As the Sahel region of Africa faces a food crisis brought on by drought, one country in the Sahel, Mali, is also experiencing violent conflict. Tuareg fighters have launched their largest offensive in Mali since 2009, demanding autonomy for their nomadic community. For an overview of the conflict, check out this Toronto Star article and this in-depth exploration of the Tuareg by Baz Lecocq and Nadia Belalimat. Among the thousands of people affected by the violence are two members of the Saharan music group Tinariwen, whose recent release Tassili won a Grammy award last month for best world music album. While the rest of the group tours Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, singer-guitarists Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and Elaga Al Hamid are currently stranded in the north of the country.
Here's a 2008 shot of Ibrahim, taken in Mali:
And here's Elaga, from the same time period (he's holding the guitar):
Amnesty International says the military offensive - and the resultant clashes between the rebels and the Malian army - is causing the "worst humanitarian and human rights crisis in the country in twenty years". Malian refugees are fleeing from the violence into the border regions around the country, but the camps where they are staying are now facing food shortages, according to Doctors Without Borders.
According to estimates, more than 55,000 people have fled Mali into neighbouring Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, while another 60,000 are internally displaced within the country. Help and donations are needed to supply the refugees with food and medical aid. The development agency Tamoudre is working with camps in the Tessalit region. You can visit their page right here. The World Food Programme is also bringing aid to the region - visit their Donation Page right here and select "Horn of Africa" to help them get food to the camps. And the ICRC is accepting donations for the Niamey region (covering Mali and Niger) right here. You can also download the charity album 'Songs for Desert Refugees', featuring songs by various bands including Tinariwen, right here.
The members of Tinariwen are no strangers to refugee camps: the band is of Tuareg-Berber origin, and they actually started making music together in 1979 in refugee camps in Libya. For a sampling of their music, check out 'Iswegh Attay', from their latest album 'Tassili', below:
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