I’ve warned that, given the poor harvests and pastures, we can expect many incidents of communal and ethnic tension across the Sahel this year. The end of the formal insurgencies in both Niger and Mali last year also leaves a residue of unemployed armed men and grudges between communities.
One example of these risks is reported in Agadez‘s “Aïr Info journal” n°108 dated this week. On page 5 is the story of an attack by armed youth from Tchi-n-Tiguit (“Tchitintagatte”, about 50km south of Arlit, coincidentally in the middle of the new AREVA Imouraren mining concession) on their neighbors at Sekkiret (“Sikirat”, about 30km west of the famous Dabous Giraffe carvings).
Earlier this week, armed young men arrived at Sekkiret, firing in the air and chasing women and children out of their homes, but left before anyone was hurt. Sekkiret youths having returned home to frightened families, set off for revenge. The paper reports it was only the intervention of two former ministers (one from each community) and the local chieftaincy which ensured security forces were quickly dispatched to calm the situation.
The cause: Sekkiret youths had reputedly harassed Tchi-n-Tiguit two years ago during the insurgency. There is no indication here of ethnicity, but that history, and the name Tchi-n-Tiguit, suggests a community of Tamasheq speakers some Tuareg caste, subgroup, or related community). Some towns in the area – like Ingall – are populated by Songhai speakers, dating back to the time when they were outposts of the Malian and Songhay Empires. Others are made up of former Tamasheq bonded communities who still bear grudges against some higher caste communities. These groups are normally peacefully intermixed, along with other groups, tribes, caste communities, and Tuareg confederations. But in times of stress, as we’ve seen from Sarajevo to Jos, people do find enemies even among neighbors.
Aïr Info concludes: “The inhabitants of these villages, brothers since time immemorial, have now become two blocs that risk, if we do not take care, of turning on each other! The state must quickly find a solution to this problem which has already gone on too long!”