News / Africa

Malian Militias Unite Against Rebel Occupation in the North

Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012. Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.
Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.
Militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012.
Anne Look
Militias in northern Mali say they have united to fight off the Tuareg and Islamist rebels that seized control of the region in early April.  Though their activities have so far been minimal, the alliance between these militia groups has raised fears of inter-communal violence in the north.

The Northern Mali Liberation Front, known by its French acronym FLNM, unites three main militia groups in the region: two Songhai militias, the Ganda Koy and the Ganda Izo, as well as fighters under the command of a Tuareg army colonel El Hadji Gamou.

The FLNM was formed in May in opposition to separatist Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants who seized control of northern Mali following a chaotic military coup in Bamako on March 22.

Idrissa Fall of VOA's French service interviewed the FLNM's military chief, El Kahedi Cisse, in Gao this month.

Tuareg SettlementsTuareg Settlements
Tuareg Settlements
Tuareg Settlements
Cisse says they have waged two successful attacks against Islamist militants.  He says the militias are employing guerrilla warfare, what he called a "one against ten" strategy against their adversaries, who he said are armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and other heavy weapons.  Cisse says they plan to intensify their attacks.  He says all three groups of the FLNM have the same objective: to liberate northern Mali.  He says they will remain active so long as the territory is occupied.  

Mali's central government in Bamako has long used proxy militias, like the Ganda Koy, to contain Tuareg rebellions and insecurity in the largely ungoverned northern reaches of the country.  Tuaregs are not the majority in northern Mali, which is also home to Arab, Songhai, Peul and Fulani groups.

Trouble Began in January

This most recent round of trouble in the north began in January when Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, launched a fight for independence.  The Malian army suffered several bitter defeats.  Anger at the government pushed soldiers to mutiny and then overthrow the government of president of Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22nd.  The MNLA, joined by a radical Islamist offshoot Ansar Dine, quickly seized control of three northern capitals in early April.

The Malian army is struggling to reorganize following the coup, and the future of the interim civilian government in Bamako remains uncertain.  West African leaders have opened separate negotiations with the two occupying forces and are formulating plans for a regional military intervention, should talks fail.

  • 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)
The FLNM secretary general, Saidou Amadou Cisse, told Fall in Niamey that negotiations over the future of northern Mali that exclude the Songhai ethnic group are "doomed."

Cisse says the FLNM includes members of the Arab, Songhai and Tamasheq, which is commonly known as the Tuareg, communities in the north.  He says negotiations with the MNLA and Ansar Dine that are taking place in Burkina Faso do not concern them.  He says talks should come after military action.  He says negotiations can happen when these two groups leave the towns.

The Ganda Koy militia was created by former Malian soldiers in opposition to the Tuareg rebellions of the 1990s.  The Ganda Izo is an offshoot, or some say a successor, to the Ganda Koy.  The militias include members of so-called dark-skinned ethnic groups in the North: the Songhai, Peul and Fulani.

Colonel El Hadji Gamou is a Tuareg from the Imghad ethnic group.  He was the most senior Malian military officer in the north and the leader of a pro-government militia.  He feigned joining the MNLA in April and then fled with his men, reported to number a few hundred, to safety in Niger.  Colonel Gamou has repeatedly voiced his willingness to help retake the north.  

Yvan Guichaoua, lecturer at the University of East Anglia in Britain, has done extensive research on Tuareg movements in Niger and Mali.

He says there are two ways to interpret news of the FLNM.

"First, it's people who are willing to fight who just want to signal that they are happy to be armed if anyone wants to give them arms.  That's the first interpretation.  The second could be that they have received some support and they might be operational.  But right now, nothing has happened on these fronts.  But you can clearly see that there is a project of counterinsurgency through proxy militias, unaccountable proxy militias, consolidating.  That would be a dramatic and very unwelcome shift to the current conflict that could basically mean tribal war," Guichaoua said.

He says the closed-door negotiations between rebel leaders and Burkinabe president, Blaise Compaore, in the absence of Malian authorities, could be catalyzing these grassroots stirrings of counter-insurgency in the North.

End of Peace Agreement

The peace agreement that ended the 1990 Tuareg rebellion was contested, he said, by other groups in the north who felt excluded, ultimately leading to violence.

"There was a shift in the 90s.  The rebellion led by the Tuareg transformed into a very nasty inter-tribal war between Tuareg groups -- some loyal to Bamako, some still contesting Bamako's hegemony -- and non-Tuareg groups, particularly the Ganda Koy," Guichaoua said.

The Ganda Koy, he said, are known for extreme violence and human rights abuses, including killing civilians.

"They have a dark history, these militias.  Are people in Bamako or maybe outside Mali maybe ready to arm these people?  That is the key question," Guichaoua said.

Meanwhile, frustration is mounting in northern towns, where residents have taken to the streets repeatedly to protest occupying forces.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs