What is the ethnicity of the Tuaregs?


1The influence of tourism on the culture and identity of the host societies has been one of the main concerns of ethnologists, sociologists, and occasionally geographers, since tourism became the subject of research in these disciplines. The first studies, such as that by Van den Berghe (1980), saw the influence of this “inter-ethnic relationship” on the local population rather negatively. The authors referred to concepts such as acculturation, which describes a process of asymmetrical cultural borrowing (Nunez 1963, Nash 2001), or commodification, through which cultural traditions are transformed into goods (Greenwood 1989). The increasing body of empirical research on tourism since the 1990s has paved the way for new, more positive perspectives. These studies deal in particular with the ability of local actors to deal with external influences. Proponents of this approach emphasize the revitalization of certain cultural elements in the host societies such as arts and crafts (Deitch 1989, Silverman 1999) as well as the newly discovered interest in the tourism valorisation of certain traditions (Van Beek 2003, Kahrmann 1995). Other authors emphasize the ability of local actors to organize contact with tourists in such a way that the negative effects of their visit are contained. Tourism can also serve as a source of innovation and potential enrichment for local traditions (Picard 1990). Other studies, returning to critical examination, show that the confrontation between the stereotypical images of tourists and the cultural reality of the society visited can lead to a radicalization of ethnic identity (Friedman 1994) and conflicts within the host society over the introduction of cultural innovations (Tilley 1997).

2In addition to determining the ability to act (Crain 1996) of local actors, this analysis aims to show the complexity of questions of identity in connection with tourism by taking into account the different levels of identities within the societies visited. Accordingly, this article deals with the development of tourism among the Tuareg in northern Niger with a focus on the analysis of the identity change among local actors. First, we discuss the western imagination of the Sahara and Tuareg, an element that Tuareg remarkably use to promote tourism in their region. Then we examine the growth of tourism in the Agadez region from a historical perspective by highlighting its appropriation by the Tuareg and the associated identity adaptations. We then show the decline of tourism as a result of the Tuareg Rebellion 2007-2009 and the presence of the Salafist Brigade Al Qaida au Maghreb Islamique (AQMI) in the neighboring north of Mali, which prevents foreigners from entering this region for security reasons. The abrupt end of all tourist activities also heralded the decline of a subculture among the Tuareg that had formed in the course of interaction with tourists.

3For many decades the Sahara and the Tuareg have fascinated Europeans and especially the French. The fascination is reflected in certain discourses, metaphors and stereotypical images about the desert and the people who live in it and derive their means of subsistence from it. The discourses and images constitute the basic elements of the tourists' perception and their interest in the region. This perception does not claim to represent a reality, but is characterized by an aestheticization and idealization of the place and the people. Urry (1990, p. 1) speaks of a systematic and socially organized “tourist gaze” that emphasizes certain features of a landscape, a place or a culture. The constitutive characteristics of the “tourist gaze” influence the imagination, but also the feelings of the tourists and condition their ideas about local reality. This process of imaginary appropriation is a fundamental structural element in Saharan tourism and is sustained by the spread of certain stereotypes in the media and other sources. The tourists themselves are involved in this process, because the imagination is a main source for the decision to undertake such a trip and they want to rediscover the typical local images. What are the characteristics of the “tourist gaze” that determine the perception of the Tuareg and the Sahara?

4The Western myth about the Sahara and Tuareg originated in France in the 19th century, influenced by early accounts from explorers such as Rene Caillé and Henri Duveyrier. The main elements of the myth solidified in the period between the two world wars, particularly through popular Saharan novels such as "L’Atlantide" by Pierre Benoît, published in 1920 (Henry 1984: 431). From the beginning, the desert and the Tuareg were the pillars of myth, mutually enriching and strengthening each other. Indeed, much of the Tuareg's mysterious aura can be ascribed to the fact that they live in the Sahara, a space that is by definition hostile and devoid of resources1 (Boilley 2000).

