Orphans of the Sahara: Return

With the fall of Gaddafi, thousands of Tuaregs return to Mali and Niger and launch their fight for an independent state.

In late 2011, thousands of Tuareg workers and fighters, many of them mercenaries for slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, return to their Saharan homeland in Niger and Mali.

Having lost access to the country that was their only source of livelihood, they find little more than crushing poverty, hunger and drought back home.

Barely able to feed their children amidst total state neglect, the men launch a rebellion to found their own country.

Who are the Tuareg?

  • Our misery reached the point that I didn’t care how I would die. If I got killed or survived, either was fine, but just maybe I might find the money to solve our problems

    by Omar, Former Tuareg rebel living in northern Niger

    The Tuareg are a pastoral people inhabiting the Saharan regions of Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso.

  • For thousands of years, they dominated the caravan trade in the Sahara desert, but from the mid-20th century, the imposition of artificial borders by colonial powers disrupted their nomadic lifestyle.
  • In the past 50 years, the Tuareg have risen up against the governments of Mali and Niger several times, demanding greater autonomy.
  • In 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared independence in an area larger than France in northern Mali.
  • After declaring independence, the MNLA was expelled from several cities in northern Mali by various Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda.
  • On June 20, 2015, the Malian government signed a peace deal with an alliance of Tuareg-led rebels which gives greater autonomy to the northern region of Mali, but implementation has been strained and armed groups affiliated to al-Qaeda have continued carrying out attacks.
  • Caught in the middle of violence by various rebel groups fighting for control and the Malian, Nigerien and French armies, many Tuareg were displaced in recent years. In February 2016, more than 33,000 Malian refugees remained in Burkina Faso.

Orphans of the Sahara: Return features music from the bands Bombino, Tamikrest and Terakaft. Listen to their music here