The racial politics of Tuareg nationalism

Like good nomads ought to be, Tuareg desert blues super group Tinariwen are on tour. I hear good things about them as individuals, and I’m sure they’re all fine human beings, but I’m not a big fan. The music is alright, but the politics is rancid. Here’s why.

“Our music was created under the same circumstances as the American blues,” Eyadou Ag Leche tells Belgian TV. “We’ve been colonized.” He seems to want a Tuareg state in the Malian Sahara, something like the state of Azawad that declared its independence from Mali on Friday.

Whatever Tinariwen’s singing, it ain’t the blues. It’s the white man’s blues. In the 1950s, many people in the southern Sahara, mostly Tuareg, did not want to be ruled by Blacks (sound familiar?). The racial divide was an old one, but the French colonizers had nurtured it, even doped it up just before independence. They promised to create a separate Saharan territory expressly for the Tuareg, one that would stay under French rule. When independence came in 1960, and much of the Sahara became Malian territory, many Tuareg considered this a betrayal — the ‘other’ Whites had left them to be ruled by the Blacks. Some have been in revolt, on and off, ever since. This history isn’t pretty, and the racism cuts both ways. The extreme violence with which Mali put down a Tuareg revolt in the early ’60s didn’t help. They might have killed a lot of people, but they didn’t kill the dream. Today’s claims for an independent ‘Azawad’ are based on an old racial rhetoric and a newer nationalist veneer.

So whose blues are Tinariwen singing? I’m from the South — not the global one, the American one. If Lynyrd Skynryd sang this same song (“Sweet Home, Azawad”?), you and I would call bullshit on that, too.


50 thoughts on “The racial politics of Tuareg nationalism

  1. This is how many white people are. They want to create every conflict into a racialized one. They live, breathe, and drink ideas about racial hierarchy, because how else can they stay dominant? Without feelings of superiority, they will self destruct. Seems like they want to claim the Tuareg, when the Tuareg could not give even two fucks about them. These people are sick and have damaged the spirit of humanity by creating these psuedo definitions of race that truly has no relevance in reality. Funny how the category of “white/caucasian” can be so broad but “black” is carefully, narrowly defined. These white people will rob identities, histories, and cultures for their own benefit. Evil fucks.

    Its time for Africans of all colors, languages, and cultures to support one another.

    • >>>>>>>> Its time for Africans of all colors, languages, and cultures to support one another.>>>>>>>>
      Sorry to wake You up, but there’s no success – not even the white-skinned or the yellow-skinned or red-skinned people could have unite and work together. No, they’ve been in wars all thru the history, and still are somewhere, all the time.
      Africa is the most diverse mainland at least what comes to its people’s genetics, I feel, it is also the most difficult place to get a trully working union. I tone this is my view, call it racist, well, we are different in many details and that gives us enuf material to thinkg and fuss about for the next centuries to come 🙂

  2. Luna you offend me very much thinking all white people are that way. I am white and before my ancestors came to Europe they were Tuareg and Bedouin. I’m pretty much white now but very proud of where I originally came from. We are all the same people and you do not help

    • Alexie,
      You are white as you say now and it is always wise to live in the present. Be what you are now! do not live or the past. The comment is correct for those of us who have stayed non-white. Allow us that are not white an opinion that is based on the present politics and not the past. Political paradigms do exist at the present time 2012 and do not be offended if they do not include you in the best possible light.

  3. I’d like to see more elaboration on this issue. As it is, I find this post a bit unconvincing. Aside from not even alluding to any sources for previous racism, you also don’t address the fact that the rhetoric of this year’s rebellion has been overwhelmingly non-racial. Support for the uprising has overall been very much dominated by a nationalism with little mention of race. And though even sympathetic commentators such as Andy Morgan admit that this is in reality a movement by and for Tuaregs, the MNLA has actually gone to great lengths to emphasize that they seek a civic nation rather than an ethnic one – they have repeatedly called for a secular and multi-ethnic state for the region.

    Furthermore, in the excellent Baz Lecocq article you linked to in another post (, the author suggests that the rebellion is fact not even really about nationalism, but about anarchism: “In the Azawad the rural population expects nothing good from the government at all and they only hope for it to leave them alone. To most Tuareg pastoralists, ‘Azawad independence’ means ‘no more state interference in our lives’.”

    There may in fact be a race dynamic to the recent events in Northern Mali, but I haven’t yet seen any evidence of it. And unless you have such evidence, your assertions here seem overly sensational and a bit unfair. Must we judge the current generation of activists based on vague accusations about their forebears from half a century ago?