5The image of the Tuareg was strongly influenced by the historical context and is characterized by a certain ambivalence. Until World War I, the Tuareg were seen as fearsome, cruel warriors who oppressed, raided, and enslaved the black population of the Sahel. This unflattering image can be found with Rene Caillé. It was compounded by the massacre of the Tuareg des Hoggar on Colonel Flatter's second mission in 1881 (Henry 1996, p. 258). The image of an imperious people was contrasted by more benevolent descriptions such as those of Henri Duveyrier and Heinrich Barth, who saw the Tuareg as courageous and proud knights and emphasized the hospitality and noble customs of their aristocracy. Nevertheless, the positive perception remained an exception, because the tenacious resistance of the Tuareg posed a serious problem for the colonial expansion of France, especially through the revolt of 1916-1917. Only after the conquest of the Sahara and after the end of the First World War did the romanticizing perception of the Tuareg as “noble savages” spread. The knights of the European Middle Ages were implicitly remembered and the special status of women and “gentle Islam” among the Tuareg were emphasized. Another reason for the fascination with the West was the physical attractiveness of Tuareg men and women in the eyes of Europeans. However, while in the golden era of the Sahara novel in the 1920s and 1930s love affairs between French males and Tuareg women dominated, the opposite is the case in contemporary literature.

6The myth of the Sahara and the Tuareg represented an exotic counterworld to western civilization. At the same time, a human and cultural closeness was established between Tuareg and Europeans. In the 1930s, the Tuareg became a symbol of the French colonial empire and found their way into tourist advertising, e.g. for the bus line of the Société Algérienne des transports tropicaux (SATT), which connected Algeria with Niger (Bejui 1994). The romanticizing discourse about the Tuareg appeared in travel guides about the Sahara as early as 1938 (Boilley 2000). The positive image was enhanced by socio-economic connotations in the 1970s and 1980s, lamenting the disappearance of the nomadic way of life due to extreme droughts (1973-74 and 1983-84) and the advance of modernization and globalization. Since then, the myth has been supported and spread through richly illustrated books, novels, travelogues, documentaries and feature films as well as exhibitions that reproduce the same images over and over again. This applies in particular to travel catalogs and travel guides. They all use classic images of sand dunes and proud, turbaned Tuaregs on their camels. The “tourist gaze” is constituted in this way by “ethnic and natural markers” (Adams 1984, p. 475, MacCannell 1999, p. 41), which motivate tourists to embark on a journey to the Sahara. At the same time, the imaginary appropriation of distant landscapes and cultures can also influence the identity of the societies visited when they interact with tourists, the bearers of these markers.

7The north of Niger is “blessed” in a special way with the characteristics of the myth (Pandolfi 2004). Tourism in Niger is essentially desert tourism, with the Ténéré sand dunes as the main attraction. Then there is the Aïr Mountains, which offer a landscape that contrasts with the desert with mountains made of volcanic rock, interrupted by dry river beds, where green oases and palm groves thrive2. The city of Agadez is also of tourist interest: Founded in the second half of the 15th century, the Sudanese architecture, consisting of old ocher-colored mud houses, has been well preserved.

8To the natural and historical heritage comes the human presence. The region is populated by Tuareg, who mainly work as shepherds, caravan traders, oasis builders and artisans. Nevertheless, cultural tourism is underdeveloped, even marginal. Although the Tuareg myth is a basic motivation for tourists, for most of them the Tuareg are part of the "decor" of the desert rather than the main reason for travel. A minority of tourists try to understand traditional culture and the reasons for its change. Through this search for authenticity, tourists have occasionally acquired a certain degree of ethnological knowledge. Sometimes the encounter with the local population also evokes a feeling of solidarity, which leads to humanitarian engagement or political support, e.g. during the 1991-1995 rebellion. The philosophy of humanitarian and politically active travel has saved many tourists from having negative effects on the host society. They want a different kind of tourism and thereby differentiate themselves from mass tourism.

9 It was Europeans who introduced Sahara tourism to Niger (Gregoire 1999, 2010). The pharmacist Louis Henri Mourèn from Niamey was one of the first to identify certain sights and recognize their tourist potential. In 1968 he founded a travel agency and heralded the touristic development of the Nigerien Sahara. He enjoyed the support of the Nigerien President, Hamani Diori, who wanted to promote tourism. This will was reflected in the law that allowed foreigners to set up agencies. Around the same time (1974), the Italian Vittorio Gioni founded the Sahara-Niger agency after he had previously been ousted from Algeria by the Algerian national tourism office ONAT. From 1974 to 1980, Sahara-Niger became the main agency operating in the north of Niger (200 guests in 1975) after Louis-Henri Mourèn retired.

