Northern Mali: Resistance in the Streets and Online

[All links in French unless otherwise stated]

Northern Mali, which comprises about two-thirds of the national territory, has been de facto cut off from its central government since first the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l'Azawad, MNLA), then the Islamists, drove the army out of their territory, in a military defeat that precipitated the March 22 coup d'état in Bamako.

Meanwhile, politicians are caught in a power struggle between the junta, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo who is still close to power, the constitution-designated Acting President Dioncounda Traoré, and the Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra who was appointed during the transition.

Three and a half months after the fall of the north, there has been little progress: the Malian army is unable to get back on its feet and northern citizens are on their own against the Islamists, who are free to impose their version of Sharia or Islamic law. Online the evidence of this is mounting: a couple beaten and forced to marry  [en] for having a child out of wedlock, a citizen flogged for smoking in public, and women forced to wear the niqab.

This video report by Abidjan Net is about Islamist groups destroying shrines in Timbuktu, northern Mali:

The humanitarian situation in the north continues to deteriorate, with a food crisis, gas shortage, cholera epidemic, and a desert locust plague all occurring. Many have no choice but to flee. Already an estimated 200,000 have been made refugees and 120,000 have been internally displaced due to the crisis, though these numbers are suspected to be higher.

Those who remain are not sitting on the sidelines while the Islamists impose sharia: on the ground, tension is rising. Women were the first to take to the streets. In all the northern cities, the young have taken up the protest. On June 26, a demonstration against the killing of a local government official resulted in several injuries.

Screen capture of the "Nous pas Bouger" (We won't move) youth protest in Gao by Hamma Biamoye of the Observers.

Screen capture of the “Nous pas Bouger” (We won't move) youth protest in Gao by Hamma Biamoye of the Observers.

On Facebook, the calls to action grow in number on the page of the Northern Citizens’ Collective (COREN, Collectif des Ressortissants du Nord) or on the page Tu es du NORD et Tu es 100% Malien (You are from the NORTH and you are 100% Malian).

These pages allow the sharing of information, like Mahamane Allimam‘s story below, especially as the media has limited access to the region (the following Facebook personal posts used with permission):

Je réside à Tombouctou les voyages et les negociations ne vont que donner du temps à AQMI pour recruter et torturer les populations la semaine passée une voiture d'AQMI a tué le gardien de la société de distribution d'eau, un vieux a été chicoté

I live in Timbuktu. Trips and negotiations will only give AQIM [Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb] time to recruit and torture people. Last week an AQIM car killed the water distribution company's guard. A 72-year-old man was whipped.

Facebook is where many journalists get their information from, but on Facebook, what prevails are incisive, if not downright aggressive, comments—towards the junta, the government, the rebels, the Tuaregs, the international community, and Sarkozy.

The latest salvo: the government's announcement of the creation of a special 1200-man brigade to secure national institutions, a move seen as assuring the return of the acting president, who has been recovering in France since he was attacked on May 21. On Facebook Mamadou Bah says:

Une compagnie d'élite de 1200 hommes pour protéger les institutions et le gouvernement mais pas pour sauver le nord. Reveillons nous nordiste

An elite troop of 1200 men to protect the institutions and the government but not to save the north. Wake up, northerners.

In these sour comments, Malians consider themselves abandoned and try to find an explanation for the lack of assistance that continues to be delayed. According to Oumarou Soumare:

Notre ennemi est devenu les organismes internationaux, les organismes africains et sous régionales; c'est plus le MLNA, AQMI, Ansardine; les destructeurs du grenier commun ( démocratie, mensonge qui nous faisait vivre pour certains). En privé, le premier Ministre du Mali, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, éreinte volontiers les instances internationales qui s'efforcent – en vain pour l'heure- d'oeuvrer à la restauration de l'intégrité territoriale de son pays, dont une nébuleuse de rébellions djihadistes et touaregs occupe les deux tiers Nord. “Que l'ONU, l'Union Africaine et la CEDEAO nous fichent la paix ! a récemment confié l'ancien astrophysicien à un visiteur. Nous pouvons régler cela entre Maliens. Si les efforts de médiation échouent , il y aura la guerre. Si nous la gagnons, tant mieux. Sinon, le Mali deviendra une République Islamique. Où est le problème ? “Commentaire atteré d'un ancien chef d'état subsaharien: ” Voilà qui démontre combien la nomination de Diarra à la primature fut une tragique erreur de casting.” Nous disons MLNA était allié de AQMI: pas de voix; pas de mains: je comprends ni le gouvernement; ni les policiens; ni le malien de la rue.

Our enemy has become international, African and sub-regional organizations. It's more the MNLA, AQIM, Ansar Dine, the destroyers of the communal granary (democracy: the lie that some of us live off of). In private, the Prime Minister of Mali, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, willingly slams the international bodies that seek—in vain for the time being—to work towards the restoration of the territorial integrity of his country, of which the northern two-thirds is occupied by a cell of jihadist and Tuareg rebels. “The UN, the African Union and the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] do not care about our peace!” the former astrophysicist recently told a guest. “We can very well settle it between Malians. If ongoing mediation efforts fail, there will be war. If we win, great. Otherwise, Mali becomes an Islamic Republic. Where is the problem?” The appalled comment from a former Sub-Saharan head of state: “This demonstrates how much the appointment of Diarra as Prime Minister was a tragic mistake.” We say that MNLA was an ally of AQIM. No voice, no hands, I understand neither the government, nor politicians, nor the Malian on the street.

On email, mailing list Malilink offers space for more academic discussion and with long articles. The exchange is quieter, but the result is the same: the racking of brains to understand and organize a common front.

No, Malians are not standing idly by. But while they still wait for action, their patience seems to have its limits.


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