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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 12:38 GMT
Malian town under shadow of rebellion
by Celeste Hicks
BBC News, Mali

Mamou Maiga is one of the many locals hoping the current talks between rebels and the government will bring an end to months of stagnation in the town of Kidal in the far north of Mali.

Tank in Kidal
A remnant of another troubled period in Kidal 's history

Mr Maiga runs Motel Krutel which for the past six months has been under the shadow of a Tuareg rebellion.

For Mr Maiga and many others affected by the latest trouble in the region, peace cannot come soon enough.

"Over the last few years, tourism has just come to a halt in Kidal. It's not like it used to be," he said. "And for me, my business is principally based on national tourism."

Kidal lies isolated on one of the main routes across the Sahara - a dirt track running through the interminable sand and boulders from Gao to the south, to the Algerian border 400 kilometres to the north.

With business in the town, some 1,700km from the capital, Bamako, having dried up some of the town's residents have fled to the bush.

But there is now hope that the town is beginning a return to normal. Over the last three weeks the rebels have released 14 of about 30 government soldiers they took hostage in August.

The youth want to work, but there are no good schools and we see no professional opportunities
Student Alhassan Ag Sharif

According to a local Tuareg source, the rebels led by Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, are in discussions with representatives from the government to agree the release of the remaining captives.

This may signal an end to this rebellion, the latest in a string of problems between the native Tamashek-speaking population and the national government.


Many people told me that the biggest losers in the overall economic malaise are the young people, who have few employment opportunities if they want to stay at home.

Alhassan Ag Sharif, an 18-year-old who is now studying at university in Bamako, says: "The youth lack capacity here [in Kidal], they lack encouragement. They want to work, but there are no good schools and we see no professional opportunities."

Kidal is no stranger to fighting: In the 1960s during independence; in the big Tuareg rebellion in the early 1990s; and again in May 2006 when a group called the Democratic Alliance for Change led a brief sporadic campaign.

Our culture and education of our young people are the most important things. We think arms are not the answer
Isa Dicko, Taghreft Tinariwen cultural association

This short-lived rebellion was brought to an end by the signing of the Algiers Accord.

Among other things it promised training for young people, special units for young people in the army, and infrastructure developments such as a tarmac road.

It's been claimed that it was dissatisfaction with the progress of development that led Ag Bahanga to take up arms against the state, although it was never clear how much popular support he enjoyed for his methods.

The Malian government has always had trouble controlling this vast border region and now they also have to add smuggling to the list of problems.

Tuareg rights

Some of the products on display in Kidal market - in particular cigarettes - are believed to be contraband.

Many of the men seen doing tough, low-paid jobs in the town are in fact economic migrants trying to save enough for their trans-Saharan passage to Europe.

But for Kidal's governor Alhamdou Ag Ilyene there is a much bigger issue.

Tuareg musicians
The town's famous musicians say Kidal needs a cultural centre not war

"Today one of the biggest problems we face is drugs," he said. "It worries all of us. A large amount of drugs coming from Latin America pass through the Sahara eventually end up in Europe."

Just a few weeks ago, 750kg of cocaine was seized by Malian police after a gun battle with trafficking gangs near Tin-Zouatene on the Algerian border.

On a more positive note, Kidal is perhaps most famous for being the home of musicians from the band Tinariwen, Tuareg musicians who met in the Algerian desert after being displaced by drought and political conflict in the 1970s.

Many of their early songs were a reflection of their disenfranchised generation and some were popular during the 1990s rebellions.

The musicians say they have mellowed in their older age and now sing about rebellion of the soul. They also hope their plans to open a Tuareg cultural centre in Kidal will help put the region on the road to development.

"There will always be someone prepared to fight for Tuareg rights. But what they need to do is realise that our culture and education of our young people are the most important things," said Isa Dicko from the Taghreft Tinariwen cultural association.

"We think arms are not the answer."

Q&A: Tuareg unrest
07 Sep 07 |  Africa
Festival to sell Tuareg culture
09 Jan 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Mali
18 Dec 07 |  Country profiles

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