Contested Nation, Global Space: Tourism and the Politics of Tuareg Heritage in Mali
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This dissertation takes an ethnographic perspective on competing global discourses and contested nationalisms in a postcolonial, multicultural nation. Using the Festival au Desert, in Mali, West Africa as a case study, I investigate the complexities of using cultural productions and tourism to achieve political, economic, and social goals. I critically assess several projects of Tuareg Intangible Cultural Heritage preservation to show the contested nature of collective identities. Neoliberal development in the Global South necessitates niche markets such as tourism centered on culture; however these markets are inherently unstable due to historic and contemporary global economic practices. The Festival au Desert was opened to the world just a few years after an armed rebellion between Tuareg separatists and the state of Mali was suppressed. On the first full moon of 2001, the Festival brought Malian musicians and citizens together in celebration. It became a symbol of peace and reconciliation between formally opposed groups, most notably southern sedentary populations and northern nomadic groups, such as the Tuareg. It also became an important factor in income generation in Mali, and it was a space where international tourists and their Tuareg hosts came into contact and shared dialogue. Tuareg hoped that through the Festival the world could know who they were outside of the rebellion. But in 2012, a renewed rebellion was staged and subsequently co-opted by supporters of Al-Qaeda who instituted Shari'a law in Timbuktu sending the Festival into exile, and Mali's growing tourist economy came to a devastating halt. The Festival provides a rich case study of the benefits and perils of tourism in multicultural states and in wider globalizing frames. It highlights the contradictions in using tourism as a development strategy, as prescribed by international institutions such as the United Nations World Tourism Organization, as it is a fragile enterprise subject to the whims of the market, environment, and global and local politics. However, the research also shows the importance of the Festival for Tuareg identity and how it provided a space for nomads to continue a tradition of gathering after seasonal migrations to negotiate marriages, discuss politics, and celebrate together.