I have an unsubsiding interest in the Azawakh breed of dog. And it is through that interest that has lead me to become deeply enamored of the art, craftsmanship, environment and culture of the Kel Tamasheq better known in the west as the Tuareg.They are one of the primary native peoples of the Sahel region of Africa.
The other day I was up getting ready to take my dogs out for a days outing and as I got ready, I had the BBC world news on. Along with the tragedy in Arizona, other international news was being reported, including something that caught my attention. This was the shooting deaths of two Frenchmen in Niger.
As someone who has traveled to the region and fallen in love with the people and the landscape, I have often hoped to be able to travel in that region again but the "unrest" seems ever growing. I wondered after the "why" behind these shootings and the continued "unrest" in the region. The report had gone on to say that two "turbaned" men had taken the French men from a bar in Niamey, the capitol of Niger. This was the first time such a thing had occurred in the capital. This implied the hint of "senseless terrorism".
The report also went onto say that France had "business" interests in the region and they were involved with Uranium mining. - - My mind clicked - Ah Ha, that's it.
I live in New Mexico, the place where the nuclear age really came into its own. Home of the Trinity site, Los Alamos National Laboratories, and lots of Uranium mining. According to an article by Bruce E. Johansen, about half of all the recoverable uranium lies within the state of New Mexico. Much of that is within the borders of the Navajo Nation, the ancestral homeland of the Dine people. They too prospered as semi-nomadic people in a dry desert region. "Uranium has been mined on Navajo land since the late 1940s; the Indians dug the ore that started the United States' stockpile of nuclear weapons. For thirty years after the first atomic explosions in New Mexico, uranium was mined much like any other mineral. More than 99 percent of the product of the mines was waste, cast aside as tailings near mine sites after the uranium had been extracted. One of the mesa-like waste piles grew to be a mile long and 70 feet high. On windy days, dust from the tailings blew into local communities, filling the air and settling on the water supplies. The Atomic Energy Commission assured worried local residents that the dust was harmless. In February 1978, however, the Department of Energy released a Nuclear Waste Management Task Force report that said that people living near the tailings ran twice the risk of lung cancer of the general population. The Navajo Times carried reports of a Public Health Service study asserting that one in six uranium miners had died, or would die prematurely, of lung cancer. For some, the news came too late. " ( http://www.ratical.com/radiation/UraniumInNavLand.html)
So, for me it clicked into place between some of this "unrest" in the Sahel (which has gone almost completely unnoticed on the American news radar) and the uranium mining by state owned Areva of France. I thought to myself, 'it's happening again…' Where our western interests for electricity and profit trump that of the needs and interests of the local indigenous people.
Necessities of survival like clean air and water are forsaken for western oil, electricity and consumer demands.
As nomads in such a harsh desert environment, in one of the poorest countries in the world, one of the most valuable resources is WATER. Water that is being used and polluted in the course of uranium mining.
And of course in a country like Niger, what kinds of standards of regulations for clean water and air can be expected? The entire region is extremely poor with prospects for education and higher paying jobs very slim.
At the same time, their ability to continue living in their traditional manner,moving with and relying on their herds becomes even more endangered with exposure to contaminated air, land and drinking water. For those that work at the mines, there is little choice of alternatives for work.
So, now some of the native people of the Sahel are fighting back to reclaim a region that is rightfully theirs.On the news blips we receive though, it comes across as radicals and terrorists perpetrating evils on unsuspecting westerners across a lawless region of Africa.
Perhaps there are elements of AlQaida at work,taking advantage of another troubled region and I'm sure there's more to it than I know. But it seems there is something more basic being overlooked - the basic desire to live freely in ones homeland without the air and water polluted by outsiders interests.
I see what happened in the west, to native people here, is happening again to the Tuareg of the Sahel, but now with more of the geopolitical rigamarole thrown in. I hope those of us in the west, those of us with a love for the beauty of the desert and passion for the Tuareg culture may reach out somehow to support a way for them to reclaim their region as their own before it's too late.
Please see these articles at Spiegel Online International on Uranium Mining in Niger by Cordula Meyer.
They are extremely enlightening!