The year 1980 marked a turning point: a new law banned foreign entrepreneurs from any activity in tourism with the aim of “Nigerizing” the sector. Due to this law, Sahara-Niger's license was withdrawn and given to the agency Temet Voyage by Mano ag Dayak. As in Algeria, the Europeans made room for the Tuareg they themselves had introduced into the business (management, customer service, setting up the night camp, western cuisine, etc.). This transfer took place without conflicts. The Europeans even helped their former Tuareg employees set up their own travel agencies.
After Mano ag Dayak had received his license, he expanded the material and human resources of his agency. His charisma and his sense of public relations made him a privileged partner for European tour operators and enabled him to establish a network of relationships that made him an indispensable mediator for anyone planning a project (tourism, film, development aid) in the Agadez region . For five years he enjoyed a monopoly and became the figurehead of Sahara tourism in Niger. At the same time, he mobilized his network during the 1983-1984 drought to draw attention to the growing poverty of the Tuareg in the Aïr and to organize help.
In 1987 the Nigerien government made tourism a national priority. She believed that by creating small businesses and creating jobs, she could promote local development and thereby reduce poverty. This will was reflected in the establishment of the Ministry of Transport and Tourism as well as in measures to promote tourism. Six years later, tourism was the third largest source of foreign currency in the country, behind uranium mining and agricultural and livestock exports, at two and a half to three trillion francs CFA3. As part of this policy, the Ministry supported Temet Voyage in becoming a veritable small business. In the late 1980s, the agency had accumulated a mountain of debt due to "lax" management. In 1989 the company became a GmbH with a capital of 20 million francs CFA, divided between three Tuareg and four European partners. Mano ag Dayak owned more than half of the capital. Thanks to a loan from Banque Internationale pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest, the agency invested in the purchase of new vehicles and opened an office near Paris. Temet Voyage had 900 customers in 1986 and almost 2000 guests in 1988. There were also other groups who traveled to the Niger River area and the “W” National Park in the south of the country. Sales amounted to 450 million francs CFA in the 1989-1990 season, but collapsed the following year due to the start of the rebellion, which initially led to a provisional and later permanent closure of the agency.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Tuareg, under the leadership of Mano ag Dayak, controlled Sahara tourism: of the ten agencies that existed in Agadez at the time, the six market leaders each belonged to Tuareg entrepreneurs. However, these agencies were dependent on their partnerships with European tour operators who would send them tourists and generally make a higher profit. By showing their homeland to those fascinated by the desert, the Tuareg carried out an activity that suited them perfectly. For them, the Sahara remained a social, cultural and economic area at the same time. However, the investigation of the protagonists at the time shows an unequal access to tourism: The Iforas with their leader Mano ag Dayak and to a lesser extent the Kel Ferouane were more successful than other groups (Kel Ewey, Kel Tadele, etc.) in adopting this profession . The associated hegemony aroused jealousy. Similarly, some Tuareg groups, such as the inhabitants of the eastern Aïr (regions of Kogo and Zagado) and the Bagzan Mountains, benefited little from tourism. They dedicated themselves to the agro-pastoral use of these areas, although they had the most beautiful stretches of land. In contrast, Agadez benefited more from tourism than the hinterland through the expansion of the infrastructure with hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and activities such as the production of handicrafts. In this respect, there were also people excluded from the tourism business during this time.

