Tuareg Nomads Still Trying to Split Mali In Two

Tuareg Mali
Tuareg nomads were the first to attack Mali

AFRICANGLOBE – Mali’s troubled interim president Dioncounda Traore wants to hold elections before the end of July. But, the country’s Tuareg nomads, now living in Burkina Faso, have other concerns and aspirations.

Naifisa Walet Nafisa sits in a large tent with her three daughters. They have been in South Mentao, one of Burkina Faso‘s largest refugee camps, for the last nine months and are among some 200,000 refugees who have left Mali since the start of the Tuareg uprising in January 2012. Naifisa and her children feel they have been away for a long time and are desperate to return home.

“If Mali and the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) were to reach an agreement, we would be on our way back this evening,” Nafisa tells DW.

By “agreement” Nafisa Walet Nafisa means independence for northern Mali and the creation of a separate state of Azawad, goals for which the MNLA has been fighting for over a year.

But as a political player, the MNLA remains a lightweight, even though they claimed to have taken control of the city of Kidal in the northeast of Mali a few weeks ago. It is uncertain who the MNLA actually represents. In the Malian capital Bamako more and more Tuaregs are distancing themselves from the rebel group.

This makes Nafisa Walet Nafisa angry. “We are the MNLA, they are our brothers,” she says, shaking her head.

Creation of An Arab State

Refugee Mali
Tuaregs say they are White and not Malians

In one of the neighboring tents, a group of men are playing cards. Whenever they briefly interrupt their game, there are three topics of conversation. Azawad, the Tuaregs and the MNLA. One of the men, Oumar Ag Sidi, is the refugees’ spokesman at Mentao Camp.

“I have never met a Tuareg who was opposed to the MNLA. The Tuaregs and the MNLA are united. But we are not Islamists, we are 100 percent for the MNLA,” he says in an interview with DW.

Sidi approves of the MNLA fighting for its own state and refusing to accept compromises. “We want to live like all the others. All the others have their independence, but we don’t. We are citizens of Azawad and we want our own state. And we also want a democracy.”

Sidi hopes a separate state would mean an end to discrimination.

In March the UN Human Rights Council reported that the French intervention in the north of Mali was “followed by a serious escalation of retaliatory violence by (Malian) government soldiers who appear to be targeting members of the Reuhl, Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups.”

Elections in Mali arouse little interest among refugees from the north of the country, now in Burkina Faso

Sidi believes that the elections planned for July won’t change anything. “That’s not important for us. We do not belong to the state that is permitting us to vote. We lost many brothers, parents, livestock. Our houses have been destroyed,” he adds in a reference to the recent fighting. “I do not want to go out and vote. Who should I be voting for?”

Nafisa Walet Nafisa prepares lunch – rice with vegetables, the same meal as yesterday and the day before. Usually it’s the only meal of the day for her and her children. Nafisa is more worried about securing the bare necessities of life than about politics in Bamako.

“I can’t even bear to think about the elections. We are not Malians anymore. We have to flee to a neighboring country almost every year. We are not treated as Malians,” she adds.

Nafisa doesn’t want to be Malian anymore. Together with her daughters, she strikes up a song celebrating Azawad and freedom.


By: Katrin Gansler