News / Africa

In Northern Mali, Many Resent Islamist Restrictions

Idrissa Fall's Itinerary in Mali and Niger
Idrissa Fall's Itinerary in Mali and Niger
VOA reporter Idriss Fall is one of the first journalists to reach Gao, northern Mali's largest city, since Islamists seized control of the region several months ago and began enforcing a strict form of Sharia law - banning alcohol and smoking and insisting that women wear veils, among other measures.


Fall spoke with Natissatou Maiga, a teacher, who said she rides her motorcycle with her hair waving in the wind deliberately, as a gesture of defiance:  

"I used to wear the veil, but since they made it mandatory, I stopped wearing it." Maiga told herself, "No one can force me to become an Islamist. I want to be Islamist for myself, for my parents, but not for someone who demands it." She says she has never had any trouble with the militants, and in fact, they avoid women who do not wear the veil because they deem them dangerous.

  • Refugees fleeing Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Amadou Cisse, of the Liberation Front in Northern Mali. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Two Gao women residents on a motorcycle. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A school for the blind in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Jobless people in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Citizens playing soccer, which is forbidden in the country. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A local office of EcoBank. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Inside a church destroyed by Islamists. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • On a scooter: Nafissatou Maiga, a teacher from Menaka now stuck in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Gao's soccer (football) field. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A man whose hand was amputated under Sharia law. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Azawad’s flag. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Hawa Doumbia, a trader. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • The house of a leader of MUJWA. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • The Niger river. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • Obama stickers on motorcycles in Gao. (Idriss Fall/VOA)
  • A ransacked restaurant. (Idriss Fall/VOA)

Bouba Maiga chairs the Gao Youth Regional Council.  On May 14, he says, local youths revolted against the restrictions and attacked some of the local rulers barehanded.

GAO, Mali - Idriss Fall, a member of VOA's French to Africa Service, spent several days in Gao this week after a long, hot drive to the remote city. Many people told their visitor they object to the new Islamist laws, and in some cases are defying the militants' orders.

Interview with Idriss Fall
Interview with Idriss Falli
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

He says the young people were frustrated because they were not allowed to watch movies and their freedom was curtailed. After their revolt, local youths went back to watching television as usual. Maiga says even the Islamists subsequently bought some satellite dishes and video games, and gave some of the equipment to a young man injured during the uprising.  

The youth council leader says one Islamist leader acknowledged that his child watches TV and plays games, so there is no reason to restrict other young people from their favorite activities. However, Maiga noted, the Islamist leader added that youth must understand that Sharia has been implemented, and that they will be punished if they do certain things.

The local rulers in Gao are members of several regional groups, including Tuareg rebel group MNLA and Islamist groups Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.  

One resident, Abdoulaye Tattara, reports spotting at least two Algerian members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the north African affiliate of the notorious terrorist network.

Tuareg rebels have battled for autonomy in northern Mali for decades, with the fighting interrupted by periodic peace deals.

The rebellion gained new momentum in late 2011 after Tuareg fighters returned from Libya, where they been fighting for Moammar Gadhafi until he was overthrown and killed. The well-armed Tuaregs seized the upper hand in clashes with Mali's government, and the territorial gains they made caused discontent in Mali's capital, Bamako, and resulted in a military coup three months ago ( March 22 ). Within days, the Tuareg MNLA and Islamist Ansar Dine, fighting alongside each other without a formal alliance, took control of Gao and northern Mali's other main regions, Kidal and Timbuktu.

People in Gao say the rebels looted shops, homes and and the local hospital as soon as they arrived, causing resentment that has not gone away despite a radio appeal for forgiveness broadcast on June 18.

One man told VOA the Islamists' appeal was ridiculous:

"Gao residents will never forgive, because the MNLA has made them suffer."  he said.

He says his young brother was riding his motorcycle one day, and it was taken away. "Can one really ask forgiveness for such acts?" the man said. In his words, "local residents are really tired of such treatment, and they are asking, 'What has the MNLA done for us?'"

Living conditions in Gao have improved somewhat since early April.  VOA's Fall reports that the city's main market is fully stocked, but money and drinking water are in short supply.  The hospital was looted in April but is functioning again under Islamist protection.

Electricity remains one of the central problems. Whole neighborhoods are going without power. One housewife told Fall that food spoils quickly, and her family suffers.

The militants' ability to enact their agenda, or merely keep a hold on power, will likely rest on their ability to win over the local population. They appear to have a steep hill to climb.  

One former bar owner says he has lost everything he owned because of the rebels and Islamists.

"First," the man says, "they came into my house and started firing. Then they took two of my cars. Then they ordered everyone out and took away everything, even stuff belonging to my wife and children." He says the militants claim they are acting under Sharia, the Islamic law. "Now," he says, "I am on the streets. I cannot forgive that. I cannot forgive either the MNLA or Ansar Dine."

The African Union has rejected the Tuaregs' declaration of an independent state in northern Mali, while efforts continue to stabilize the country and maintain its territorial integrity.

Written by Dan Joseph in Washington, based on reporting from Gao by Idriss Fall.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Dave Dilegge from: Largo, FL
June 22, 2012 7:16 PM
Great article, insightful on an issue not many Americans know or care about. That said, the map graphic has West Africa off the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs