The AbandonedFélix Dubois didn’t think much of the Saharan nomads. Writing in 1897, after a journey across the desert, the French journalist-explorer insisted their days were numbered: “The Sahara will be conquered, an iron chain will be put about its sands... and all unproductive nomads will be thrown back upon the desert...”
What would Dubois think if he could see the state of Mali’s nomads today? He’d certainly have some grounds for satisfaction. Thanks to hostile economic policies and the ripple effects of a debilitating political crisis, many of them have been driven out to the remotest parts of their country – salt-crusted wastelands, refugee camps, outlaw hideouts. For Mali’s nomads, like many across the world with no fixed abode, the last century has hardly been idyllic. Whether they deserve that fate – branded culprits and accomplices more often than scapegoats or victims – is another matter.
As for the first part of Dubois’ prediction: the day may come when the Sahara is conquered, but it hasn’t happened yet - not even from the inside.
In The Abandoned, Nick Jubber explores the nomadic communities of Mali and asks how the ongoing political crisis has affected them. From desert wanderers to cattle herders and fishing communities, Mali's nomadic heritage is under grave threat. Is there a future for nomadism in the Sahara? How involved are nomads with the jihadist groups? And do the nomads themselves offer an answer to the crisis in confidence and security that threatens the world far beyond the desert sands?
Praise for The Abandoned:
"Much has recently been written about the highs and lows of life in northern Mali, especially since the civil war of 2012. But most of it says the same thing over and over again, with minor variations. Nick Jubber has managed to say something, in fact many things, that zing with their freshness and originality. It's not hard to see why. At a time when the desert regions around Timbuktu were so deep in the 'red zone' that even the hardiest foreign correspondent refused to venture there, Nick Jubber donned a turban, a robe and a pair of shades and visited groups of nomads roamed the pastures north of the ancient city with their animals. His impressive bravery afforded him what amounts to a 'scoop': a deep understanding of the ways in which conflict, drought, political skulduggery, jihad and modern life in general have adversely affected nomadic life in the north of Mali. The Abandoned is worth reading just for its insights into the life and culture of the 'Berabiche' Arabs of the Timbuktu region, a people that have often been referenced in scholarly papers or news articles about the Malian crisis, especially in relation to their alleged sympathy with jihadist armed groups like Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, but very rarely written about with any depth or first-hand knowledge. But there's so much more on offer here, written in a style that's lucid, digestible and kind on the reader. The Abandoned deserves a place on everyone's essential Northern Mali / Sahara / Nomadism reading list."
Andy Morgan, author of Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali and former manager of Tinariwen
" This fast-paced book is about the great Sahara and its ethnic, cultural, and, yes, even environmental, diversity. The focus is on the touareg which means "road-farers" in Arabic. Nick Jubber makes us all " road-farers" in a fascinating journey in which we witness the clash between pre-modern traditional ways of life and post-modern threats and temptations ranging with neo-colonialism, pseudo-nationalism, outright racism, environmental disasters, terrorism and the mirage of a better life. The "touareg" have always covered their faces to protect themselves against sun and sand. Jubber takes their veils off to reveal their immense suffering and nobility."
Amir Taheri, author of Holy Terror
"Nick Jubber has written an accurate, balanced, and very readable account of recent events in Mali and the prospects for a sustainable peace."
Dr Jeremy Swift, author of The Sahara