On Thursday, 17 October 2019, in the framework of the Murzuq Peace Dialogues held in Rome with the mediation of Ara Pacis Initiative and with the support of the Italian government, the delegation of the Arab citizens of Murzuq (Aheli), led by Ali Mohammed Shamsi Saed, and the delegation of the Tebu of Murzuq, led by Alsanoussi Agi Saleh Toka, have signed an Agreement of Good Intent based on practical points, including the return of the displaced and the disclosure of the fate of the missing, in order to restore confidence between the two parties and reach a comprehensive peace agreement, which will allow the two communities to live together in peace and work towards socio-economic development of the region.
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The Karama operation, launched by Marshal Khalifa Haftar in southern Libya in January 2019, with the aim of “protecting the south-west from terrorist elements of al-Qaeda, IS and rogue bandits involved in kidnappings, extortion and smuggling and that threaten to change the topography of southern Libya “has sharpened the contrasts between communities and tribes of southern Libya, already exacerbated following the fall of the Gaddafi regime due to prolonged conflicts, collapse of security, economic difficulties and the consequent involvement of broad sections of the population with organized crime, smuggling and trafficking in human beings.
The competition for illicit resources, given the absence of alternatives in a historically neglected geographical area, has overturned social peace and allowed divergent national and international agendas to oppose communities against each other thus furthering prospects of of peace.
If the presence of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in the south was on the one hand well received by the population exhausted by abandonment and lack of security and by opportunists in search of power and money; on the other hand it was opposed for the joining of the operation by an opposing tribe or because of the threat to particular interests.
This situation has manifested itself with particular clarity in the city of Murzuq, deep in the Fezzan, near the oil fields of Sharara and El Feel, where the Tebu * majority opposed an offensive (siege of Murzuq by the LNA in February 2019) that targeted “the criminals of the Chadian opposition”, mostly Tebu, facilitating the hunt for the Tebu by those who had with them outstanding accounts, including the Arab inhabitants of Murzuq, the Aheli.
To this was added the fear that the powerful Arab tribe of the Awlad Suleyman, in particular the members of the 6th Force of Sebha, who had joined the Haftar operation from the beginning, would take advantage of the opportunity to take revenge on the Tebu for the expulsion from the fortress of Sebha, by the Tebu, in April 2018.
The Haftar offensive has therefore sown the seeds for the emergence and re-emergence of old and new conflicts, historical grievances and ancient wounds, and has resurrected unaddressed suffering and injustice, creating fertile ground for further cycles of violence and revenge.
The internationally condemned bombardment of August 4, which killed more than 40 Tebu in the city of Murzuq, sharpened the wounds and inflamed the social conflict between the local communities of the city. An estimated 17,320 people, or nearly 60% of the Murzuq population, have fled, leaving only a small number of residents in some areas of the city.
The agreement of principles signed on Thursday 17 October in Rome by the presidents of the social commissions of the two Murzuq communities, is the first step towards a global reconciliation agreement between the Tebu and the Aheli of Murzuq which will allow for the articulation of a shared program aimed to prevent the resurgence of violence, to build trust, and to ensure urgent development and human investment measures as well as educational and professional opportunities aimed to offer young people an alternative to arms and lawlessness.
The shared program will secure a framework for security, peace and development – indispensable conditions for facing the threats of terrorism, jihadism and human trafficking that threaten the Fezzan and the entire region.
Aheli – the Aheli are the original inhabitants of Murzuq, of Arab origin and not tribal
Tebu – the Tebu (otherwise known as Toubou, Tibu, Tibbu, Tubu, Tebou, or as Goran in Chad and Ikaraden by the Toureg) are a people of the Sahara, nomads of the great desert since ancient times.
They inhabit a vast and discontinuous area in the most inhospitable regions of the central and eastern Sahara, with their heartland in the dry highlands of the Tibesti, straddling the borders of Libya, Chad, Niger and Sudan.
They can be found in Libya, up to Murzuq in the remote southernmost province of Fezzan and the oasis of Kufra in the heart of the Libyan desert; in north-east Niger in the oases of Djado Plateau, Bilma, Dirkou and Agadem; in Chad, beyond their heartland of Tibesti, in Borkou, around Lake Chad, down to Ouadai in the south, and even in the Darfur in Sudan.
Their caravans have crisscrossed the central and eastern Sahara for hundreds if not thousands of years, connecting Sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean, and leaving rock art inscribed on the cliffs of the Ennedi Highlands as a testimony of their ancient culture, dating back as far as 8,000 years, today celebrated by UNESCO as World Heritage.
The Tebu have fiercely cherished their freedom across the centuries and jealously guarded their independence, their traditions, eliciting fear and respect from their neighbours.
Never a unified people, far too dispersed to have more than sporadic relationships amongst clans, these deserts warriors share a common language – Tebu, Tubaga or Tebawi – belonging to the Saharan branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family, which only recently has acquired its first alphabet. They are interconnected by marriage, share many core traditions and come together as a single nation when their clans are under attack.
Known as the “black nomads of the Sahara”, they have historically competed for the control of the central Saharan caravan routes with other nomad tribes, Arab and Berber, and especially with the Touareg and the Awlad Suleyman.
Tebu clans have faced harsh discrimination by the Arab populations of the Saharan countries they live in and have resisted brutal assimilation campaigns seeking to eliminate their language and culture.
In the aftermath of the Libyan revolution, the Tebu are living a cultural awakening that has led to seek self-determination.