The MNLA, Social Media, and the Malian Civil War
ON JANUARY 17, 2012, fighters affiliated with a group called the Mouvement national de libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) attacked army outposts around the city of Ménaka* in northeastern Mali. The MNLA, founded several months previously, was dominated by ethnic Tuaregs,† a traditionally nomadic people found across a wide swath of the Sahara and Sahel regions of northwestern Africa. In Mali, various Tuareg groups had launched three previous armed rebellions against the Malian government since Mali won independence from France in 1960.‡ ←1 | 2→However, the MNLA’s rebellion was radically different from its predecessors in at least two main respects. First, it was the first Tuareg-led rebellion to insist on the outright independence of Mali’s vast but sparsely populated northern region (as the state of Azawad), and the MNLA claimed to advocate on behalf of not just Tuaregs but of all allegedly marginalized populations in northern Mali/Azawad.§ Second, and perhaps more importantly, it was the first Tuareg-led rebellion in which the rebels attempted to carry their messages to national, regional, and international audiences via the Internet. In their media campaigns, MNLA officials and supporters utilized both traditional and social media; on social media, Facebook was the MNLA’s platform of choice.
At the onset of the armed rebellion in January 2012, the task before the MNLA was daunting. To have any hope of realizing its goal of a recognized, sovereign nation-state of Azawad, the MNLA would have to achieve military dominance at least over the territory it claimed...
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