Orphans of the Sahara. 1

Orphans of the Sahara

Documented on Al Jazeera

 Thu, 09 Jan 2014 11:45
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Orphans of the Sahara is a documentary series about the heartbreaking circumstances of life for the Sahara’s Tuareg people, one of the most isolated and impoverished groups in the world.

May Welsh, award-winning Al Jazeera filmmaker, captures the complex conflict and events in Mali and Niger as they unfold within the Tuareg community.

Due to the presence of al-Qaeda, these desert people have been cut off from aid workers and the rest of the outside world. Welsh’s three films offer viewers rare and exclusive access and insight to the Tuareg separatist struggle in their homeland as well as exploring the rival al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Welsh comments, “The Tuareg story is one of an extremely impoverished people whose land harbours the largest energy reserves on the African continent, and who have been fighting for various forms of self-determination for 50 years.”

The first film in the three-part series, Orphans of the Sahara – Return, documents how thousands of Gaddafi’s Tuareg mercenaries return to their Saharan homeland after fleeing from Libya. Terrible poverty, hunger and drought await them in the areas to which they return which are spread across northern Niger and northern Mali.

With few other skills and largely unable to feed their children, the men in Mali rise up to establish their own country while those in Niger risk their lives to return to Libya.

“The story of my son is a man chased by poverty. Hunger that you can see if you look at the women and children around us. He was forced to travel to Libya, so he went. It wasn’t a choice,” says Amamatou Bint Tigzali, mother of a Tuareg fighter.

Orphans of the Sahara – Return, airs on Al Jazeera English on 9 January at 20h00 GMT.

Watch and embed the promo at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4ADnH- 6UbI.

To us the Sahara means our origins. We are people who live in the Sahara, journeying in the Sahara. It represents our real nation.

Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, lead singer of Tinariwen

The Tuareg of the Sahara   are a people orphaned, literally and figuratively, the filmmaker writes [Al   Jazeera]

The Tuareg of the Sahara desert are a people orphaned, literally   and figuratively, by colonial history and borders, by distant governments, by   poverty, corporate exploitation, pollution, drought, and war.

Their Saharan homeland stretches across five countries and   straddles the largest energy deposits in Africa. And they have risen up   against their governments seven times in the past 50 years to demand forms of   autonomy and independence.

Yet the decades-long Tuareg struggle is one of the world’s least   covered stories.

In Orphans of the Sahara,   Al Jazeera takes the viewer deep inside the Tuareg world.

To us the Sahara means our     origins. We are people who live in the Sahara, journeying in the Sahara. It     represents our real nation. 

Ibrahim     Ag Alhabib, lead singer of Tinariwen

We will go to their impoverished camps in the desert where life   hangs by a thread, journey inside “Azawad”, the unrecognised Tuareg   state in northern Mali, and into Timbuktu under al-Qaeda control. We will   travel to the French uranium mining zone in northern Niger, an area now out   of bounds to journalists, and into the refugee camps in exile, where Tuaregs   and Arabs are calling for an independent state.

This is a story you won’t see or hear anywhere else. For a   number of years, the Tuareg have been cut off from the world, surrounded by a   vast “red zone” of al-Qaeda kidnappings and killings, preventing   journalists, aid workers and tourists from travelling to the places where the   Tuareg really live.

As a result, they have become increasingly isolated and poorly   understood – seen and interpreted for the outside world through the eyes of   their enemies. They have few friends and no state allies.

Their music has been one of the only genuine insights the   outside world has into their stories and struggles. And for many Tuareg   bands, their songs are a way to relay the message of their people and help   the world understand their plight.

‘A generation of orphans’

“I was young when the army took my father from here,”   he said. “They took him and killed him. And then they killed our   animals. I left with my grandmother for Algeria. And I grew up there. I   always think about that day and this area.”

In exile, Ibrahim met other Tuareg youths with similar stories   and experiences. Together they learned how to fight in Muammar Gaddafi’s   military training camps in Libya. Then, in 1990, they returned in their   thousands to Mali and Niger where they launched rebellions against their   governments to fight for their rights as a people.

We spent hours mesmerised by Ibrahim’s stories and thoughts as   he smoked cigarettes, slowly searching for the right words, often staring out   through the crack of the door into the sand storm whirling around us.

The last thing he said was “my generation of Tuareg is a   generation of orphans”. It was really important to him that we   understand his story was no different to those of thousands of others who   became rebels – that his pain was not unique.

After we returned to Doha, I put Ibrahim’s interview on a shelf   and forgot about it. We are a news channel and I wasn’t sure what to do with   such a long and deep interview on a subject that is obscure to most people   and requires a lot of background and explaining. But he and his words lodged   somewhere deep in my consciousness.

In late 2011, Al Jazeera returned to the region to document the   new exodus of Tuaregs back to northern Mali and Niger following the fall of   Gaddafi in Libya. We noticed a high proportion of orphans, both among the   young returning Tuareg mercenaries, and among the families they were   supporting in the desert.

