Mali's Nomads: Bulwarks Against Jihad
World Policy Journal
“We are the only ones who didn’t leave.” Sandy Ag Mostapha is standing beside his cattle, a black turban binding his head and a loose shirt draped over dusty trousers. We are in Tayshak, a Tuareg encampment in the desert about six miles north of Timbuktu, where a few tents, made from goat skins, are pitched between feathery acacias. Before the crisis of 2012, some 60 families lived here, but that number has been reduced to just 15.

“Everybody left to go to the refugee camps,” says Sandy, “and it is only now they are starting to return. But most have lost their animals. They were frightened by the noise of the planes, and if you lose an animal here in the desert, they will die because they depend on us for water.”

One of his sons is walking beside a donkey, beating its back with a stick, driving it 200 feet across the sand, exactly the same distance as the depth of which it draws the water. In of well music, the crack of the stick chimes with the creak of a pulley, then the sloshing of the precious liquid, drops of it catching the sun like gemstones as they leak out of a sweating goatskin. The skins are dragged over the lip and emptied into the troughs, or poured into plastic bidons (small containers) to supply the human needs of the camp.

“Even before the crisis,
our lives were hard,” says
 Sandy, “but I fear now they have become impossible. It is difficult to keep the wells in good condition, or to get medicine for our animals, and the biggest problem is finding pasture. There is no grass any more—that’s why the animals are dying. We used to get help from people in the town, but now no one wants to come and visit us. We have been abandoned.”