The war in Mali: on the trail of the Tuareg separatists

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda

In January 2012, militant Tuareg separatists led a rebellion against the Malian army in the north of the West African country, in a vast region called the Azawad. Their military force, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the MNLA, laid claim to the whole of the Azawad region which stretches from the far north down to the towns of Timbuktu and Gao, which they soon successfully occupied, declaring an independent state. The MNLA were later defeated by Jihadist forces, who subsequently took control of the region, and whose next target was to overrun the south of the country. That ultimately led to the French-led military intervention against the Jihadists that began in January this year and which has restored the Malian government’s control of its national territory. Photographer Ferhat Bouda, who specialises in reports on the Berber people, to which the Tuaregs belong, followed the MNLA in their briefly victorious drive for an independent Azawad last year. Mediapart publishes here a selection of his pictures of the Tuareg campaign.  

Algerian-born Bouda is himself a Berber, now based in Frankfurt, Germany, where he has mounted a series of photographic exhibitions and contributes to the German press agency DPA.

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 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
01: February 2012, close to the town of Timbuktu, northern Mali. A horse-mounted MNLA fighter.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
02: February 2012, close to the town of Timbuktu, northern Mali. These MNLA fighters pose for a picture with their converted pick-up at their operational base in Léré.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
03: February 2012, close to the town of Timbuktu, northern Mali. In the photo on the left is a 17 year-old fighter calledMana, who has never been to school and speaks only the Berber language. The man on the right-hand photo deserted the regular Malian army to join the MNLA, one of an estimated several hundred Tuaregs who did so when the insurrection began in early 2012.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
04: February 2012, close to Timbuktu. Early morning and this MNLA member sleeps with his gun in hand.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
05: February 2012, close to Timbuktu. An MNLA fighter poses with his machinegun.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
06: February 2012, Hassi el Beidh, northern Mali. This MNLA group fill up with water supplies from a local well. They often have to travel for several hours to reach a deep well.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
07: February 2012, close to Timbuktu. These MNLA fighters hold the independent flag of the unrecognized Azawad ‘state’.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
08: June 2012, Burkina-Faso. This is the largest camp of Malian refugees in the neighbouring state of Burkina-Faso, at Gibo, to where they have fled the combat at home.  

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
09: June 2012, refugee camp in the Burkina-Faso capital Ouagadougou. In the photo on the left is a family of refugees who fled Mali, like others in the photo on the right, to reach the camp in Ouagadougou where no international aid organization was present at the time these pictures were taken. The local authorities struggled to provide proper assistance.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
10: June 2012, refugee camp in the Burkina-Faso capital Ouagadougou where scores of children live on meagre food supplies and amid a lack of hygiene.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
11: June 2012, refugee camp in the Burkina-Faso capital Ouagadougou. Normally children receive one portion of rice per day, although on this occasion is a rare treat of pasta.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
12: June 2012, in a village north-east Mali. These children are setting off to fill up on water supplies.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
13: June 2012, in the northern Malian town of Gao. This street scene was taken before the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) defeated the MNLA in a battle for control of the town on June 27th 2012. The Mujwa and its Islamist ally Ansar Dine subsequently announced they had taken over control of much of the northern region. 

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
14: June 2012, at the airport close to Gao, where Mana, 17, (see photo number 03) poses in the captured military hangar beside a damaged army helicopter.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
15: June 2012, in Gao. This man, Mohamed, is a former soldier with the Libyan army. He joined up with the MNLA before the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
16: June 2012, in the northern Malian town of Gao. Children bathe in the river Niger.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
17: June 2012, on the banks of the river Niger in Gao. The Jihadists would soon wrest control of the town from the MNLA, whose secretary-general, Bilal ag Cherif, had signed a declaration of independence of Azawad in Gao in April.

 

 © Ferhat Bouda © Ferhat Bouda
18: June 2012, in Gao. These young MNLA fighters pose beside the town’s prison where a number of Tuaregs were reportedly tortured and killed.

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See also:

Still hoping, beyond despair: how Malians view the road to recovery

Urgently wanted: new political leaders to rebuild Mali

On the road in war-torn Mali

The colonial ghost haunting the rebuilding of a post-war Mali

Don't mention 'the war': the semantic battle of the French campaign in Mali

The energy stakes in the Sahel surrounding the war in Mali

French president's 'blinkered and lonely' war in Mali

Time presses for Hollande's gamble in Mali


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English version by Graham Tearse