In 2008, Al Jazeera met Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the lead singer of   the Tuareg rock band Tinariwen, at his home near Tessalit in northern Mali.

We had just come from spending days in the Sahara with Tuareg   rebels fighting the Mali state and there was a sand storm brewing. We wanted   to stop somewhere and thought it would be interesting to know Ibrahim’s   opinion of the rebellion.

As we took shelter in a small hut from the roaring wind,   Ibrahim shared his powerful personal story — one that will be familiar to all   fans of Tinariwen.

Many of the fighters had lost one or both parents as children,   to undiagnosed illnesses due to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Some   had lost a parent to war. And every one of the men had tried his hand at both   armed rebellion against his government, and emigration to Libya in search of   work – the two options many Tuareg see available to them to improve   conditions for their families and their people.

Many ended up entrapped as mercenaries for Gaddafi during the   recent Libya war. They cried as they talked about the death of their   relatives and friends in NATO bombings, and the immense pressure they feel to   provide for their families – loved ones who they see deteriorating before   their eyes in the harsh conditions of the desert.

One of our subjects died during the course of filming, leaving   behind three orphans. Most of these stories remain on the cutting room floor   because there is barely time, even in three hours, to cover the essential   ground on this complex story.

We realised that Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s story has not lost its   relevance. New generations of Tuaregs from northern Niger and northern Mali   are simply living a modified version of the same old cyclical story of the   Tuareg people: rebellion, exile, return, rebellion, exile, return …

The reason for the stubborn resilience of this pattern is that   the conditions which give rise to Tuareg rebellion have essentially not   changed.

The Sahara

It is something I found myself wondering more than once during   the nights we spent sleeping in freezing cold deserts, living the same way   our Tuareg hosts do every day. Even the physical stamina required to live in   a tent in the Sahara is incredible and always reminds you of your   vulnerability and mortality. Just a few weeks of the constant exposure to   sand, wind, heat and cold debilitated me to a point of exhaustion it took   months to recover from.

On the other hand, far from being merely harsh and empty, the   Sahara is a soulful place, embracing you with its solitude and beauty, its   open space, and the company of gentle living things. Even the deepest parts   of the desert are not dead, but filled with animals, people, culture, and   history. All the feelings of being there – from sublime comfort and peace to   terror and loneliness – are satisfying in their truth and draw you back to   the desert, in spite of its hardship.

The Sahara enriches and impoverishes the Tuareg. It is their   mother and source, but also their destroyer and grave.

Parts of this trilogy were filmed in the Sahara proper, and   others in cities and deserts of the Sahel, the belt of scrub that lies to the   immediate south of the Sahara. But wherever we found Tuaregs, even if they   were knee deep in yellowing pasture, or standing on a busy city street, they   always referred to their land as “the Sahara”.

“To us the Sahara means our origins,” said Ibrahim.   “We are people who live in the Sahara, journeying in the Sahara. It   represents our real nation.” Orphans of the Sahara can be seen each     week from January 9, 2014, at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000;     Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1200;     Wednesday: 0100

The physical conditions of Tuareg existence in the Sahara have   hardly changed in decades. Even now, sleeping in the Sahara is like lying   alone on a boat in the middle of a vast ocean.

You are lying in the sand at 2am when suddenly a primordial wind   howls up from infinite corridors of emptiness and time – terrifying in its   loneliness, as awesome as the stars in the night sky – to confront you with   the essential fact that you are alone in the universe, and everyone you have   ever loved will die.

If the Sahara can inspire that terrible feeling of cosmic   loneliness in an adult, what would it feel like to be a child in this   environment who had actually lost their parents?

Orphans of the Sahara: Return

With the fall of Gaddafi, thousands of Tuaregs return to Mali and Niger and launch their fight for an independent state. ( 09-Jan-2014 )

Images – For Demonstration Purposes Only! Narrations Below

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The Tuareg are the indigenous people of the Sahara, the world’s largest desert

They are divided by colonial history between Mali and Algeria, Libya, Niger and Burkina Faso

The Tuareg of the Sahara are among the poorest and most isolated people in the world

The Tuareg are the indigenous people of the Sahara desert.

They are one of the poorest and most isolated peoples in the world – and one of the most militarised.

They are an army of the poor in a land of astounding natural wealth; an animal-herding people in a dying world of drought.

For decades, many Tuareg men have left their homes in search of work in neighbouring countries. Thousands ended up in Libya, as workers and fighters, and many as mercenaries for slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In late 2011, after Gaddafi’s death, thousands of them returned to their Saharan homeland in Niger and Mali.

But having lost access to the country that was their only source of livelihood, they came home to find little more than crushing poverty, hunger and drought.

Barely able to feed their children amidst total state neglect, the men launched a rebellion to found their own country – for which they had already chosen a flag and an old Tuareg name: Azawad.

But the Tuaregs would not be the only ones to emerge from a collapsing Libya with a lot of guns, and a plan. Al-Qaeda was also preparing for a fight

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  1. Pingback: Return To The Right Path and Ways Now! « OPINION – My Other Web Site! – Majid SN Al Suleimany – www.majidsn.com

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