The New York Times has a long report on the drive for uranium in Niger, which is threatening to create a conflict between Tuareg nomads who live on but presumably do not own the land wherein the ore is to be found, and the government, which presumably would prefer to profit from mining contracts at their expense:
"A battle is unfolding on the stark mountains and scalloped dunes of northern Niger between a band of Tuareg nomads, who claim the riches beneath their homeland are being taken by a government that gives them little in return, and an army that calls the fighters drug traffickers and bandits.... Uranium could infuse Niger with enough cash to catapult it out of the kind of poverty that causes one in five Niger children to die before turning 5.I have some reactions to this aticle. One: this is an important wakeup call, and I'm glad to see Lydia Polgreen reporting on this now, before the situation turns into a bloodbath. Two: observers will note the paralells between the unfolding situation and the origins of the conflict over the Darfur region of Sudan. The grievances and mobilization strategies are identical; the 2004 war and its related atrocities were also sparked by attacks on military bases that provoked a disproportionate response; and now that the Niger government has attack helicopter it is anyone guess whether they will limit their response to hitting "bandits" or go wholesale against villages. Current signs aren't promising, and surely this is a situation where there is an opportunity for some preventive action. (Empedocles? What might work?)
Or it could end in a calamitous war that leaves Niger more destitute than ever. Mineral wealth has fueled conflict across Africa for decades, a series of bloody, smash-and-grab rebellions that shattered nations. The misery wrought has left many Africans to conclude that mineral wealth is a curse.
In February 2007, a group of armed Tuaregs mounted an audacious attack on a military base in the Air Mountains. A new insurgency was born. They called themselves the Niger Movement for Justice and unfurled a set of demands: that corruption be curbed and the wealth generated by each region benefit its people.
To fight the rebellion, the government has effectively isolated the north, devastating its economy. International human rights investigators have also documented serious misdeeds on both sides. The rebels use antivehicle land mines that have killed soldiers and civilians, while the army has been accused of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and looting of livestock. In all, hundreds of people have been killed, and thousands have been pushed from their land.
Third, I will note a slight mischaracterization in the article when the use of anti-tank landmines against military personnel is labeled a "misdeed" in the same paragraph as extrajudicial killings. While the latter is clearly a violation of human rights law as well as Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would apply in this situation, the former is nothing of the sort. Only anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the Ottawa Convention, and not being signatorites the Tuareg wouldn't be bound by that anyway. Anti-vehicle mines must only be used so as not to target civilians directly; it's simply collateral damage of they are caught in the crossfire. Since Polgreen's article is otherwise designed, it seems, to provoke sympathy for the rebels, I must assume that this is not intended to suggest moral relativism but rather either a misguided attempt to appear objective, or otherwise a simple error.