“Tell me” said Mufta as we are discussing , “we the Tuareg are a God fearing people. We live for our desert, our camels and goats, our families and our music. All we need is milk, meat and water – we don’t even need houses!” he laughs. “Our rebellions have been about development, about having a hospital, schools, perhaps a tarmac road in the north of Mali would be nice. But we have no allies and no friends in the world for our cause. Why does the world hate us?”.
I pause. There is a complicated answer and a simple answer to this. I opt for the latter.
“The world doesn’t hate you, it just doesn’t care. It is nothing personal. It is not about who you are but where you are. I’m afraid you are in the middle of some very powerful interests.”
Mufta sits back in his cane chair and looks out from his home in exile towards the sahelian bush and the rising moon, full deep and orange. He is not satisfied. Having taken me through his Kel Ansari family history he wants more from me.
He had described his family history, from the followers and defenders of The Prophet persecuted into migrating west from Medina in Arabia to north Africa, where they joined up as they migrated across their history with people descended from the Phoenicians of Cathage, Christians and Berbers who moved south to the desert away from invading Arabs, meeting the Imoshar and Imwelliden indigenes of the desert, taking in Almoravid invasions from the north and black Africa to the south.
The Sahara is, as everywhere else in Africa, an inter-connected mosaic of migration and trade and the people who live in the central Sahara are no different. The French colonisers divided them into their colours, the white becoming known as Tuareg and the black as Bella. They are really simply the kel Tamasheq, the people connected through Tamasheq, a language related to Phoenician and Hebrew with its hieroglyphic scripture, Taffina. They are the oldest of the old of African cultures.
Mufta leans forward and puts his hand on my knee, as though pleading for more from me: “if the world does not hate us, where is their humanity?
Humanity. What a quaint word! I think to myself.
He goes on. “Foreign people rule us, other foreigners come and live in our desert and destroy our world. Other foreign people come to liberate us but leave us to the mercy of the foreigners who rule us and blame us for all the problems of their creating, who then murder us and push us into exile as they always do.
“We the people didn’t choose our rebellion, like we didn’t choose to have Al Qaeda in our lands, like we didn’t choose to be colonized by the French and then left to be colonized by the Bambara. We the Tuareg people have never chosen any of our problems. They have chosen us.”
I recognise again the Tamasheq problem: they are ignorant and unaware of the unreal world they are in. They deceive themselves with their ideas of humanity, nobility and liberty.
Mufta comes back at me in my silence:
“You have asked all the questions, now I put one to you. You are a traveller, and an educated man”, he laughs, “you know more about our situation than we do! What should we do? Is our only choice between war and total submission?”
OK. Time for the complicated answer.
I lean forward and place my finger in the sand between his feet.
“This is you, the Tuareg, in the centre of the Sahara desert.”
I place a finger to the north and a finger to the south. “AQMI and MUJAO. Two sides of the same coin”. I draw a line north: “AQMI’s face resembles Algeria, MUJAO’s Mali”. draw a line from MUJAO south to Mali. He nods.
Then I draw a series of prints in a circle round the Sahara. “Algiers, Rabat, Nouackchott, Dakar, Bamako, Ouagadougou, Niamey, Ndjemena. I link up the dots. “ECOWAS. All of these are allied as nation states. All of these governments are outside the Sahara, dominated by non-Saharans who rule over minority Saharan people. Their interests are the same as Mali’s vis à vis the Sahara. They will give you nothing.
Then far away from the circle of finger prints, all linked up save for the lone Tuareg dot in the centre, I place three more finger prints like planets across the Saharan sky.
“Washington, London, Paris.” I draw a line out of the map to another dot. “The United Nations”.
I draw a line between them all.
“Allies. Same interests – essentially the resources, the oil, the uranium, the gold, the phosphates, the iron ore. Their best access to the resources is through the governments and through the UN” I draw a series of criss crosses between London, Washington and Paris to Bamako and Algeria. “To play the money game all these guys sing the Al Qaeda song to keep the checks and balances in place as they require. You guys have pissed some of this up.”
Mufta is nodding. From far away he interjects: “If only they would just take it. All we want is a tarmac road to the north or to Timbuktu, schools for our children, medicines in our pharmacies.” He looks at the mosaic of interlinked dots and points to the lone print in the middle, unconnected, unallied, unknown.
“Can this lone fingerprint of “humanity” win against all these alliances of interests?” I ask.
He leans back in his chair.
“Guy, thank you, I will not sleep tonight”. He laughs.
“I’m sorry. But as I said, it’s nothing personal”.