|Publication||Searching for Peace in Africa
A nomadic people, about 1.5 million strong, the Tuareg live in the vast semi-desert area known as the Sahel. The territory in which they and their cousins have lived for centuries straddles various present-day nation states including Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. When the French colonising army arrived in the area now known as Niger in the nineteenth century, wars, Tuareg slave raids and reprisal expeditions had been going on for some time.
The French turned the area into their Third Military Territory and managed to 'pacify' it. There was one serious Tuareg uprising in 1916-17, which was the result of famine, a harsh tax regime and the French recruitment drive for its troops fighting the 1914-1918 war in Europe. This rebellion was brutally suppressed. The French administration also subdivided the population into two distinct groups, nomads -including Tuareg and Toubou- and sedentary farmers, thereby complicating the relationship between these groups who are economically interdependent. The state of Niger was created by a Decree issued in 1920. The colonial regime was highly centralised and came to be dominated by the second largest group in the territory, the Djerma-Songhai. The French provided them with formal education and put them in charge of the state administration and the army, much to the chagrin of the majority Hausa, who comprise about half of Niger's population. In the late 1950s, this political constellation assumed the shape of a one-party state, following the dissolution of the opposition socialist Sawaba Party ('sawaba' is Hausa for Freedom). Hausa elements were blamed for a brief rebellion, four years into independence -in 1964-, which was crushed in a matter of weeks. A period of relative calm followed.
In 1974, Lt.Col. Seyni Kountché seized power in a military coup. Military rule coincided with the golden age of Niger's economy, fuelled by uranium which had been found in Tuareg territory and was mined at the behest of the booming French nuclear industry. Kountché, who headed a regime which was primarily known for its profligacy and its repression, died in 1987 and was succeeded by his cousin Ali Saibou, who opened up the country's political system. This led to a prolonged transitional phase with a National Conference in 1991 - one of the first in Francophone Africa - and elections two years later.
Over the years, the pastoralist lifestyle of the Tuaregs, who comprise ten per cent of Niger's population, changed dramatically. Firstly, state borders restricted their movement. Secondly, droughts in the 1970s and 1980s laid waste to large swathes of the Sahel region. Thousands of cattle were lost and with them, the basis of the Tuareg economy. The droughts sent tens of thousands of Arab and Tuareg herdsmen looking for opportunities in Niger's oil-rich northern neighbours, Algeria and Libya, where they met Malian Tuaregs who had similar problems. They harboured dissatisfaction with their loss of culture, their poor living conditions, the fact that uranium was taken from their land without proper recompense, and their perceived lack of political influence. While in Libya and with Libyan aid, Nigerien Tuaregs set up a fledgling Popular Front for the Liberation of Niger (FPLN) in exile. In 1985, it launched an attack on Tchin-Tabaradene, 500 kilometres from the capital, Niamey. Niger broke off official ties with Libya in 1981. The authorities in Niamey continue to regard the Ghadaffi government in Tripoli with suspicion.
Saibou tried to entice the Tuaregs back into Niger. In the late 1980s, a major repatriation operation took place, involving 18,000 people, one-third of whom were Tuaregs. It suffered from lack of resources -Niger's uranium boom was over, the country had dipped into recession and had been forced to accept IMF-prescribed structural economic reforms- and the returnees were not satisfied with what they found. Neither were they regarded favourably by the other Nigeriens, who saw them as layabouts. The 'Aide aux Repatriées' project never fulfilled its objectives and the government came under attack for alleged embezzlement of the project funds. Dissatisfaction grew and arms were readily available from (among others) war-torn Chad.
In May 1990, Tchin-Tabaradene was attacked again and this marked the beginning of the rebellion proper, which the government tried to suppress militarily, while denying it was a rebellion. Attacks, counter-attacks, negotiations, violent incidents and the fragmentation of the original armed rebellion into various factions marked the progress of the conflict between 1990 and 1994, when a peace deal was signed with most of the rebel groups. The cease-fire held into 1995, while negotiations were extended to include some of the groups that had previously remained outside the peace process.
The military coup of January 27, 1996 put an end to a year-long political stand-off between president Mahamane Ousmane and prime minister Hama Amadou, which had paralysed the first democratically elected government in Niger's history. General Ibrahim Baré Mainassara was initially credited with ending the impasse, but the political climate worsened as his hold on power increased. When he was shot and killed by army officers on April 9, 1999, the prevailing public sentiment was one of relief. Civil society representatives hoped that things would begin to improve again. The new strongman, general Daouda Mallam Wanke, formed a national transitional government, announced presidential elections and a hand-over of power in December. This was duly done: in November 1999 a former army officer Mamadou Tandja was elected president and installed on December 12, 1999.
