The Berbers are a proud race with one of the longest histories on earth. They called North Africa their home long before the arrival of the Arabs. Their culture is believed to date back more than 4,000 years and ancient Berber states called Mauritania and Numidia existed in classical times.
Between the 11th and 13th centuries, two great Berber dynasties – the Almoravids and the Almohads – much of north-west Africa and parts of Spain. Today, there are substantial Berber populations in Morocco and Algeria, plus smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
The Tuareg are Berbers of the southern desert, a nomadic people who live in the Saharan parts of Niger and Mali, but, being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders. Small groups of Tuareg are also found in areas of Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
The Berber people have long inhabited much of the Sahara and the Tuareg nomads also inhabit and travel across wide reaches of that desert. The Tuareg share the same ethnic line as the Berber and in many ways their political situations as occupied peoples of the Sahara are similar.
For decades, Tuareg political leaders have asserted that the nomadic Tuareg people are marginalized in both Mali and Niger. The Tuareg were the last people in the region to surrender to French colonial rule, and since their division into 5 states at the time of independence, they have had 3 major rebellions against the Mali state before the current crisis. Meanwhile the Berbers have persistently protested about persecution in the past decade and many hold the government responsible for attacks suffered from the salafist islamists that have been imposed in their region.
Berber people are striving to ensure that their proud identities survive and are not quashed or otherwise lost forever. But the world knows very little about their cause. Their history since independence has been one of swapping European colonisation for Arab/Sub-Saharan colonisation.
Long may both the Berbers and the Tuareg thrive for as many years into the future as stretch into their past.