  4. I’m confused. Genetically, the “light-skinned” Tuareg are mixed with different haplogroups. I see them as “biracials” or as South Africaners would say: “colored” people. They are NOT black. My father is white and I have light-brown skin like the Tuareg. That does NOT make me black. It makes me “mixed”. I am of African descent only. The parts of Africa where the people are extremely dark-skinned have no history of slavery – hence they remain dark-skinned. Black people do not come in various shades (this is a racist hierarchal thinking). People are often shocked that my father is white. But in Africa, I would be considered “mixed” and I know, for a fact, from an ex-Tanzanian friend, that “biracials” are despised in most parts of Africa (that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some dark-skinned blacks who aren’t sympathetic to biracials). The Tuareg are neither white nor black but a mixture of different “ethnicities”. As far as I can tell, they deserve their own “nation-state”. They are not upkeeping the French colonial mentality, the way I see it. I have met all members of Tinariwen and they are exceptionally wonderful and warm people. Their music speaks to the soul – especially in a world where “pop” drivel is around us twenty-four hours a day/seven days a week non-stop (do we really need to see Madonna’s breast at the age of 54). The members of Tinariwen do not consider themselves “white” but they also do not consider themselves “dark-skinned” peoples either. Irregardless of what the French post-colonial spirit has done, the Tuareg are mixed. They deserve their own “state”. Please, do your reseach into the genetic makeup of the “lighter-skinned” peoples of Africa. They are MIXED.

    • No you’re not confused. You see what I see some black people that are a little lighter skinned wanting to be white. They want to be arab because arab is white to them and it’s “better” than being black. And like in all times, when two shades lighter than black want to prove to white massa that they are the better negro, the first thing they do? They tell massa about the darker negroes and hope massa will pat them on the head. Slavery in America was started by slavery in Arab controlled Africa.

      Where do you see black people in an arab dominated society being taken seriously about a black state? Sudan? Hell no. Sudan was carved up because again, the lighter “arab wanna be” ruling government wanted to impress Egypt and their arab friends and so they shat on the blacks in the south. The blacks couldn’t take it anymore.

      Senegal/Mauritania? Oh again, blacks were minding their own business until some Tuareg whores got it in their mind that all blacks in Mauritania should kiss their behinds.

      You don’t SEE blacks starting trouble in any country. They only respond to brutal oppression. HERE? Azawad? They think Islam is a path to a lighter society. PERIOD.

      • Oh how you suck boy. Where does your hatred for the Tuaregs come from ? Are their more handsome than you ?
        Tuaregs are not wanting to be arabs – why, they HAVE their identity, tho’s it’s been harassed by many troubles and massacres lisenced by France and Mali.
        Why do you enjoy when an ancient culture is dying ? It’s not too long ago since the Nothern Euraasia was occupied by Sami peoples – same kind nomads like Tuaregs. What’s the joy, man?
        What comes to Mauritania – it wanted to help escaping Tuaregs and took in tens of thousands refugees from Mali. But it sounds you are bitter over that, too.
        Your opinions are so very one-sided, all you want to say is that the Tuareg suck, but let me tell you, it is YOU who stinks so bad .

    • And no they are not mixed.

      Mixed implies there is a white father, a black mother. A black father, a white mother. These people are not mixed. They are black, they are a couple shades lighter than other black people. So what. They think this liberation of theirs will get them a fast path to more respect among the rest of “Arabia”. Look at that picture above… they got darker and lighter skinned people among them. What? The darker ones “aren’t” mixed? The lighter ones “are”? Is “mixed” some kind of code for saying “ha ha I’m not a nigger like you, I’m miiiiiiiiixed”. Screw that. That’s why they are doing this crap in the first place. They want Algeria and Libya to cuddle them as some kind of cousins because “oh look, they are mixed”.

      Get that crap out of here. They are black. They are sell outs. They are ashamed of who they are because for generations they’ve been taught “arab is better than black”.

    • And if you think I am offensive and wrong?

      Remind me again, what’s the word for black in Arabic over there?

      “slave”. ABED. SLAVE. What’s the word for white, Arab, Toucouleur, Bendiane? Those are actual tribe names, of actual people. Abed means slave, it has no meaning beyond that.

      If someone call me a slave then I will do the same thing a Bendiane would do if you called him a slave. Punch them in the mouth.

      So that’s the end of THAT

    • Speak for yourself. I am tuareg and inconsider myself to be black. I am very light but hair ia curly my lips are full.
      Africa is diverse their are many tupes of black. Black is just a phenotype
      not a race. In africa we all come from different tribes.
      Everyone is mixed which is wjy humans share 99% of their genes which other.
      Melanesians have blonde hair and their black and they are not mixed.
      Their are blacks in asia as well .

      Their is no reason to divide humans because no matter what we will mix together

      • Tuareg Gal, I think speaking about “the race” is a secret code. Originally, we want to mark our identity, our values, our ancestry, our authenticity. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense. I can’t blame people for that, can you.

