Orphans of the Sahara: Exile

Part three of this series explores the astonishing wealth that lies beneath the Tuareg’s ancestral land.

When the uprising came to our area, I told my children, 'Stand up and join your companions. If you don’t join, you are not my sons'

by Anonymous rebel fighter

The final episode of this three-part series goes inside the French uranium mining zone in Niger – the most deprived nation on earth.

Eighty percent of Niger’s people are illiterate and 90 percent have no electricity. Yet under Tuareg land in the north of the country lies a massive and lucrative reserve of uranium which a French state-owned corporation has been mining – with fees to the Niger government – for over 40 years.

Further information, comment and opinion on the impact of uranium mining in Niger:

But local Tuaregs have seen little benefit from this natural wealth.

Angry at their government and the French, the rebel group, the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), rise up to fight for a greater share of their mineral wealth and put an end to the pollution, caused by the mining, that they say is slowly killing their people and animals.

The MNJ rebels attack French uranium facilities, and the Niger government sends troops to the north. After two years of fighting, the Tuareg rebellion in Niger ends without the rebels’ aims being achieved.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Mali, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) fights to keep control of their newly announced independent state of Azawad. However al-Qaeda gains supremacy over the territory.

In January 2013, France – Mali’s old colonial master – sends thousands of soldiers to seize the land back, resulting in a mass exodus of Tuaregs.

From refugee camps, Tuaregs say they will continue to demand, and dream of, an independent state.

“We do not choose exile. We love our land. We love its way of life, and its water, and its air. And I will not trade my land for any other. Our land is more precious than any other land. We don’t have allies to help get it back, but we have our voices and our love,” says an Azawad rebel fighter. 

Orphans of the Sahara: Exile features music from the bands Toumast and Terakaft. Listen to their music here