Between 1980 and 1991, the region experienced a significant development through new tourism activities that tore it from its twilight slumber. The Tuareg knew how to appeal to the tourists' imaginations and to play with their search for the "authentic" adventure and the absolute. They exploited the myth that surrounds them in the eyes of tourists. Their sympathy turned into an unconditional sympathy of the guests in the situation of the Tuareg. During the trips through the Aïr and the Ténéré, the guides pointed out the grave fate of their families, who were hit by the droughts in 1973-74 and 1983-84 and some were exiled. The NGO Tuareg, which Mano ag Dayak founded in 1992, became one of the first aid organizations and in 1990 had a budget of 160,000 francs. Their activities included education, health, cattle well construction, and agro-ecology. Mano ag Dayak was also indirectly responsible for founding the NGO Grain de Sable in 1996 (Gregoire 2006). When the Tuareg rebellion began (1991-1995), Mano ag Dayak received political support from former tourists. He managed effortlessly to mobilize his extensive network of friends in France (politicians, journalists, organizers and participants in the Paris-Dakar rally, etc.). In this conflict he appeared more as a Tuareg ambassador seeking political dialogue and a peaceful solution to the problem than a military leader. This role was taken over by his former accountant, Rhissa ag Boula. In this context, a French Tuareg lobby (Casajus 1995, Bourgeot 1992) supported the rebellion despite its ignorance of the "Tuareg problem". They only knew the Tuareg society from a folklore perspective. The rebellion thus acquired an international dimension (Salifou 1993).The French media portrayed Mano ag Dayak, who was able to win them over for his struggle, as the spokesman for the Tuareg in reality, however, he held it in check. Nevertheless, he had neither traditional legitimacy4 nor an official mandate to represent the fragmented world of the Tuareg. His exposed role was due exclusively to his work as a tour operator and his fame in France.

The year 1992 marked a second turning point: for the first time, the region saw a sharp drop in tourists due to the precarious security situation caused by the rebellion. This situation persisted in 1993 and 1994 as the region became a battleground between Tuareg rebel groups and the Nigerien army. Without going into the underlying reasons of the rebellion (Gregoire 1999, 2010), it should be mentioned here that the "Tuareg problem" goes back to the colonial era, which caused a shift in political organization and military power. In the course of independence, the Tuareg were transferred from a ruling to a position of ruled. The Hausa and Djerma peoples in the south appropriated the state apparatus due to their higher level of education. The Tuareg society was underrepresented due to a lack of leadership in positions of power and lost control of the new state and its political and economic decisions. Combined with a limitation of their nomadic living space through the emergence of nation states and the collapse of the traditional economy, this political marginalization led to an armed uprising against the state, carried out primarily by ishumar, young Tuareg migrants in North Africa who were part of the Islamic Legion of Libya had learned how to handle weapons. Marked by demands for rights for one's own identity, the rebellion ended with the signing of the peace treaty of Ouagadougou (April 24, 1995). Some tourism actors wanted to revive tourism and began to build a new infrastructure. There has even been an increase in travel agencies even when Mano ag Dayak was killed in a plane crash in 1995. He was on his way to Niamey to negotiate with the Nigerien authorities.

At the end of 1996 the tourists came back. Flights between Agadez and Paris have resumed. However, the season was quickly interrupted after several groups were robbed by “uncontrolled gangs,” according to local terminology, while traveling through the Aïr. The Paris-Agadez route was discontinued again. Local agencies that had made large investments in their business posted heavy losses. They counted on former rebels to be stationed in the region to put an end to the activities of the "gangs" and hoped for a restart from 1997-1998. Their hopes were again disappointed. In November 1997 fighting broke out at the foot of the Bagzan Mountains between the Nigerien army and the fighters of the UFRA (Union des Forces de la Résistance Armée) and the FARS (Forces Armées Révolutionnaires du Sahara), which signed the peace treaty of April 24, 1995 had not accepted. The situation only improved in the late 1990s with the Algiers Accords and the reintegration of former rebels into the Nigerien army and society.

In the years 2000-2006, tourism in the Agadez region experienced a boom, thanks in part to the support of Rhissa ag Boula, who was appointed Minister of Tourism in the government of President Tandja Mamadou. He issued licenses to local travel agencies even when the guides did not meet the legal requirements. This practice led to the creation of 62 new agencies by 2007. They employed more than 500 guides, drivers, cooks, cameleers, accountants and guards. The heads and staff of the agencies were, with few exceptions, Tuareg from different groups of the Aïr and the surrounding plains. The directors usually employed members of their own relatives and group.

16 In general, the heads and employees of the agencies came from the social classes of the noble (imajighen5) and vassals (imghad) within the Tuareg society. They were almost exclusively men. Only three agencies were run by women. However, the growing number of agencies also led to a diversification of the social structure in the tourism business. The death of Mano ag Dayak in 1995 left a vacuum that was filled, on the one hand, by his former partners and employees. On the other hand, the previously dominant actors of Iforas and Kel Ferouane were increasingly joined by members of Kel Ewey and Kel Tadele, to which the Minister Rhissa ag Boula belonged, who had hardly been active in tourism until then.

