“Whether You Liked Him Or Not, Gadaffi Used To Fix A Lot Of Holes”

An article on Tuareg insurgencies in Mali and Niger, by Frédéric Deycard and Yvan Guichaoua in African Arguments:

As soon as the early 1970s, severe droughts coupled with political marginalisation have affected the already scarce resources available for the Tuaregs of Northern Mali and Niger, forcing them into exile. Algeria and Libya, in part due to the presence of Tuareg populations on their soil, have become a destination of preference for this generation of youths in quest of employment.  Taking the route to Libya has never since ceased to be a defining moment in the life of the so-called ishumar (derived from the French ‘chômeurs’, the unemployed). Some of them have developed activities on both sides of the border, whether for seasonal employment or for informal, and sometimes illegal, trafficking (cigarettes, gas, and material goods among others). Those economic opportunities have permitted Northern Mali and Niger to survive difficulties through the financial and material flux allowed by the Libyan leader.

This intense cross-border activity had a strategic dimension, too. In the 1980s, as Gaddafi’s pan-Arab then pan-African projects expanded, his Islamic Legion trained militarily and sent hundreds of ishumar to various theaters of ‘anti-imperial’ struggle (mainly in Lebanon, then Chad). The expectation at the time in the ishumar ranks was that their newly acquired military credentials and Libyan support would help them start their own war of independence in Mali and Niger. But Gaddafi did not deliver the expected assistance. Poorly-equipped Tuareg rebellions were launched nonetheless in Mali and Niger in the early 1990s.

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