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Tuaregs - Niger

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. The largely agrarian and subsistence-based economy is frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of Africa. French is the official language, and the literacy rate is estimated at 29%, unevenly distributed between men and women. Nearly half of the governmentís budget is derived from foreign donor resources. Future growth may be sustained by exploitation of oil, gold, coal, and other mineral resources. Uranium prices have increased sharply in the last few years. A drought and locust infestation in 2005 led to food shortages for as many as 2.5 million Nigeriens. The GDP per capita is $700.

The estimated population of Niger is 13.3 million people, with an average life expectancy of 44 years. The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Djerma-Songhai, who also are found in parts of Mali. Both groups, along with the Gourmantche, are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier of the country. Other Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples -- Fulani, Toubou, Kanuri, Arabs, and Tuareg. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders are increasingly threatened.

During recent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century. In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers -- notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German) -- explored the area searching for the mouth of the Niger River. 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.

The Labor Code of Niger prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except for legally convicted prisoners, and slavery is prohibited; however, a traditional form of slavery or servitude still was practiced by the Tuareg, Djerma, and Arab ethnic minorities, particularly in remote northern regions and along the border with Nigeria. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste were often expected to work without pay for those above them in the traditional social structure. According to Timidria, a local human rights NGO that actively worked against the practice, 7 percent of the population worked under such conditions. Individuals could legally change their situations; however, most did not and accepted their circumstances.


The Tuareg rebellion was fueled in part by historical conflicts and by a centralized political system dominated by the more numerous Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups. In August 1992, military and paramilitary forces captured some 180 presumed Tuareg rebels in raids. Some of the 180 have never been accounted for and must be considered as having been killed extrajudicially. Similarly, Tuareg rebels took an undetermined number of captives early in 1993 who disappeared and are presumed dead.

After adoption of a new Constitution in December 1992, Niger conducted in early 1993 its first multiparty presidential and legislative elections since independence in 1960. In the presidential elections, which international observers judged to be free and fair, eight parties banded together against the party created by the former military rulers to elect Mahamane Ousmane as President of the Third Republic.

In January 1993 the Government released 81 suspected rebel Tuaregs in Agadez for lack of sufficient evidence. In February the police in Zinder released an undetermined small number of detainees suspected of being rebels. Outside its effort to combat the rebels, the Government did not arrest people for their opinions.

Government security forces and rebel Tuareg groups engaged in sporadic skirmishes during the first quarter of 1993, and there were credible reports of violations of human rights. The Government established a security zone in the north, and journalists and others do not have ready access to the zones or to information. Therefore, the number of civilian casualties in the fighting was unknown, but incomplete reports indicated that there were several deaths. For example, in January a Tuareg commando killed nine people, including three members of the Republican Guard, in Abala. Also, in February there were reports that Arabs of the Tessara region, allegedly supplied with arms by government forces during the period of the transitional government, killed 13 Tuaregs at Intarikad.

The new Government moved quickly to address the Tuareg insurgency in the north, and in March reached a 3-month truce with the major Tuareg group, the Liberation Front of Air and Azawak (FLAA). The March 1993 truce led to an exchange of all prisoners and was extended in June for another 3 months. By September 1993, however, the Tuareg rebellion had split into three principal factions only one of which, the Front for the Liberation of Tamoust (FLT), agreed to renew the truce for another 90 days. Despite the truces, some armed Tuaregs continued throughout 1993 to attack convoys and government outposts, raiding vehicles and taking food and fuel.

Since September 1993 only one Tuareg faction agreed to a continued truce, and the frequency of reported attacks has increased. The Government, through French and Algerian intermediaries, attempted to arrange talks with all the Tuareg factions aimed at a comprehensive settlement of the rebellion based on increased local government autonomy and economic development assistance to the northern region. By year's end, the Government was continuing efforts to engage the Tuareg factions in talks aimed at a comprehensive settlement offering greater regional autonomy.

Government security forces and rebel Tuareg groups engaged in bloody encounters until October 1994 when a truce was signed. There were numerous reports that government forces used excessive violence against both rebels and noncombatants. For example, the army killed eight rebels during an attack in August on the electric power plant at Tchighozerine in which several soldiers were wounded. Government forces used excessive force in questioning civilians, particularly those of Tuareg background. Human rights groups maintain that the military established a security zone in the north to restrict the access of journalists and to obscure its activities from public scrutiny. Judicial authorities deny mistreatment of rebels detained by the courts but admit that soldiers may have mistreated prisoners in transit from the battlefield. Although the Government did not expressly forbid journalists to enter the security zone, in practice reporters seldom ventured there.

Although some of the attacks were simple banditry, rebels continued a pattern of attacking civilian targets to obtain vehicles and other supplies. In August 1994 the rebels began to attack economic targets and government facilities in the north. To demonstrate the Government's inability to protect civilians and key facilities, rebels attacked an electric power plant, a communications ground station, and two large uranium mines. During these raids, rebels killed a number of civilians as well as government troops. Rebel raids resulted in the death of at least 6 civilians as well as 29 government troops and 37 rebels. Since the Government established a security zone in the north and restricted the access of journalists and others, the number of casualties on all sides remained unconfirmed.

