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After Coup, Mali Tuaregs Fear Discrimination

Nancy Palus

In Mali's capital, Bamako, people from Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups say the soldiers who seized power vowing to lead a more robust response to the Tuareg rebellion must work to avoid renewed discrimination against civilians from these communities.  

Even if Malians were frustrated over what many saw as poor handling of the Tuareg rebellion by the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré, people commended the government’s efforts to spread the message not to equate Tuareg civilians or other light-skinned groups with the rebels.

Protecting rights

Now some Tuareg and Arabs in the capital, Bamako, question whether the soldiers looking to seize power will make it a priority to ensure the rights and protection of these populations.

Even though many Tuareg - one of Mali’s numerous ethnic groups - are in the Malian army and on the front lines against the rebels - there have been reprisal attacks against Tuareg civilians since the latest rebel uprising in January.  But that calmed considerably after a broad campaign against such prejudice, led by government and civil society groups.

One man, a Tuareg living in Bamako, did not want to give his name for his own security.  Since the military uprising started on Wednesday, he says he has heard troubling reports.

"Throughout the day on Wednesday," he said, "we heard rumors that the soldiers who rose up against the government blame some Tuareg officials in the army for defeats the army has suffered in the north, and that the military no longer wants to work alongside them."  He added, "If it turns out this sentiment is real, this would be a huge worry for Tuareg civilians.  We would feel quite threatened."

The man says he wants some reassurance right away from the new authorities.

"We want the new authorities to take into account these concerns on the part of the Tuareg community," he said. He says they must call on the population to prevent any repeat of tensions that arose in February, when Tuareg goods and businesses in and around Bamako were attacked.

One Arab in Bamako who is from northern Mali told VOA, “Light-skinned people are pretty scared right now,” he said.  He did not want to speak further by telephone, or have his voice recorded.  

Waiting for clues

Sidi Ali Ould Bagna is president of the Association of Youth from the Sahel.  He told VOA it is too soon to reach conclusions about the coup, and that it will be important to watch the initial moves and pronouncements of the new military leaders.

"We have to wait and see what the new authorities’ vision and true motives are," he said.  What is sure, he adds, is that "they absolutely must work to ensure that inter-community tensions don’t emerge again."

A university student from the northeastern Gao region pointed out that many Tuareg who fled Bamako in February have not yet returned.

Before midday Thursday gunfire could still be heard throughout Bamako, prompting speculation by some residents that there might be an effort to launch a counter-coup by soldiers loyal to President Touré.  In this situation of uncertainty, people from the Tuareg community have particular concerns.

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