By the end of 2019, Mali’s population stood at more than 20 million inhabitants1 (four times more than 59 years previously). The Tuareg (Tamazight speakers), the Moors (Arabic speakers) and, in riverine areas, the Songhay and Peuls (Fulani) are the main communities that inhabit the vast northern space that accounts for two-thirds of Mali. Their political alliances and their conflicts have shaped the history of a region in which there has been an interdependence between nomadic and settled populations, who have participated in vast economic, cultural and social exchange networks across the Sahara.
The Tuareg, the Songhaï, the Fulani and the Berabish Arabs represent the largest indigenous groups in Mali. Each one has several sub-clans and political entities, and they are historically and economically opposed to each other.
Mali voted in favor of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, the state of Mali does not recognize the existence of indigenous peoples in its territory, as understood in the ILO Declaration and Convention 169, an international legal instrument that specifically addresses the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
The Malian Constitution recognizes cultural diversity and the National Pact recognizes the specific nature of the regions inhabited by the Tuareg. In addition, decentralization legislation grants local councilors, including some Tuareg, a series of powers, but not the resources necessary to exercise them.
Indigenous peoples in Mali
In 1960, when Mali was created, the Tuareg represented 10% of Mali's population. Without reliable statistics, this percentage has decreased in the official discourse, and now it reduces its number to 3% of the total population of the country of around 17.8 million inhabitants.
The Tuareg live mainly in the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. The Tuareg, the Songhaï, the Fulani, the Peul and the Arab Berabish represent the largest groups in northern Mali, and are historically and economically opposed. Traditionally, the Tuareg are semi-nomadic herders who raise dromedaries, goats and sheep, but occasionally trade.
The Tuareg in Mali belong mainly to three different traditional political entities called "confederations": the Kel Tademekat, who live around and north of Timbuktu, Iwellemeden, who live east of Gao and have Ménaka and In Gall in the state of Niger as its main urban centers, and the Kel Adrar that live around the Massif of Adrar and the city of Kidal. Each of these political entities has a supreme chief, or "Amenokal" in Tamashek.
Each confederation is subdivided into a network of subclans, or tribes, which traditionally belong to one of the five classes of Tuareg society: the imazaghen or nobility, the ineslimen or religious experts, the imghad or vassals, the inaden or the artisans and the iklan or servants / slaves.
Today, the rigid difference between these classes is disappearing, but the Kel Adrar (Iforagh) and the Iwellemeden remain the most influential imazaghen clan, with different interests.
Main challenges for indigenous peoples in Mali
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have published several reports on human rights violations committed by different armed groups and political orientations in Mali. Human rights violations have increased since the uprising in 2012.
MINUSMA (United Nations peacekeeping forces) has documented several hundred cases of violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during 2016, including children. Cases concerned cases of execution or attempted murder, amputation, ill-treatment or torture, illegal detention, extortion or looting, attacks against humanitarian or peacekeeping personnel, kidnapping, recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence, military use of a hospital, forced displacement and illegal taxation, among others.
The violations were allegedly committed by government forces, the CMA, the Algiers Platform and other armed groups, mainly in the north and center of Mali, however, UN peacekeepers have also been involved.
On 23 March 2019, more than 150 Fulani pastoralists were killed in their village in Ogossagou in Mopti region in central Mali. The attack started at dawn and was carried out with guns and machetes in a brutal manner. Men and women, young and old were killed, and the victims included many children and small babies. The massacre is believed to be the deadliest incident of ethnic violence in Mali in a generation and is a result of escalating conflict over natural resources.