In March 2006, Tuareg soldiers recently integrated into the Malian army deserted their posts and began launching attacks on government outposts. This conflict was quickly resolved before it could escalate, with a restrained response from the Government of Mali and the mediation of the Algerian government producing a peace agreement in February 2007. Although this conflict was ended before much fighting took place, it served to inspire Tuareg in neighbouring Niger to create the Niger Movement for Justice (Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice, MNJ) and launch their own insurgency, citing the Government of Niger’s inability to deliver on wide-ranging commitments it had made to the Nigerien population.1 The MNJ sabotaged power plants, transport infrastructure, and an airport. In response, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency, deployed 4,000 troops to the northern region where the MNJ was based, and forcefully relocated thousands of civilians from the area. These events served to inspire yet another rebellion in Mali and raised concerns that the insurgencies could escalate into a conflict encompassing the entire Sahara.2 The Government of Niger initially rejected the prospect of negotiations, casting the MNJ as criminals and seeking to destroy them militarily rather than entering into any kind of peace process. The situation continued to deteriorate in 2008, with additional Tuareg groups, other minorities (such as the Toubous and Fulani from the south), and deserters from the Nigerien military joining the rebellion.3 With thousands of rebels up in arms, the prospect of a long and bloody war was high.
The conflict in Niger continued until early 2009, when splits in the MNJ and a series of diplomatic interventions set the stage for a negotiated settlement. The Government of Libya, which also served as Chairman of the African Union at the time, exerted most pressure. Muammar Gaddafi’s historic links to the Tuareg (through the Islamic Legion that he maintained from 1971 until 1987) provided him with enough credibility to bring both sides to the negotiating table, and talks began in April 2009.4 After agreeing to a ceasefire, the rebels were promised amnesty if they disarmed. On 6 October 2009, a final peace agreement was signed encompassing both Nigerien and Malian Tuareg armed groups in the Libyan oasis city of Sabha.5 Most of the rebels disarmed within a month, and the few remaining rebels came to terms with the government by the end of 2009. In January 2010, a formal disarmament ceremony was held in northern Niger attended by the country’s president and the various leaders of the armed groups, marking the end of the conflict.6