Northern Mali: Resistance in the Streets and Online


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.

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.

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):

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.