APDarker-complexioned citizens of Kidal – a city in northern-Mali, Africa – allege lighter-skinned rebels from the Taureg ethnic group are attempting to exile them.

A spokesman from the National Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), the rebel group allegedly responsible for expelling natives, told the Associated Press ethnic-cleansing is not occurring in Kidal. “It’s not a matter of black or white. It’s a matter of our security,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also confirmed more than 200 people were arrested over the weekend and only a dozen or so have been released.

A black resident of Kidal told the AP, “”This morning, the people of the NMLA read a communique on the radio in Kidal informing us that all blacks that are not known as having been long-term residents of Kidal will be expelled in the direction of Mali, meaning towards Gao, to the south of Kidal.”

Mali has an extensive history of colorism and division based on ethnic identity.  The country’s southern region is “primarily inhabited by darker-skinned ethnic groups, and its north, the traditional homeland of the lighter-skinned Tuareg people.” The Tuareg are currently controlling Kidal.

The Associated Press reports:

The Tuaregs have picked up arms against Mali’s government multiple times since 1960 to demand greater rights. Last year after what they said was decades of neglect by the distant central government, the NMLA launched the latest rebellion and seized Mali’s northern half. They now control the city of Kidal, which is predominantly Tuareg, though has a sizeable black population.

One black resident of Kidal said that she believed the threat of expulsion is linked to the recent reprisal killings of Tuaregs by Mali’s army.

“The people that belong to the NMLA told us that they want us to leave their town because the Malian army is continuing to kill Tuareg civilians in Gossi, in the region of Timbuktu,” said Aicha Maiga.

At the same time, a march was planned in Kidal on Monday by supporters of the NMLA. The Malian military has not been back to Kidal since March 2012, when the NMLA seized the town. Northern Mali was soon overrun by a trio of al-Qaida-linked groups which swiftly kicked out the NMLA, and for nearly 10 months, the France-sized territory they controlled became a magnet for jihadists attempting to establish an Islamic state, luring extremists from as far afield as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and even Europe. In January, French forces launched a military intervention to flush out al-Qaida, and the Malian military was able to return to most of the cities in the north – with the exception of Kidal.

Soon after French forces ousted the Islamic rebels from Kidal, the NMLA rebels returned, setting up checkpoints and appointing their own Tuareg governor. They are threatening to go to war if the Malian military tries to return to Kidal. At the base of the problem is a longstanding racial dichotomy: The Malian military is made-up of mostly black recruits from the south, and they are accused of carrying out reprisals against the lighter-skinned ethnicities including the Tuaregs in the cities they have recently reconquered, including Timbuktu and Gao.

“This morning, the market of Kidal is closed, and all the boutiques in neighboring districts are shut,” said another black resident of Kidal, Nouri Maiga. “The NMLA is inviting everyone to march today in order to say `no’ to Mali’s presence in the town of Kidal, and in order to cry out that in Kidal there will be only, `Azawad,'” he said, using the Tamasheq word referring to northern Mali, the area that the Tuareg’s consider as their birthright and traditional homeland.

Despite the history and allegations, another rebel spokesman is still denying the exiling of darker-skinned Kidal residents.

Ag Assarid, a Paris-based NMLA representative said, “The NMLA is not in the business of carrying out an ethnic war. We do not talk of black or white skin. This isn’t true. What is true is that we learned that Mali’s security apparatus is trying to infiltrate Kidal … we need to secure the city of Kidal, and so we have detained and interrogated people that residents of Kidal who we know are not normal residents, and who don’t have a valid reason for being there. And the majority were freed. … It’s not a question of skin color,” he said.

Mali is in the midst of an election cycle. The country will select a new president on June 28.

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  • We all need to calm down, this is no case of the effects of white supremacy. Folks have been dividing themselves along tribal lines since the dawn of time. As far as I was concerned all the Serb, Croatians and Bosnians looked alike. I worked with an ethnic Croat and a Serb and I saw no difference in their appearances. That did not stop them from slaugtering each other in the 1990s. The fact that a random white person may make the same observance about a Tuareg and a darker skin Malian would not be surprising.
    Its just another tribal war just like the all the other ones that happen daily on this planet any of us can tell the difference between an Irish Catholic and a Irish Episcopalian?

    • Anthony

      I like your perspective.

  • WhatIThink

    To those who want to understand and have a true perspective on the history of North Africa here is the true context. North Africa was always inhabited by black populations and it was not always a desert. The area has fluctuated between desert and savanna over the last 100,00 years and modern humans from East Africa have been in North Africa since that time. And when it became desert, the native black Africans adapted and survived using a nomadic lifestyle, just as the first African people who settled the entire planet adapted to the conditions they found. The biggest impact of the desert was low population density, but the desert did not turn black people white and did not make North Africa the home of white populations tens of thousands of years ago. The migrations of Eurasians into North Africa really is a relatively recent phenomenon (last 3,000 years) and even then, their primary impact was along the extreme coasts. Only later during the Islamic period did more of these mixed folks start moving south.

    But this isn’t about ancient history. The events that shaped what are happening in Mali today are primarily due to colonization. The whole area between Tunisia and Senegal was once one big colony controlled by France called “French West Africa”. When the French colonized this area they faced some of their stiffest resistance from Tuaregs in the Sahara. Many books were written on this and all of these people were primarily black Africans. When the French carved up the region into countries, they divided the Tuareg lands up between various countries and hence the basis for the problem of Tuareg nationalism. Initially this wasn’t an issue because the Tuareg were primarily nomadic, but lately they have been facing hard times because the trade routes are dying and the environment is getting even more harsh (the oases are drying up). That is the core reason behind these Tuareg uprisings all across these various African countries.

    Now, in addition to the colonial history, you must understand that the current situation is that the Libyan Arabs are Leading a contingent that calls itself Tuareg as cover for spreading extremism in North Africa. All of these people are not simply fighting in the name of Tuareg independence. Many are simply fighting for Islam. These same groups are partly affiliated with Al-Qaeda and partly backed by the west who supported Al-Qaeda in Libya. And what did these rebels do in Libya but start hunting black folks, many of whom they claimed were mercenaries or Tuaregs from the South (which makes the claim of white or pale Tuaregs across the board completely untrue). So right there you see the West has had a direct hand in causing the current crisis. And what Western army went into Mali after this crisis started? France. They are still the neo colonial rulers of this region, but now instead of direct colonialism they rule indirectly through puppets and proxies along with economically. Then not only that you have the whole fiasco of the U.S. training the government of Mali to resist any Islamic insurgency, but what did they do when the Islamicists arrived? Turned right around and staged a coup. Now how good is that for western intervention? And that right there shows that there is more to this than any sort of simply “ethnic conflict”. Yes it is ethnic conflict but in reality it is divide and conquer, just like Bosnia was. Only naive folks would see this as simply ethnic in a historical and political vacuum of colonial and western interests and intervention.