Accepted Paper:

Re-imagining origins and the bypassing of exclusion (Sahel / Sahara)  


Clare Oxby (University of Bern, Switzerland)

Paper short abstract:

Based on interviews in C Niger and S Algeria, this piece looks at the local caste-like social system of exclusion by descent, and how people of nomadic Tuareg heritage re-imagine their origins after times of insecurity, to facilitate integration in a new location.

Paper long abstract:

The social fabric of the Saharo-Sahelian region is characterised by caste-like divisions, associated with differential control of scarce resources and labour, determined according to notions of perceived descent merging with territorial attachment. This is the homeland of the nomadic Tuareg, a vast zone of exceptional geographical and climatic variability, now divided by multiple international frontiers. Repeated politico-environmental crises down the centuries have threatened the hegemony of local leaders and their entourages, as new systems of government and administration have attempted to take control of these vast ungovernable spaces: French colonialists, independent state administrations, international corporations, security agencies. Every change forces exceptional mobility of individuals and families, before these repeated and progressive attempts to exclude them from their cultural homelands, as new walls are erected.

Local leaders use notions of descent exclusivity in attempting to consolidate their position. Strategies to avoid exclusion are examined: people of inferior descent may choose to relocate to the fringes of the Tamashek-speaking world and beyond, renewing their notions of descent there; others may choose to retain their Tuareg heritage in view of opportunities that come with this allegiance. People of superior descent status may reinterpret their extensive bilateral kinship links in order to activate connections in a new location, especially when crossing international frontiers. Personal biographies show the multiple descent allegiances which may be activated at different times during life periods spent in different locations within and beyond the cultural heartland. This piece is based on interviews in Central Niger (2010) and Southern Algeria (2011).

Panel Pol02
Imagining and creating walls, utopias, and co-fragile formations