Tuareg are the losers in Libya's upheaval

Qaddafi's fight and the Tuareg

There is a growing fear among Libya's Tuareg of new marginalization and discrimination after the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in Göttingen reported on Wednesday that in recent days, approximately 500 Tuareg from the region of Ghadames in southwestern Libya have sought safety and asylum in the neighboring country of Algeria. In addition, they say the "Tuareg Coordination of Libya" has warned of attacks and has called the situation of the country's indigenous people "catastrophic." Ulrich Delius of the STP's Africa section warned: "It is disastrous for the Tuareg that they are portrayed as all being Qaddafi followers, and have even been accused of playing a leading role in the flight of the dictator. These accusations not only exaggerate their political influence in northwestern Africa, they also ignore the diversity of the Tuareg movement. Representatives of the 600,000 Tuareg living in Libya were also threatened by Qaddafi's henchmen, and had to leave the country as a result."

Delius fears that the Tuareg will, once again, turn out to be the biggest losers in the upheavals in North Africa. Because Qaddafi supported Tuareg liberation movements in northern Mali and Niger since the beginning of the 1990s, and also recruited mercenaries from among the Tuareg to fight against the rebels in his country, all Tuareg are now collectively known as "followers of the dictator" - " even though, as the human rights activist points out, "most of the Tuareg living in Libya have nothing to do with these mercenaries, and were critical of Qaddafi because he long denied the existence of non-Arabian peoples in North Africa.". Most of the Tuareg in Libya arrived there in search of work, after the drought catastrophes in the Sahel in the 1970s destroyed their herds and their economic base.

Furthermore, the Tuareg militants in Mali and Niger were never very close followers of Qaddafi. "The dictator instrumentalized the Tuareg - " just as he has done with liberation movements in Chad, Sudan, and other states - " to destabilize Africa," reported Delius. "Qaddafi has repeatedly withdrawn his support, whenever it seemed opportune to him." To assume now that the Tuareg will be arranging political asylum for Qaddafi is unrealistic, continues Delius, because the Tuareg do not have the political clout in any country in northwestern Africa that would enable them to secure protection for the unpopular dictator. "They are themselves in a most difficult situation in these countries - " due in large degree to Qaddafi himself."

The upheaval in Libya comes at a most difficult time for the Tuareg; since the worldwide battle against terrorism made the "Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM) one of its focal points, the Tuareg have been suffering under the militarization of the Sahara. Tourism, the main source of income for the Tuareg, has dropped off drastically.