Although punctuated by incidents, the peace process has remained largely on track. With the aid of the UNHCR, a few hundred refugees have begun to return to Niger. But there are worrying signs of another rebellion in the south-eastern Diffa region which borders Chad. The Toubou who staged uprisings in 1995 and 1997-98, complain about massacres perpetrated by the government army, in which almost 200 people are reported to have been killed. Many Toubou have fled to Nigeria and refuse to return. Low-intensity fighting continues, both between government and rebels and among various local groups.
The Tuareg attack on Tchin-Tabaradene, in May 1990, resulted in 31 deaths, including 25 of the attackers. In response, the army was sent in and, unable to find the attackers, the soldiers turned on the population, killing 63 people (according to the government), at least 600 (say humanitarian organisations) and 1,500 (according to the rebels). This happened while preparations for the National Conference were going on. Unfortunately, the dynamics of the national political process in Niger were not able to prevent violence of this unprecedented magnitude.
An official inquiry into this single biggest incident in the conflict was set up and its findings were presented to the National Conference in September 1991. The Conference censured the army, which had already conducted a purge of its ranks, immediately after the Tchin-Tabaradene events. The army, in its turn, considered itself humiliated by the National Conference-sponsored condemnation. Soldiers staged mutinies in a number of major cities including Niamey, Agadez and Zinder in the following years. The first of these resulted in the release from prison of the man who had led the government actions at Tchin-Tabaradene. Soldiers also 'arrested' cabinet ministers, especially if they were Tuareg, in clear defiance of the political process towards democracy, as embodied in the National Conference.
The Tuaregs themselves, meanwhile, found insufficient redress in the army censure and while the National Conference was still going on they announced the launch of the Front de Libération de L'Aïr et de Azaouak (FLAA). The FLAA existed as a unified force only for a short while. In June 1992, it split along three fault-lines: according to traditional political entities (Tuareg society is divided in a number of identifiable classes), along clan lines, and according to geographical loyalties (there are differences between the Aïr and the Azaouak Tuaregs). This process of fragmentation and re-alignment continued throughout the conflict but the unifying factor remained: the demand for land, cultural dignity and political representation. This was clear from the document released in February 1994, by the newly-formed umbrella organisation, the Coordination de la Résistance Armée (CRA). The CRA called for, among other things, the formation of a federation, punishment of those involved in what it called the Tchin-Tabaradene massacre, and constitutional change. A number of observers, including André Bourgeot, note that rejection of these demands by the Nigerien parliament was inevitable, as giving in would have meant signing away much of Niger's landmass - and its uranium.
Between 1992 and 1994, the conflict rumbled on: villages were attacked, people displaced and suspected rebels were arrested by security personnel. A particularly dangerous incident occurred in September 1992, when Tuareg gunmen captured and beat up government soldiers and policemen, whereupon soldiers in Agadez threatened to kill 110 Tuaregs they held captive, if their colleagues were not released. Officers managed to restore order and prevent mass bloodshed.
Talks between the democratically elected government and the rebels had, in the meantime, begun. A truce was reached in March 1993 and one year later peace talks began in earnest. They were held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. In October 1994, an agreement was signed, aimed at ending the conflict within six months. The CRA had meanwhile been subject to more re-alignments and it was the Organisation of the Armed Resistance (ORA) which finally signed the agreement on behalf of most of the rebel groups. This happened in Niamey on April 24, 1995. In the document, provisions were made for demilitarisation, reintegration of Tuaregs into Nigerien society, restructuring of the army, plans for the decentralisation of authority and creating conditions for peace and national reconciliation. Encampment of the groups that signed the agreement was completed in June 1997.
Three groups, united in the Union of the Armed Resistance Forces (UFRA) and a new Toubou rebel group did not sign. Unfortunately, implementation of the Peace Agreement was also extremely slow, due in part to the endless political wrangling between president Mahamane Ousmane and his prime minister. These delays led to tensions and fresh violence in the north, involving UFRA. There was a small-scale uprising in September 1997, which killed 27 people and lasted one month. An additional peace accord with UFRA was signed in Algiers on November 28, 1997 by the military government of general Mainassara who had seized power in the meantime. UFRA handed over its remaining weapons in Agadez during a special ceremony in June 1998. This left the Toubou rebel group which continued its activities in the east. It was reported to have attacked a village in July 1998, but barely a month later it was said to have signed a cease-fire with the government. In April 1999, reports of a massacre of Toubou men emerged. The crime was committed under the Mainassara government, posing a new challenge to a fragile transition process. In June 1999, the Toubou leader Issa Lamine accused the new military government of killing civilians. At the same time, peace talks were reported to be under way in Niamey.
