Here in Mentao, the refugee camp where Colors of Connection is implementing our current project, I am getting to know and understand a completely new group of people to me: the Touareg, semi-nomads who are the majority in the camp. Their culture, traditions, and history of political struggle are completely different from life at home in the US and also exist in a distinctly different place than reality of the Liberians and Ivorians that I worked with in past projects.
There are currently 12,600 refugees in Mentao who have come from areas of Northern Mali where the unresolved conflict forced hundreds of thousands to flee. As the northern region of Mali is not yet secure, the refugees at Mentao wait for a time that they can return and feel that they will be safe in their homes. The Touareg ethnic group, while the majority in the camp, are a minority of the Malian population who live in the north of Mali and have since the 1960’s been in conflict with the Malian government. The Malian government is dominated by peoples from the Southern region of Mali. Decades of conflict between rebel groups of the Touareg who have fought for an independent state and the Malian government has created a difficult relationship between the Touareg and the Malian state and other ethnic groups. Lack of representation of the Touareg in the government, and lack of investment of government resources in Touareg communities, as well as policies that have inhibited the nomadic lifestyle of the Touareg have led to worsening relations between the Touareg communities and the Malian government. Most powerfully affecting the lives of Touareg and other ethnic communities in Mali are the ongoing conflicts between rebel groups of the Touareg and the Malian government, which have led to many atrocities being committed on both sides, affecting civilians as well as soldiers and rebels. Without resolution of issues between the Touareg and the Malian government animosity and fear have continued to worsen relations.
The Touareg community here in Mentao, have spoken to me about the extreme discrimination that they experience in Mali, to the extent that they feel they are excluded from public education, government jobs, and at risk of being arrested or even killed by the Malian military and French military who have intervened in the current crisis. The youth and the adults speak to me often about Azawad, the independent state that the Touareg want to create for their people, and which has been the goal of this last rebellion that drove Mali into a state of crisis. The sentiments in the camp of hostility, and separatism come from this long history of violence and struggle.
More to come… Please stay tuned!
Christina, Project Director