Recognition of a culture

Western parts of Niger are homeland to the Tuareg, who also live across areas of Mali, Algeria and Libya, and number around 1-1.5 million people.

Background to unrest

The Berber culture was for a long time suppressed in many countries of North Africa. This led to much resentment and some Tuaregs would like to establish their own state. In Mali, Tuareg rebels have been fighting for an independent state (alongside Islamist groups). The conflict has caused many Malians to flee and become refugees in western Niger, a region which is already struggling because of drought and food insecurity.

By tradition, the Tuareg are nomadic pastoralists, grazing herds of camels, sheep or goats across large areas of semi-arid or desert land, often crossing country borders.

The Tuareg are a Berber people and the name probably derives from the Berber word (‘Targa’) for a province in southern Libya. They also refer to themselves as the ‘Imazighan’ or ‘free men’ (though traditionally this only applies to certain noble classes).

The Tuareg speak a form of Berber. There are a number of different Berber dialects/ languages. Some use the Latin alphabet, but the Tuareg language, known as Tamashek (also spelled Tamahaq/ Tamaceq), has its own alphabet called the Tifinagh.

The language and culture of the Berbers are seeing a popular resurgence. However, the nationalism of some Tuareg groups (in Mali and northern Niger) threatens the peace of the region.