnic groups in Oudlaan. They rely heavily on income from livestock.

Tuareg community leaders cite poverty as their primary concern, and were worried that some members of the group were losing their livestock, which is the primary source of income in the region, to drought and disease. Water is traditionally scarce in Northern Burkina and the Tuareg community, in particular due to its nomadic lifestyle, lacks consistent access to water. Community leaders say that while they considered farming as an alternate source of income, they did not have the required skills. Furthermore, their lack of other practical skills keeps them from finding other sources of stable income or from taking on a greater role in local government.

Government officials and Tuareg leaders agree that Tuareg communities under-utilize government resources and services that are available to them such as education and basic healthcare such as immunizations due to cultural mistrust and miscommunication. The region was fortunate to have schools, hospitals, wells, and other public services, which while certainly limited by Western standards, are all available to the population at large. However, despite government efforts to encourage them, the majority of Tuareg communities in Dori, Gorom, and Markoye have failed to take advantage of these public services. Tuareg leaders in Gorom complain that the local government was attempting to impose social services on their communities without respect to Tuareg cultural traditions.

Tuareg leaders often kept their children out of school so the children could participate in the family business, which was usually animal husbandry. One major problem was that parents did not understand the value of sending their children to school. At the University of Ouagadougou, the national university for Burkina Faso, there were only two students of Tuareg ethnicity in recent years. This was a serious concern because education was needed to combat poverty. Other community leaders in Gorom seem to agree, but were unable to bridge the cultural divide that keeps their children out of local schools.

While there were schools provided by the government, they preferred to send their children to Madrassahs and had plans to build some of these facilities on their own as soon as they acquired the appropriate funding. Ethnic ties exist between Burkinabe Tuaregs and those residing in Libya and Saudia Arabia, and occasionally they receive financial support.

The northern region of Burkina Faso, which separates Mali and Niger, was the destination of over one thousand Tuareg asylum seekers from Mali in 2008. Out of fear that these asylum seekers had ties to rebel groups operating in Mali and would assist them by hiding or smuggling weapons, the Burkinabe government asked those groups camped near the Mali-Burkina Faso border to move inland. Tuareg communities living in Gorom, in particular, express uneasiness at the presence of the Malian asylum seekers in Burkina Faso. Community leaders say that during the height of the Malian Tuareg presence, Burkinabe Tuaregs kept their distance in an effort to maintain their own safety and to keep from being confused with the Malians.

Speaking about the recent increase in banditry in the region, Tuareg leaders blamed Malian Tuaregs, saying their actions are stigmatizing Burkinabe Tuaregs. While noting that Burkinabe groups have not been wrongly accused of crimes by security forces, public opinion within the communities in Gorom and Markoye has taken a negative turn towards Burkinabe Tuaregs. Tuareg leaders were concerned by the rise in insecurity and doubted that security provided by the Gendarmes was sufficient to stem the rise in crime, particularly because they lacked necessary resources such as vehicles. Community leaders deny that there is drug or arms trafficking in the region. They say that banditry committed in Burkina Faso was associated with problems of poverty. Community leaders were anxious for security to improve, but were unanimous that without improvements to the economic situation in the region as a whole, Burkina would continue to suffer from crime and insecurity committed by Malian and Nigerien Tuaregs.

Tuareg communities seem intent on maintaining their current way of life, which puts them at the bottom of the economic ladder in the region. Local officials seem willing to share scant community resources, but not willing to cross the cultural divide that separates the nomadic and sedentary communities. Although Burkinabe Tuaregs insist that they do not sympathize with the actions taken by Malian and Nigerien groups, Burkina Faso is at the crossroads of this region and economic pressures could outweigh ideological differences, particularly considering perceived cultural affinities for other Tuareg groups in Libya and Saudia Arabia. It is clear that without addressing poverty and a lack of security resources, petty theft and banditry will continue to be problems, potentially leading to greater instability in this region.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2012 13:32:11 ZULU