“The conflict in Libya has had only negative consequences on the Touareg community of the Sahel-Saharan region. This is an area of the future, that will increasingly be the focus of attention, for both great powers of terrorist or criminal networks.”said Touareg, Ahmed Akol, former political secretary of the former Nigerian rebel movement Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), adding that “Northern Niger is directly involved, where the Touareg have lost control of the territory, losing the economic support of the Libyan regime, and are now presented as ‘mercenaries in the pocket of Muammar Gaddafi’. Some definitions do not help our cause.”
The media, especially the French, have so far concentrated on speculation that Muammar Qadhafi is near the Libyan border protected by the Touareg. Some sources also report that the Touareg have recently received a lot of weapons from Libya.
Qaddafi’s support for the Touareg movement in fact is no secret. In the past some of their movements fighting against their governments, especially in Niger and Mali, passed through Libya.
In the mid 90′s, the Colonel was a ‘mediator’ in the peace process between governments and their rebellions.
According to Akola, “The area of Agadez, which has always been disparaged and ignored by the central government in Niamey, (which) has received investment from Tripoli. The local market is supplied primarily on products that come from Libya. The first conflict was a direct result of higher prices and greater economic hardship for the population.”
Akola said that “It’s not just for this reason that the fate of the Touareg is at risk … despite changes in power and representation in institutions, those who really hold power in Niger, or the army, remains in the hands of Zarma. And there will be some time before we see the benefits of small improvements made in local development.”
“In this context, many young people without prospects, eventually taking up arms. The biggest fear is that they should do this while exploited by criminal groups that are native to our area, I am referring for example to the Salafists, groups linked to al-Qaida, which have nothing to do with the Touareg movements,” Akola said.
The borders of the desert are very lucrative for smugglers and criminals. The biggest business, says the leader of the MNJ, “is that of drugs. We are on a route that carries the drugs coming from Latin America to Europe. The area is of strategic importance.”
It is also important for the great powers, from Paris to Beijing, for the control of natural resources. The Sahara desert contains uranium, oil and gas.
Energy resources that prompt Tchangari Moussa, Secretary General of the network ‘Alternative Espace Citoyen’ to say that “the true purpose of the destabilization of Libya was to gain control over the entire range Saharan Africa”, from the north of Chad and Mauritania.
According to Moussa, “The area could also be of interest to Washington, looking for a solid foundation for ‘Africom,” the U.S. military command that should serve Africa, officially, for counter terrorism.
“Before the decolonization France wanted to found a state of the Sahel, which would cut off the countries of those regions where the resources are,” added Moussa.
For this reason and others, the nomadic Touareg rebellions, once masters of the desert, “were once considered legitimate by the same forces that today are accusing (them). Apparently now the Touareg have lost any support in this country”, according to Moussa, who does not belong to the Touareg community and is the chief editor of Alternative Hebdo.
The new game that is emerging on the Sahelian chessboard does not portend to a future of peace and stability.
Both Moussa and Akol said that the first beneficiaries of the conflict will be organizations such as Al Qaeda, who will find – thanks to western occupation – reason to spread insecurity and a motivation to enter the territory.
That said, so far, few voices are being raised in the local Touareg community, a proud community, but also one that is volatile.
Reports or complaints that come up in the international media often come from the diaspora and are difficult to verify.
Additionally, some people talk about “the massacre of Touareg” in Libya by the insurgency. However, it is not easy to distinguish who among the sub-Saharan groups, was in Libya serivng in Qadhafi’s armed forces and who was there to work and seek a life of dignity, having unfairly suffered abuse and discrimination.
“In this story the media have a great responsibility here too, in Niger, we see the same rehashed news, untested, without weighing the consequences,” Moussa said.
This article has been edited for grammar