Tuaregs raided sedentary camps of relatively prosperous Nigerien Arabs in the North until early 1994. Arabs, in turn, formed militias that actively battled Tuaregs. Human rights groups charged that the military tolerated, and may have been an accomplice in, the formation of these Arab militias. Tuaregs killed a senior Arab militia leader in February. Fearing an escalation of violence, the armed forces exercised tighter controls over the Arab militias but continued to use them as guides.

The 3-year Tuareg insurgency in the north subsided with an October 1994 cease-fire. These groups had claimed that they had lacked attention and resources from the central government. A formal peace accord was signed in April which called for decentralization of administration in northern regions, government support for northern economic development and grouping of rebels into special military units. In the culmination of an initiative started under the 1991 national conference, the government of Niger signed peace accords in April 1995 with all Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990. In June 1995 the National Assembly passed a general amnesty releasing all those imprisoned for suspected or proven rebel activities. The government agreed to absorb some former rebels into the military and, with French assistance, to help others return to civilian life.


During 2004, armed persons claiming to reconstitute the Air and Azawak Liberation Front (FLAA), a former Tuareg rebel group, attacked vehicles and passengers in the northern region of Agadez. On June 5, self-proclaimed FLAA members attacked vehicles and stole money and valuables from the passengers; on July 8, another group attacked passenger vehicles and demanded the release of Rhissa Ag Boula, a former leader of the Tuareg rebellion and the former Minister of Tourism. On 12 August 2004, the Government arrested Moussa Kaka, the editor of a private radio station and a correspondent for RFI. Beginning in June, Kaka had broadcast reports on an alleged reactivation of the Tuareg rebellion in the north. On August 11, RFI aired an interview between Mohamed Ag Boula and Kaka, who was subsequently charged with conspiracy and failure to advise authorities of criminal activities. Kaka was released from custody on August 16 and instructed to remain at the disposal of the court for further investigation.

In February 2007, a previously unknown rebel group, the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ), emerged as a formidable threat to peace in the north of Niger. The predominantly Tuareg group issued a number of demands, mainly related to development in the north. It attacked military and other facilities and laid landmines in the north. The resulting insecurity devastated Niger's tourist industry and deterred investment in mining and oil. The government labeled the MNJ members criminals and traffickers, and refused to negotiate with the group until it disarmed.

Since then, the Government of Niger, with US encouragement that included a conflict-negotiation workshop facilitated by the U.S. Institute of Peace, pursued several rounds of peace talks with the MNJ and other rebel groups, resulting in a de facto ceasefire, weapons handovers, and an executive order providing amnesty to rebels and those who supported them, including members of the Nigerien Armed Forces. The Government of Niger has made considerable progress in bringing peace and stability to the region; following the November 2009 lifting of the state of alert for Agadez Region, tourists were able to travel to and within the urban parts of Agadez city.

The Nigerien Movement for Justice and attacked several military targets in Nigerís northern region throughout 2007 and 2008. Events since evolved into a fledging insurgency. In northern Niger, tourism began to slowly pick up in 2010 after three years of stagnation due to Tuareg rebellion.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with marginalized populations present throughout the country. Their already precarious situation was further exacerbated by the effects of the poor 2010 rainfall that has caused almost half of the countryís population to be food insecure, with severe famine in many rural communities. The effects of the drought have been particularly severe among pastoralist communities on the northern edge of the farming belt, leading to heavy losses of their herds and putting the cost of cereals beyond the reach of many. These pastoralist Sahelian communities, as well as the Tuareg population in the north of the country had long been among the least served communities in the country.

Armed bandits attacked herder camps in Tillabery Region in 2014, resulting in deaths, injuries, and loss of livestock and other property. Most of these bandits entered the country from Mali on motorcycles, and some of them were reportedly members of the Malian Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), or the al-Qaida-affiliated Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources and press reports, armed Malian Tuaregs and Nigerien Peuhl (Fulani) clashed near the border with Mali. The clashes resulted in 64 deaths, several injuries, and the theft of more than 175 head of livestock. Authorities did not conduct an investigation or prosecution, and northern Tillabery herder communities continued to criticize government inaction.

After 2010 the new Issoufou regime moved to end the marginalization of Tuaregs in the political system. As a sign of his willingness to share power and give Tuaregs a bigger stake in the political system, he named Brigi Rafini, a Tuareg, as Prime Minister and offered Tuaregs other high government posts as ministers and advisors to the president. Leaders of the 1990s rebellion assumed control of the Regional Council and the larger cities in the Agadez region.

The older generation of leaders like Mohammad Anacko, president of the Regional Council of Agadez, must produce some concrete achievements to show the younger leaders of the MNJ-led rebellion that making peace was worthwhile. Failure to do so will increase tensions between the older and younger generation leaders. The memory of the repressive measures taken by the Tandja regime to crush the MNJ rebellion coupled with the resistance of the FAN to open up more officer posts to Tuaregs in the FAN are also sources of discontent that need to be addressed.

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Page last modified: 07-05-2017 19:08:04 ZULU