|The Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
|Mali: (R)evolution in the rural world|
Nomad - what a strange shift in meaning. Etymologically, it means rearer of animals on pasture , but now it is ordinarily applied to someone who is forever on the more, be he farmer (as in Indonesia, where itinerant growers raise crops on burnt earth), hunter (as in Amazonia) or fisherman (as round the great lakes of Africa) or of course herdsman, like the Tuareg of the Sahara, who are among the biggest nomadic tribes, along with the Bedouins and, far from Africa, the Kirghiz, the Mongols and the Tibetans.
Nomads, wherever they are, are never popular with the politicians, who usually try and get them to settle and may even persecute them - Europeans still remember Hitlers attempts at eliminating the gypsies. Their way of life seems a malediction to many, as the myth of the wandering jew shows, yet many people still follow it and there are probably about 900 000 Tuareg, for example, on the move between the Touat group of oases in southern Algeria, west of Tad and the Sudano - Sahel zone. Most of their camps are in northern Mali and Niger, where they go to look for water and grazing land for their animals (cattle, camels, sheep and goats) and to obtain the one or two consumer goods they needs the semolina, millet, tea and sugar, and the salt they have to go hundreds of miles in caravans to Taoudenni to fetch, to add to their own curds and rancid butter and, on good days, mutton from their herd.
In northern Mali, there are many groups moving about in this way, travelling up to the Adrar des Iforas, for example, or down to Gao or the Niger border with the changing seasons and the situation of water and grazing resources. Every man and every boy over the age of 12 covers many miles every day, rising early in the morning to take the animals to the well or the pasture, feeding and watering them, rounding up strays, drawing water from the well to fill the skins the donkeys carry, and getting back to camp before nightfall - all this because the pastures are soon exhausted, since there is no water to replenish them, and water points are rare even rarer since resources have been run down to nothing by the drought of 1974 and 1984, causing traditional grazing grounds now useless, to be abandoned. And fewer pastures means over - use of those which remain, friction between the herdsmen, and a harder and harder life for the nomads. But water, precious water, exists. It is there, after every rainfall, when dried up up wadis turn into violent torrents carrying gallons and gallons of water, most of it to evaporate or be lost in the sand. Once upon a time, they say, many of these wadis flowed naturally into large ponds, but some of them eroded their beds, hollowing them out until the waterline was below the overflow level. So now the level has to be raised again during periods of flow.
Hence the idea of a man who is no ordinary Tuareg (he is of French origin), El Bechir, who has been adopted by the Chamanamas group and lived in the desert for years. He suggests channelling surface water to feed the water table, regenerating ponds and natural pastures and setting up reserves of water stored in tanks. Two dams and two tanks could be built on a 20 000 km² area of grazing land south of Kidal (stones and earth to be shifted cement purchased local labour to provide the maintenance small items of equipment) for CFAF 3 million per dam and CFAF 4.5 million per tank, such a ridiculously small sum that there is no point in bothering a financial institution. An NGO maybe... but could it be found?
Technically speaking, the idea is a simple one. The (filter) dams built of large blocks of rock piled one on top of the other and fixed with gablons, with downstream protection of the wadi banks should, when the wadi is in spate after a storm, allow for an outflow to be channelled through tracks downstream to stagnant ponds to constitute important reserves for herds.
Siphons along the flowpaths should feed the water table. An experimental dam of this type, built with the help of Malis National Directorate of Rural Engineering, enabled the technical and financial assumptions to be checked. The 900 m³ tanks, filled with rainwater run - off, should mean that a few herding families (with 200 - 300 head of cattle) can settle on a seasonal basis in an area of abundant pastureland 50 km from any other water point.
What is the point, it will perhaps be asked, of trying to keep the Tuareg in such a primitive way of life instead of getting them to settle down and have the benefits of modern civilisation ? Quite simply because this is what they seem to want. There are still people for whom happiness is not congregating in a slum on the edge of an averagely wealthy city, breaking with tradition and desperately seeking a job in town.
Should they be left to die out?
M. - H.B.