After the rebellion in the 1990s, European tour operators resumed their activities, thanks in part to the reopening of the airline from France to Agadez. The number of tourists in the region grew rapidly and stabilized at 3,500 to 5,000 visitors per season (Direction Régionale du Tourisme in Agadez6). In view of the transport difficulties and the latent uncertainty caused by gangs, the European tour operators worked with local agencies. With a few exceptions, all tourists traveled to the Aïr and the Ténéré in organized groups. There was hardly any individual tourism. The package tours lasted one to three weeks and led through the mountains and the desert using off-road vehicles (65% of all trips), as camel trekking (30%) or as a hiking trip (5%) (Scholze 2009).

The work in tourism took place in close cooperation with European tour operators and became an independent profession for the Tuareg, which diversified the local economy. This was not the case when tourism began to develop in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. The first Tuareg to get involved in this business were criticized by their relatives. For the aristocracy in particular, any type of manual work, including auto mechanics, was considered unworthy of their class. They also accused the actors of “following the whites”. This accusation was fueled by the fear that those Tuareg might turn away from local traditions and values ​​and convert to Christianity.

19Over time this fear turned out to be unfounded. In addition, the general acceptance of involvement in tourism in the population grew, especially due to the economic benefits. This acceptance manifested itself increasingly in the 2000s, when a growing number of young Tuareg sought their professional future in tourism, which pastoralism could no longer offer them. At the same time, the pioneers of the profession, who had come to tourism mostly by chance through interaction with Europeans and adapted their traditional skills for the new profession, began to give up their nomadic lifestyle in order to devote themselves increasingly to the tourism business.

20The work and lifestyle of tourism actors are shaped by the combination of traditional (kel eru, literally "people from the past") and modern (kel ezzaman, literally "people of today") elements. The combination is based on a process of cultural appropriation in which foreign and / or modern elements are integrated into the autochthonous culture by giving them local meaning and value through a reinterpretation (Probst and Spittler 2004). The degree of appropriation and the change in lifestyle depends on the specific work. A camel driver from the Aïr on a camel trek (meharee), draws on traditional animal husbandry and dressage practices. For him, the modern element is interaction with tourists. The guides / drivers rely on their traditional desert orientation techniques, but they also need to learn to drive an off-road vehicle in deep sand and a basic understanding of auto mechanics. The agency bosses have to master the greatest degree of appropriation in order to survive in a global market, to advertise their products, to keep records and to offer high quality services.

In addition to the acquisition of new technologies, skills and new knowledge, other areas of everyday life are also influenced to different degrees depending on the specific work in tourism. After traveling with tourists, a camel driver returns to his nomad camp and resumes his life as a camel herder. The guides, drivers and cooks, on the other hand, live an urban life in Agadez and return to the Aïr after the season. In contrast, a growing number of agency managers travel to Europe between seasons to establish contacts with tour operators. Some leaders are married to European women and alternate their lives between Niger and Europe. A process of increasing delimitation of the spatial radius of action from the nomad camp to the metropolises of Europe, based on the use of modern means of transport such as off-road vehicles and airplanes, becomes clear. Parallel to the spatial delimitation, an acquisition of new knowledge and a changed world experience take place. This includes a steadily intensifying confrontation with urban and modern life with a simultaneously growing distance to traditional life and the values ​​associated with it. However, this confrontation does not lead to an alienation of the actors from their identity as Tuareg. On the contrary, those Tuareg who break away from their traditional living space the furthest through their activity in tourism often develop a strongly conservative attitude and show great appreciation for their home region and culture. This process can also be explained by the fact that their living space and cultural identity are valued by tourists and represent their most important resource in the tourism business. All in all, working for the agencies enables the Tuareg to live a modern lifestyle and at the same time allows them to remain connected to their traditions and their region. Accordingly, the actors refer to themselves as “modern nomads”. Tourism is thus becoming a new form of nomadism7. The symbol of this modernization is the appropriation of the Toyota off-road vehicle, which has in part replaced the camel as a means of transport and as a basis for prosperity. This is why some actors use the word ehare (Wealth), which traditionally means a herd, for their chariots. The owners and drivers give their off-road vehicles typical camel names and the money they earn from transporting tourists is turned into camel mare milk (akh-n-talamt) called.

