Saturday, 31 March 2012
This is a report I did for the BBC about the Tuareg, who are fighting a rebellion in northern Mali. Today they entered the strategic town of Gao, just a day after they seized another important place, Kidal, in the north-east. It's not only the Tuareg who are fighting - the rebellion is made up of a bewildering array of groups, including Islamists. But the majority are Tuareg, fighting a separatist cause.
The Tuareg are a nomadic people who occupy a huge, harsh area of desert and semi-desert, stretching from Mauritania in the west to Chad in the east. They are sometimes called 'The Blue People' because the indigo dye in their robes and turbans seeps into their skin. They have traditionally driven their camel caravans across the Sahara and the Sahel, paying little attention to national boundaries. Throughout history they have been renowned as warriors, carrying an extraordinary array of knives, sword, arrows and daggers as they make their way across the desert. Tuareg rebellions are nothing new. They have risen up before in Mali, Niger and elsewhere, demanding an end to marginalisation and a fairer share of revenues from minerals like uranium. But what is happening in Mali is different because they are so well-armed. Many in the rebellion have recently returned from Libya where they fought both for and against Colonel Gaddafi. They brought with them all sorts of weapons, injecting vigour into what was a rather half-hearted rebellion in northern Mali. They are fighting for an autonomous Tuareg state called Azawad. They have raised the flag of Azawad in the strategic towns of Gao and Kidal, but it is unlikely they will achieve their dream of independent statehood in Mali, Niger or anywhere else in Africa.