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

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    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...

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora