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Tuareg - Mali - 1962-1964

Like other African peoples, Tuaregs were affected by "the winds of change" blowing through Africa in the 1950s, and were motivated to imagine a post-colonial dispensation. Many Tuaregs in Mali (and neighboring countries) had begun to dream of an independent state? - Azawad - comprised of Tuareg-populated territory in northern Mali, northern Niger, and southern Algeria. However, Tuaregs' primary loyalties were directed to their local communities. Tuaregs as a group have never demonstrated a unified political (or military) agenda.

The years immediately following national independence in 1960 were filled with disappointment for all Malian citizens. The new national government could not meet the high expectations for dramatic improvement in conditions of life. Administrative inexperience combined with unworkable social and economic policies proved disastrous to Mali's economy and to the people?s civil liberties. Added to the general misery was a conviction among the Tuaregs that they were singled out for particular discrimination, and were more neglected than others in the distribution of state benefits.

Tuaregs, of course, wanted benefits and opportunity, but they did not relish state supervision of their life style. They observed that most of the senior leadership of post-colonial Mali were drawn from the southern ethnic groups who were not sympathetic to the pastoral culture of the northern desert nomads. Tuaregs also were alarmed by the "land reform" that threatened their privileged access to agricultural products. Some of the more volatile Tuareg leaders began to suspect that the new national elite was intent on destroying Tuareg culture under the guise of "modernization."

The first Tuareg rebellion began in northern Mali in early 1962 with small, "hit and run" raids against government targets. The attacks escalated in size and destructiveness through 1963, resulting in very unsettled conditions in the Tuareg-populated north. However, the Tuareg attacks did not reflect a unified leadership, a well-coordinated strategy or clear evidence of a coherent strategic vision. The insurgents generally depended on their camels for transportation and were equipped mainly with unsophisticated and rather old small arms. They also failed to mobilize the Tuareg community as a whole. While estimates of their numbers are highly speculative, it is unlikely that rebel combatants ever numbered more than about 1,500.

A working knowledge of internal divisions within Malian Tuareg groups is useful - up to a point. Intallah ag Attaher became Amenokal - the traditional leader of Malian Tuaregs - in 1963. His father, also a Kidal Iforas from the Kel Affella fraction, died in 1961 and the Malian government appointed Intallah's older brother, Zied ag Attaher, as Amenokal. In 1963, however, Zied cast his lot with Elladi ag Alla who favored Tuareg independence. The 1963 rebellion, which began in Boughessa, started as a largely Kidal Ifogas and Idnane affair. Members of the Taghat Melet and Imgrad tribes also participated.

The rebellion did not enjoy the support of all Ifogas, Idnanes, Taghat Melets or Imgrads, however. Intallah ag Attaher, for instance, opposed his brother's position on Tuareg independence and instead worked with the young Malian government. His decision to collaborate with the Malian government rather than rebel enabled him, with Malian support, to replace his brother as Amenokal in 1963. Other non-ethnic factors, such as the spirit of independence popular in the 1960s, Tuareg ties to French colonial leaders and events in neighboring Algeria therefore provide more powerful explanations of the dynamics behind the first Malian Tuareg rebellion.

Still, the government reacted quickly and harshly. Mali's army, well-motivated and now well-equipped with new Soviet weapons, conducted vigorous counterinsurgency operations. By the end of 1964, the government's strongarm methods had crushed the rebellion. It then placed the Tuareg-populated northern regions under a repressive military administration. Many of Mali's Tuareg fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

While the government had succeeded in ending the rebellion, its coercive measures alienated many Tuaregs who had not supported the insurgents. Atrocities and human rights abuses on both sides contributed to a climate of fear and distrust in the north. And while the government subsequently announced a number of programs to improve local infrastructure and economic opportunity, it lacked the resources to follow through on most of them.30 As a result, Tuareg grievances remained largely un-addressed, and a seething resentment continued in many Tuareg communities after 1964. Clearly, the problem of instability in the north had simply been deferred, not resolved.

It is easy to criticize the Malian government for seeking a military solution to a social problem, but such criticism should be tempered by an appreciation for the political realities of the time. Mali in 1962 had been an independent country for only 2 years, and its leaders had legitimate fears about its capacity to cohere in the face of secessionist threats. The cultural distinctiveness of the Tuaregs, and their perceived lack of commitment to the new nation, alienated both the government and their non-Tuareg neighbors. Too, the former French colonial authorities and Mali?s new Soviet patrons were noted for dealing harshly with threats to the state; neither provided Mali?s leaders with the most effective models for conflict resolution and national reconciliation.

Nor was the rest of the international community of much help. In 1963 and 1964, the world was much more concerned about strife in the Congo and in Cyprus than about obscure insurgencies elsewhere in Africa, and no community of nations offered credible assistance to the Malians in resolving their internal problems. The large community of humanitarian nongovernmental organizations, so prominent in the 1990s, simply did not exist in the early 1960s.

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Page last modified: 05-04-2012 13:32:10 ZULU