The processes of appropriation combined with the transformation of identity into modern nomads have led to the constitution of a new subculture among local tourism actors. They share a certain work ethic based on the specific knowledge of their profession, mastery of technology and a certain pride fueled by the admiration of tourists. They share the memory of the “heroes” of the profession and a canon of stories and anecdotes related to work in tourism. At the same time, they feel closely connected to their identity as Tuareg and see themselves as important members of their society.

Apart from these similarities, the followers of this subculture also differ in terms of their membership of different Tuareg groups, their lifestyle and their experiences. It is not a solidarity subculture. The agencies are in tough competition with one another. While their number almost doubled between 2002 and 2007, the number of tourists remains stable. In fact, only about 15 agencies are well established and split the majority of clients among themselves. You have good relationships with western tour operators. The other agencies have to look for their guests among the few individual tourists who stay in the hotels in Agadez and the foreign development workers and experts who work for the mines around Arlit or live in Niamey. Due to their success in tourism, some Tuareg actors have succeeded in becoming rich personalities who exert a political influence, especially at the local level. As part of the subculture that is being constituted, they are in the process of becoming a new bourgeoisie (Bourgeot 1992).

The involvement of the Tuareg in the agencies not only leads to a change in their lifestyle. It also affects their social status. They become mediators of contact between the population and the tourists. This primarily affects the residents of the Aïr, who also want to benefit from tourism. They include the blacksmiths (enaden) who produce silver jewelry and handicrafts from serpentinite rock, as well as their wives who make leather goods and jewelry for tourists. Then there are the shasturis (Tourist hunters), which can be found mainly in the Timia im Aïr oasis. Most of them do not come from the blacksmith caste, but are predominantly young nobles (imajighen) or descendants of former slaves (ighawelen). Relationships between forging and shasturis on the one hand and between them and the agencies on the other hand are often conflictual. Since they have no customers of their own, there are blacksmiths and shasturis in the Aïr dependent on the agencies. The guides and drivers of the groups determine whether or not to take their guests to the vendors.

There is an even greater dependence on intermediaries for noble women and men who want to sell jewelry, pots and baskets to visitors. You don't just depend on the agencies bringing tourists. Her status as a noble prevents direct contact with strangers in public. This limitation is related to respect for traditional values ​​of honor (asshak) and shame (takarakit) together. Accordingly, the public sale of goods to strangers is considered shameless in the eyes of the local population. Therefore, these actors are dependent on local intermediaries and trust their goods as a commission to the blacksmiths and shasturis which they sell to tourists on their behalf.

Another type of mediation is the organization of performative cultural elements: traditional songs and dances (end), with or without camels (fantasia). These performances are requested by the agencies and organized by an intermediary in the village. In this domain of action, noble women, especially in the Timia oasis, are very active and participate as singers. A tende for tourists is held in Timia up to 20 times a season and can also be organized spontaneously. The reasons for this are the many years of experience of the residents of Timia with tourist performances and the fact that the traditions shown are still very much alive there, unlike many other places in the Aïr. This leads to the question of the relationship between the desire to preserve cultural traditions and their valorisation in tourism. A first answer would be that the residents are able to display their traditions for tourists because they are locally preserved. Although the context and the audience are very different from the traditional setting, compared to a wedding or christening, only minor differences can be observed in the performance of the chants and dances for tourists. A second answer concerns the value attached to Tuareg identity. For the Tuareg in Timia, it goes without saying that tourists come to learn about their traditions. The tourist imagination of the Tuareg culture harmonizes perfectly with the self-perception of the host society. The appreciation of this culture by tourists therefore strengthens self-esteem and local identity. Finally, unlike the sale of handicrafts, participating in the shows for noble women means the opportunity to earn money without violating local norms of honor and shame. In this case, you act as a group and within the framework of the rules of hospitality.

27 Under these conditions, mediation in tourism contributes to the preservation of traditions. In contrast, there are areas of mediation that lead to a modernization of the villages and nomad camps. Tuaregs who work for the agencies introduce new consumer goods, new knowledge about the world and new ideas. For young Tuaregs in the Aïr, the tourism actors who drive around in their off-road vehicles and wear expensive clothes have become new role models. In contrast, tourists have little influence on the local population. Most of the men in Timia continue to work as shepherds, caravan traders and oasis farmers. The tourists are just a welcome source of additional income.