Official Conflict Management
The United Nations has not been directly involved in managing the conflict, but the organisation is dealing with a closely related issue: the proliferation of small arms in the region. In 1993, at the request of president Konaré of Mali, it set up an Advisory Mission on the issue. The mission reported its findings to the Secretary-General in 1996. It identified a variety of causes for the unfettered flow of arms, including political instability, poverty, unemployment, ethnic and religious differences and the spill-over of intra-state conflicts into other states. This was said to apply to most of the states visited during the mission, including Niger. It has recommended action to control the flow of arms.
Neighbouring countries as well as the former colonial power, France, have played significant roles in bringing the Tuareg conflict to an end. Especially Algeria, Burkina Faso and France have been instrumental in moving the talks forward. They were asked to mediate in 1992. Burkina Faso offered facilities for the peace talks. First, their combined efforts led to the truce of March 1993 and then to the October 1994 Peace Agreement.
The Nigerien Government, like its counterpart in Bamako, Mali, first tried to solve the rebellion by refusing to acknowledge its existence. During November 1991, however, both governments came together to find ways of ending the rebellions.
In January 1992, the then prime minister, Cheiffou, called on the rebels to disarm and the Tuaregs replied with their demands. Talks started between the FLAA and government representatives, and in May 1992, the parties issued a joint communiqué, in which a commitment to creating a favourable climate for negotiations was declared. It did not immediately help calm the situation, but prepared the ground for further negotiations. A truce was reached in March 1993, while the government had in the meantime created a ministerial portfolio to deal with the rebellion and national reconciliation. In spite of continued violence, the two parties decided to extend the truce in June. The constant fragmentation meant that negotiations had to be initiated with each and every new faction that had declared its willingness to engage in peace talks. As a result, in 1993, the government held peace talks with at least five different groups.
In January 1994, just before renewed talks with some of the factions, the government created the Haut Commissariat à la Restauration de la Paix et la Conciliation de l'Unité Nationale - whose title neatly summarised its brief: restoring peace and working out an arrangement within the framework of national unity. The official talks, held between March and October 1994, resulted in the Ouagadougou Peace Accord, which - with a few additions - still stands. Mediation efforts, involving government officials, traditional chiefs and leaders of the aggrieved groups in the Diffa region continued throughout 1999.
Another government action, welcomed by the UN Mission mentioned earlier, was the creation in November 1994 of the National Commission on the Collection and Control of Illicit Arms. The government has estimated the number of illicitly circulating guns in the country at 30,000, of which roughly ten per cent have been seized.
The hallmark of all Nigerien governments, military, civilian or mixed, has been their efforts at nation-building, including the integration (some would say 'assimilation') of the nomadic peoples into the nation state and the banning of ethnically-based political parties or movements.
Unsurprisingly, one of the demands put forward by the rebels was that of federalism, which, equally unsurprisingly, was and remains anathema in government circles in Niamey. Successive administrations have made attempts in the past to reflect the composition of Nigerien society by including Djerma-Songhai, Hausa, Tuareg and representatives of other peoples in the administration. However, these attempts at (some would say 'token') ethnic balancing were far outweighed by the centralist tendencies of successive Nigerien governments. Moreover, clientelism took over from nation-building and as a result, the battle for political control between Djerma-Songhai and Hausa was more immediate and relevant than the plight of the marginalised nomads in the far corners of the country. Only when the political system started to be opened up and the Tuaregs started using violence to reinforce their demands, did Niamey sit up and take notice. It was not so much the concept of the nation but the way it was enforced that estranged the nomadic peoples of Niger.
As far as the Toubou conflict is concerned, Chadian officials mediated the 1998 cease-fire between the Toubou rebels in Diffa and the Nigerien government but evidence on the ground suggests that embracing an entirely non-military option has not been regarded as a viable option by either side. The situation is aggravated by local clashes that flare up every so often between the Toubou and their Peul neighbours.
Multi Track Diplomacy
On February 9, 1990, the Niamey police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of students who were protesting budget cuts in education, killing fourteen students. A week later, there was a 5,000-strong demonstration, protesting against the killings. Civilian organisations have since been a visible presence in Niger, which previously had no tradition of civil society.
In May 1991, one year after the events at Thin-Tabaradene, 10,000 people marched peacefully through Niamey, demanding fair treatment for the Tuareg. The march was organised by human rights groups and individual trade unions. Whether the powerful Federation of Niger Trade Unions also put its weight behind the demonstration is not fully clear; it was later reported to have backed army reprisals against Tuareg rebels.
There is a large and active human rights organisation in Niger, Timidria, which advocates the defence of human rights and the end to all forms of discrimination and tribalism. Timidria has an 80,000 strong membership. Whether it has played an active role in the peace settlement is not known, but it may well be a force that could prevent future violence.
