Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Violence in the North

When I interview people regarding the rebellion that took place in the 1990s [and if they are old enough the 1960s], I usually receive one of two responses. One, that the rebels were just a bunch of bandits [which was partially true as some people did take advantage of the situation and used assault rifles to extort money and animals from people in the countryside] and second, that the rebels were the sons of herders. This rings true for at least the start of the rebellion in the 1990s as Touareg and Arab leaders amassed arms to attack military installations in the Tombouctou and Gao regions. The first attack which took place north of Ménaka was in a valley called I-n-Teidenni which is the source of water for animals and herding families during the rainy season and pasture in the drier months. When I return to Bamako and look in the archives for the events of the 1960s rebellion, I suspect its commencement will have been in one of the valleys that some of my interviewees use for maintaining their flocks.

I bring up this point because I was told that yesterday that an attack took place about 450 km from where I am in Gao. One of the rebel Touareg leaders, named Ibrahim Bahanga is not in agreement with the recently re-elected president, Amadou Toumani Touré , saying that he has failed to honour the agreements of the peace accords. Bahanga and his supporters attacked a military post at Tin Zowetin [Algerian-Malian border] on Thursday night. I have noticed a change in the daily activity as there are more military vehicles heading north and more military people circulating around Gao. It is hard to tell at this point, however, if there will be further attacks or if Bahanga is using this incident to draw Amadou Toamni Touré to the bargaining table once again. One thing is certain, though. The sons of herders are helping Bahanga in this attack as they have in previous times. If the violence continues, I fear what this means for the greater pastoral community in the north. In the past during turbulent periods like this, they have been the victims of banditry, military interrogation and harassment, in addition to greater acts of violence committed by both sides.

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