At the beginning of 2007, a new Tuareg rebellion broke out in the Aïr, with consequences for the entire Agadez region. As in the previous conflict, tourism actors play a leading role again this time, in particular Aghali Alambo, a former rebel and agency director. He becomes the leader of the MNJ (Mouvement Nigérien pour la Justice). Since then, tourism has collapsed. It is too dangerous to send Europeans to the region.The “new bourgeoisie” of the subculture in tourism is suddenly deprived of its main resource and source of income. Some agency managers and employees joined the rebels, others went to Europe. Most of the actors, however, still live in the country, unemployed and dependent on somehow getting by.

In order to understand the questions of identity in connection with the Nigerien Sahara tourism, a distinction must be made between two levels of identity:

  • The focus on local actors shows that the tourist imagination of the Sahara and the Tuareg is a central element of the tourism business. For this reason, European tour operators work with their Tuareg partners not only because they offer affordable services and know the region inside out. Because although the Tuareg are not the main motivation for the tourists in the north of Niger, the guests expect to be accompanied by Tuareg, who will help them discover their region and the people who live there. It is difficult to distinguish whether the tourist imagination is merely instrumentalized by the local actors or actually appropriated. For example, do local guides' discourses on the beauty of the desert - traditionally viewed as a danger by caravan traders - mean a change in perception through interaction with tourists? Or does it only show the professional handling of western stereotypes, which is limited to work in tourism?

  • A second level relates to the social identity of the local actors. Tuaregs who work for the agencies belong to a specific social class within society. They differ from the other nobles and vassals in the constitution of a subculture and a new bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, the actors continue to see themselves as part of a nomadic culture that forms the core of traditional, collective identity. In addition, some representatives of this subculture played a leading role in the political demands of both rebellions.

Finally, the local actors play a crucial role for the population in the Aïr, so that they can share in the profits from tourism. With regard to cultural performances, the mediation enables a “dialogical relationship” (Tilley 1997) in which the appreciation of the tourists reinforces the traditions and collective identity in the villages and nomad camps. The touristic valorization of these traditions testifies to the vitality of the cultural identity and shows that self-esteem can grow through the acquisition of innovations.

In general, the example of Niger shows the fragility of tourism, which can collapse overnight due to political crises or natural disasters. This article illustrates the precarious economic success from which the agency directors who have invested in this business area in particular have benefited for a limited time. The rebellion in the 1990s was a disaster for the actors and tourism development in northern Niger, just as it was beginning to bear fruit and jobs and income opportunities were being created in a structurally weak region. Far from learning the lessons of the past, the 2007-2009 rebellion was a fatal blow to regional development. It is difficult to see how tourism could revive in the current political situation.

32 Indeed, a recent issue of the magazine Herodotus (Gregoire and Bourgeot 2011) shows profound changes in the region. The north of Niger is going through a tense time: Islamist groups that have settled in the region, smuggling of all kinds of goods (cigarettes, drugs, weapons, etc.), illegal migrants from the area south of the Sahara, whose target is the member states of the European Union, as well as the competition between countries in the north and southern emerging economies for natural resources such as uranium and oil. Over a period of ten years, the Nigerien Sahara has become a coveted area from which tourists have been driven. The result is a chaotic geopolitical situation. The cards are being redistributed: the main players in this new configuration are the United States for security reasons, France and China for historical and economic reasons. The “Arab Spring” has also changed the situation: the fall of Gaddafi was of great importance for Niger and Mali, also in view of its influence on the Tuareg population. Many who lived in Libya supported Gaddafi and benefited as much from the circulation of Libyan arms as the AQMI, which raises fears that armed struggle will flare up again in the Sahel countries. This is currently happening in Mali, where the MNLA (Mouvement National de Liberation de l’Azawad) has been carrying out military operations in the north of the country since January 2012, partly with the support of the AQMI and its affiliated Tuareg movements (Ansar Dine). Niger is not (yet) affected by this new rebellion, but in this context of uncertainty a return of tourism seems unthinkable for a long time.

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