    • OK Achoy and everyone so are you all telling me that the KHOISAN people of South Africa who are considered the oldest Ethnicity still have the same customs have cave drawings dating back thousands of years ago and drum roll………..ARE LIGHT SKINNED and have thin eye-folds like Asians are you all telling me that they are mixed? BS most likely we all descend from them so this outside influence crap is bs Africa is the most Genetically diverse continent but everyone assumes only dark skin makes you African and than Mini..and dont tell me that they are mixed with Dutch because the Dutch found them and tried to wipe them out they were in South Africa before the Dutch and they looked just as they looked thousands of years ago but most of them have mixed in the General Population, Look up Khoisan Bushman and tell me that they are mixed because they are light skinned and you see how stupid you sound, dont forget Ethiopians im sure your all going to say they have straight hair and light skin because they are mixed this is crap just because some White Scientists tells you people who have white traits must be mixed doesent make it so, i get tired when everyone is all of a sudden genetic expert and thinks they know what happened thousands of years ago because some old white guy said so…

      • I think Gregory Mann, the composer of that short blog, reveals to be a kinda racist, too. He doesn’t show either know the history and tragedy the nomads have been going thru’. He just claims to hate and ignoring them.
        In the latest 100 yrs, Sahara has widened and dried more, the French gone with their promises of the Tuareg country; mining has spoiled the ancient pasture lands (and will spoil more), politics and economy grown tuffer, the youth is yearning to turn to Islam or taste the Coke. How can a family survive and keep the mother’s culture in THAT? Well, they have, until these days. They are STILL matrilineal, and they DO have their ancient gods and spirits – although they are now again making political unions with muslims, in the pressure.

        Gregory Mann, don’t play you Americans or you true blacks are angels – especially, that your US administration wanting to help and “liberate” Algeria, Mali, Niger, Libya, Syria etc. from. . well yeah – from what ?
        It’s ironic.. Did you know, all the Tuaregs ever wanted, since the year 1960 when the French left, and long before that, is freedom – to move with their cattle along the Sahara from oasis to oasis. But since that kind of freedom is a great thread to the modern western-styled countries, because nomads have ALWAYS been merchants, too. They can trade, besides their own products (wool, rugs, milk, cheese, hides, crafts..) stuff like modern electronics, arms; or more ancient hashish or booze. See. But which one is really dangerous – the US and his friends, or the people wanting to live their lives ?

        The question may let your mouth open and still silent – it’s so stunning to compare a superpower with a people who still ride on camels. But the fact remains – US with its rich and powerful friends are yearning to pump up the oil and gas and mine the uranium out for their deadly plants, for their forever-growing economy (who can believe). The Tuareg -areas (North-East Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, see DO have natural richess. The French Areva have been mining uranium in North-Niger and many places and villages have been contaminated with fine, wind-blown uranium powder. Since Sahara has many rivers running under grown, there’re big risks for the water to be spoiled. This is some info for you to consider and see the world wider.
        If you are an American, you can compare and say the Tuaregs are like Indians. They know their nature, can live in it, and they are proud and won’t give up.
        It’s so sad, that US was so willing to help to establish Israel in the 40s, but can’t do nothing with this but call military along.
        I really hope Mali and other Tuareg regions won’t be the next afghanistan. It’s too beautiful, dieverse world to be spoiled in the name of Coke. .

  5. Yea, yall need to get it through your sell out heads, you ain’t white, you never will be white. NO one gives a shit about your white “arab” sell outting, boot licking, territory grabbing, black hating, light skin faking, chumps. You all are black, even if you aren’t the same tribe, you so-called “Azawad” are just another bunch of “wish I could be arabs”. You aint arab. YOu got played by Al KKKeda who would give no care about the entire black race dissappearing under their boots. So sick and tired of these arab slaves trying to do arab massa’s butchering.

    • Ok let me Make it clear to all who love to say everyone who looks like they have straight hair and small features are part white,or Arab these people are not White are not Arab but are Dark Skinned Black…and Tanned Brown and some lighter shades, they are Just as African as anyone else living on that continent and they’ve been living there for thousands of years let them be African, not all Africans have coiled hair and prominent features there’s alot of different ethnicity, look at the Berber, they are not white or black they are just what they are and they’ve been living in Africa since prehistoric times so i think it doesn’t even matter if some Euro centric Scientist comes up with some theory of straight haired Africans possibly having European descendants bs Humans evolved in different ways and not all Races had to be mixed to look the way they are Dna Studies show that most of the Egyptians you see today are closely related to ancient Egyptians with the exceptions of some Pharaohs who have some Euro Descendants but who cares i hate when people try to claim a race or disown a race just because they have different hair and skin shade, Bottom line They are African and come in different Shades and hair textures like a lot of Africans….Im tired of extreme Afro Centrists and Euro centrists and Arab-Centrists just leave people alone and stop trying to define or figure out whether or not they are Negroid or Caucasian.. Thank You..

  6. >>>>>>> I’m from the South — not the global one, the American one.>>>>>>>>>
    If and since you have African roots, and live in the US, which not too long time ago was the land of many Indian tribes only, and then was occupied by conquistadors – you boy are an international global spirit and mind (maybe DNA too).
    And what comes to Lynyrd Skynyrd, it’s redneck’s bullshit anyway.

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