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Azawad’s Facebook Warriors

The MNLA, Social Media, and the Malian Civil War


Michael Keen

In January 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a group dominated by members of the Tuareg ethnic group, launched a military uprising seeking the independence of Mali’s vast but sparsely populated north as the democratic, secular nation-state of Azawad.  Azawad’s Facebook Warriors tells the extraordinary story of a small group of social media activists who sought to broadcast the MNLA’s cause to the world. Azawad’s Facebook Warriors offers a groundbreaking new study of the MNLA’s use of social media through the original analysis of more than 8,000 pro-MNLA Facebook posts published over a four-year period and interviews with key architects of the MNLA’s media strategy. The book further places the MNLA’s social media activism in context through a nuanced treatment of northern Mali’s history and an unparalleled blow-by-blow account of the MNLA’s role in the Malian civil war from 2012 through 2015. More broadly, through the case study of the MNLA, the book argues that studying rebel social media communications, a field that has until now unfortunately received scant scholarly attention, will prove an increasingly important tool in understanding rebel groups in coming years and decades.
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This book has been well over two years in the making, and it would not have been possible without the contributions of a large number of people. First, I would like to thank Dr. Sam Cherribi and other faculty at Emory University for guiding me through the process of moving from hypothetical ideas to completed chapters; this work could not have been completed without you. Second, I owe a great deal to the members of the Carter Center’s Independent Observer team for introducing me to the ongoing conflict and peace process in Mali, and especially to Dr. John Goodman, who encouraged me to “wander off into the weeds” in my search to better understand events in Mali. My wandering eventually brought me to this book. Also at the Carter Center, Dr. Frédéric Deycard pointed me toward excellent scholarship on northern Mali’s Tuareg community. Finally, I want to thank my father for his Excel wizardry, my mother for reading through the entire manuscript, and all of my family for listening as I talked about the MNLA and Mali for hours on end. I could not have done it without you.

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