Conversation with the “Man of the Sahara” Akli Sh’kka

By Vanessa Tomassini.

Today we are talking about a proud and noble people who still dream of a better life for their families and for themselves: the Tuareg. A place called Azawad, the independent state where they could have left behind the horror of war, the violation of human rights, and the degradation they suffer from. We do that with Akli Sh’kka, author of the new book “Man Of The Sahara, A Long Walk To Tuareg Statehood.”

Akli Sh’kka dedicated his work to those Tuareg who died in the desert due to conflicts and violence. And all the others who still hope peace in their hearts. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be used to build schools in the region and promote other peaceful purposes.

Mr Akli, thank you for accepting this interview. Please help me to introduce yourself…

“My name is Akli Sh’kka.  I belong to the Tuareg people. I am a Journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist. I spent most of my life fighting for justice and equality for my people, the Tuareg. I’m the founder ‘Imouhagh International Organisation for justice and transparency’. I’m also the founder of Toumast TV first ever Tuareg satellite TV Station.”

Your book “Man of the Sahara” talks about a territory called Azawad. What is Azawad?

“Azawad is a piece of land and political entity situated in northern Mali which Tuareg revolutionaries have claimed as an independent state during 2012. It’s effectively a large part of what is now the Republic of Mali, bordering on Mauritania on the west and Niger to the east. As well as Algeria in in the north, with Burkina Faso to the South. The total claim area was 822 thousand square kilometres. Which equal to 66 percent of the current area of Mali, equivalent to the whole of France and Belgium combined.   The Tuareg people rose against the Malian successive governments at least four times since the independence of the country from France in 1960s. The Tuareg strongly believed that Azawad is their traditional homeland for thousands of years and they blame France for dividing their traditional lands between at least five African states without their authorization”.

 What are the differences between the Tuaregs in Mali with those elsewhere?

“When it comes to political and identity demands the Tuareg are facing the same aggrievances and share same level of deprivations.    However, the Tuareg in Mali (Azawad) have been fighting for many decades for an independent state which they want to call their own. While cultural and civil demands for the Tuareg in Algeria and Libya still undergoing pan Arabic ideologies, they’re better off elsewhere.  In Libya the Tuareg people are still living in acute poverty conditions and from political systematic exclusion. Hundreds of our families do not have the right to education, employment let alone the right to register for a vote due to the lack of identity and Libyan nationality.”  

You deal with different issues, such as terrorism, indigenous Tuareg and French neo-colonialism, how these events have changed the Tuareg culture and what is the current situation?

“In recent years, our homeland, the Sahara have become a hotbed for many international terrorist extremist groups threating any prospects of real peace, security, human rights and above all our unique culture which women play a great role. Many of these groups driven by distorted fundamentalist ideas or ideologies which had been successfully propagated. These alien groups to our culture and morals were of course being used by the corrupt government officials to further their own bad agendas. As a result, hundreds of uneducated and jobless young Tuaregs, had been drawn into well-funded terrorist groups.”

How has the Tuareg reality changed in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi until today?

“Not at all. During Qaddafi’s regime, Tuareg living in Libya were legally forbidden from giving their children non-Arabic names, and if they were found to have attended culture celebrations in neighbouring countries were arrested on their return. Although there was a sense of optimism for some when the Qaddafi regime ended, regarding the possibilities of freedom, those living in southern Libya conditions remained unacceptable and pretty the same as of today. The Tuareg who live there received little or non-help from the government.”

You also speak of independence Azawad; do you think is it possible considering the internal divisions of the Tuareg today?

“Due to all complications involved in this issue, It’s vastly difficult.  But what I am pretty sure is that it will happen one day. I don’t know if I will be still here or not, but It’ll happen!”.

Why did you decide to write this book?

“I wrote this book to tell the globe about the story of my people which hardly anyone knew or hear about. I also wanted to encourage other young Tuaregs to write and speak out for themselves. This book also is a call for peace and living together as human beings with respect and dignity.”

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