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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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Chapter 2: War and Peace in Northern Mali/Azawad: The MNLA, October 2011–December 2015


ON AUGUST 23, 2011, THE SOUNDS of car horns and celebratory gunfire reverberated through the streets of Tripoli, Libya, as crowds celebrated the expulsion of pro-Qaddafi forces from the city.1 With the fall of Tripoli, the return of Tuareg soldiers of Malian origin from Libya accelerated. Crucially, the returnees brought with them heavy weapons, including anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft guns, and artillery pieces. Most of the returnees requested and received integration into the Malian military, but a significant proportion refused to serve the Malian state.2 Prior to his death in a desert car crash in August 2011, unreconciled Malian Tuareg rebel Ibrahim Ag Bahanga had begun reaching out to the returnees with the hope of integrating them into plans for a future rebellion. These contacts served to connect those heavily armed returnees uninterested in joining the Malian military with existing political movements in northern Mali, most notably the MNA. A series of gatherings quickly gathered momentum as the returnees, the MNA, and others began to coalesce around the idea of renewing armed struggle against the Malian state. On October 15, 2011, at a meeting at Zakkak in Kidal Region near the Algerian border, the MNLA was officially born.3

This chapter is not an attempt to exhaustively cover every event that impacted northern Mali/Azawad and the peoples living in this territory between the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2015. Instead, it aims to cover events of importance to the MNLA, with particular attention to how the MNLA and...

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