The Peace Accord between the government and most Tuareg groups has generally been honoured since it was signed in 1994. There have been sporadic attacks, the last of which was reported on July 25, 1998. The integration of the fighters of the various factions is under way. The peace plan, agreed in 1995, has a price tag of around US$ 60 million - small beer in a northern context but totally out of reach of a cash-strapped country with a US$ 1.6 billion foreign debt.
Whether the roots of the problem - real or perceived cultural, material and political disenfranchisement - have been removed, remains to be seen. The foreign-dominated exploitation of uranium continues, but it is doubtful whether this will contribute in any way to Niger's development: demand has dropped and prices have been depressed for decades. Oil exploration is reportedly going on in the same - Tuareg - area.
In the meantime, Niger remains poor and near bankruptcy. Jeune Afrique reported in April 1999 that for the past six months, civil servants had received no salaries. On July 1, 1999, the military adopted a new constitution, providing for an elected president, a prime minister to be appointed by the president, and a General Assembly to whom the prime minister is answerable. Early August, General Wanke proclaimed the new Constitution legal and announced presidential elections, now to be held in November 1999. They brought Mamadou Tandja to power.
Future trouble may come from either Nigeria, with which Niger has a sleeping border dispute, or from Algeria. In December 1998, the Nigerien army was involved in a search-and-destroy mission of a base, set up by Algerian Islamists, in which four soldiers died. In January 1999, the Nigerien police arrested eighteen people, suspected of actively supporting the armed fundamentalist movement in Algeria. Even more worrying is the nascent rebellion in the Diffa region, led by the Toubou group calling itself the Democratic Front of Renewal (FDR), which appears to have ties with Chadian rebel groups. Reports of massacres, allegedly committed by the Nigerien army in October 1998 and again in March-April 1999 in the Diffa region will do nothing to diminish tensions in the area. Finally, the continued availability of small arms in the entire region remains a destabilising factor.
The UN Advisory Mission on Small Arms made some recommendation to the Nigerien government - at the time still civilian - and included them in its report. Firstly, it concluded that Niger is among the countries most in need of international assistance. It went on to urge completion of the legislation regarding arms control and recommended an amnesty period, enabling people to hand in non-registered weapons. The Mission then went on to advise the government not to give in too easily to Tuareg demands, and especially not if the resources to match those promises were not in place.
Substantiating this view in his paper on the conflict in Niger, Prof. H.A. Sidikou offers some useful insights in the interrelationships between government policies, international finance and local conflicts. The Tuareg repatriation programme failed in part for lack of finance, which was -in a sense- due to the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) that has just been put in place. The SAP had been necessitated by government profligacy following the short-lived uranium windfall. Sidikou points out that the dilemma is that while Niger needs financial assistance to ensure a modicum of social peace, the conditions that are attached to the disbursement of that assistance may run counter to people's interests. In a context such as Niger, this may quickly translate into armed conflict.
Sidikou has also, tentatively, moved towards breaking the greatest political taboo in Niger and has cautiously suggested that perhaps a referendum on a kind of federalism might, in the long term, have some benefits. Again, money is an important part of the equation: decentralisation, as envisaged in the peace agreement, is simply too expensive. It would also be better to plan investments more carefully among the various regions in the country creating a kind of economic federalism.
|PUBLICATIONS:||La Rebellion Tuareg au Niger - Du déclenchement du conflit à la signature de l'accord de paix. Harouna Rabi Abdoulaye. Niamey, 1996; |
Political exclusion - Democratization and Dynamics of ethnicity in Niger. Jibrin Ibrahim. In: Africa Today, 3rd Quarter, 1994;
Les Causes des Conflits au Niger. Hamidou Arouna Sidikou (Pr). In: West Africa, Regional report, Clingendael, The Hague, 1999;
Revoltes et rébellies en pays touareg. André Bourgeot. In: Afrique Contemporaine, nr. 170, 2me trimestre, 1994;
Documentation for the seminar on intra-state conflict and options for policy, Clingendael, The Hague, November 1998.
|SELECTED INTERNET SITES:||http://www.minorityrights.org (Minority Rights Group); http://www.halcyon.com/pub/FWDP/Africa/tuareg.txt (a pro-Tuareg site); http://http://www.undp.org/rba/country/ctrycp/nercp.htm (UNDP site with information on Niger); |
http://users.idworld.net/jamyer/kakaki (The journal 'Kakaki' Weekly Independent News of Niger)
About the author
Bram Posthumus has worked as a freelance journalist since 1990. Before that he was a teacher of English language and literature in Nyanga, Zimbabwe. His work in journalism concentrates mainly on West and southern Africa and on the themes of conflict and post-conflict situations and migration. He has travelled extensively in both regions, visiting among others Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Zambia and Guinea, with Mali, Senegal and Chad planned for the near future. He publishes in a variety of international magazines (African Business, New African, EU-ACP Courier) and other monthlies and weeklies in the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and South Africa.