No, I'm not talking about the Volkswagon SUV that borrowed it's name from the nomadic peoples that live in the Sahara. I'm talking about the people themselves, who have roamed and lived in one of the world's most hostile environments for thousands of years.
I've written about the Tuareg musical group, TINARIWEN before. Their history is nothing less than highly interesting, and their music is excellent.
The Tuaregs are in the news right now because of a coup (that they are not involved in directly) by the military in Mali against the ruling government there. The military contends, and apparently accurately, that the government is not giving them adequate arms and other supplies with which to do battle with the Tuaregs in the north of Mali.
The Tuaregs have lived in the Sahara for thousands of years. Until recently, when uranium and gold and other valuables were discovered beneath it's sands, no one really wanted to provide for the peoples that have long lived there. Split between several countries, the Sahara is one of the world's harshest environments in which to live, even under the best of circumstances. Massive droughts over the past 40 years have rendered the Sahara an even more difficult place to live, and in that time many Tuaregs have moved to less inhospitable places in neighboring countries.
The Tuaregs, rightly or wrongly, entered the fray last year to fight on the side of Libya and their government. Paid mercenaries basically. Now many of them have returned to their native lands, but this time they bear superior weaponry that they liberated from Libya as they left.
Uprisings and demands for autonomy are nothing new for the Tuareg peoples. They have always been warriers and have always been a tough opponent in a war or conflict. But now, it seems, the tables have turned in Mali, as the Tuareg have managed to secure parts of their native lands and run the Mali military out of the area.
The history of West Africa, like the history of many lands around the world, is full of tales of white man colonization. The Tuaregs have been the forgotten peoples in all of this. Truly, many of them have no country that will actually claim them, as the Sahara crosses the borders of Mali, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. The south of Mali is jungle and it is a place where agriculture can be pursued. Not so for the Sahara in the north of Mali.
One of the blogs in my blog roll, This Fab Trek, tells the tale of an Austrian banker who, back in 2005 became disguisted with his life and decided to hit the road, literally, and see the world. The first several years of his on-line journal were the most interesting to me. He did lots of trekking across the Sahara and was allowed in many places that no American like me would be able to enter, for fear I was the CIA or an operative of one of the other alphabet agencies.
The writer of This Fab Trek is a lot more liberal than I on many subjects, and at the same time that he has his hand out seeking free food and water from nomadic peoples in the desert who literally have nothing, he condemns them for asking for something in return. Although he likes to criticize the "ugly American" tourists and those of other countries that are like us, he nonetheless is a beggar himself.
Although I'm sure he's doing what is necessary to stay on the road and away from the workaday existence most of his readers like me endure, I have to say I might not be as condescending of those seeking to beg from me if I'm begging from them.
Nonetheless, his descriptions of life in the desert, and the politics therein, is highly interesting and something you won't find too many other places.
Which all gets back around to the point of this essay. For well over a thousand years, the "civilized" peoples of the world sought out new lands for their peoples, with little regard for those who had lived on those lands as natives. North and South America are shining examples of how the indian populations were either destroyed or moved so that the "more civilized" could take their lands.
I've long been a fan of the underdog, and the Tuareg peoples are no exception. I wish them well in their fight to establish their own country and profit from the uranium and other valuables that lies beneath the sands they have lived on for thousands of years. Ever since Mali acheived independence, in 1960, the Tuareg have been mostly forgotten as most monies spent in Mali have been spent in the south of Mali, and not on the Tuareg. Most of this money, I might add, comes from the U.S., from various European entities and from the U.N. Mali is an extremely poor country, and what little has been made from their natural resources has failed, as it often does in such places, to trickle down to the populace who needs it most.
So I'm rooting for the Tuareg peoples. They want to start their own country. All they want for land is the land that has been their's for generations and that no one, until recently, has wanted.
I think I'll go listen to one of my Festival in the Desert CD's from the past.