John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Popular Opposition to Radical Islamists in Northern Mali

by John Campbell
August 7, 2012

Women members of a self-defence militia calling itself the FLN (Front for the Liberation of the North) train in Sevare, about 600 kms (400 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, July 11, 2012. (Reuters Staff/Courtesy Reuters) Women members of a self-defence militia calling itself the FLN (Front for the Liberation of the North) train in Sevare, about 600 kms (400 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, July 11, 2012. (Reuters Staff/Courtesy Reuters)

In an expert brief on August 3 I suggested that Ansar Dine and other radical Islamists groups that have taken control of northern Mali have little popular support. Developments over the past few days illustrate that reality.  The New York Times reports the spontaneous formation of militias seeking to take back control of local areas from the Islamists.  At present they are unarmed, but in a country awash with weapons that may change. On August 5, a crowd in the northern Malian city of Gao prevented the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), a radical Islamist group similar to the better known Ansar Dine, from amputating the hand of an alleged thief. The alleged thief was a member of Mujao and accused of stealing weapons to sell them.  Radio France Internationale reports a local resident as saying, “We don’t want to know what this young man did, but they are not going to cut his hand off in front of us.”  This reaction recalls the anger of a crowd that Ansar Dine forced to witness the stoning to death of an unmarried couple.

Lack of popular support may feed Islamists’ viciousness.  The Islamist-appointed police chief said publicly that he ordered the beating of a Malian radio presenter for having reported that the local people prevented the amputation from going forward and had his body dumped outside of the local hospital. As of now, the presenter has survived.

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  • Posted by Brennan Kraxberger

    This recent evidence from Gao accords with other episodes reported in northern Mali. Given the will to resist the Islamists and enough material support, it should be a question of when and not if the North changes hands. Sadly, defeat of the Islamists would not fully resolve a messy situation.

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