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Azawad’s Facebook Warriors

The MNLA, Social Media, and the Malian Civil War

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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 7: Mali Since 2015: A Failing Peace Process and the Death of the MNLA’s Ideology

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“THE COORDINATION OF AZAWAD MOVEMENTS … remains confident in the will of all parties for the establishment of a real peace and invites each to accept its responsibilities to work towards the strict application of engagements undertaken.”1 Dry, formal press releases like this one from August 2015 are far removed from the MNLA’s attacks on Malian army bases in early 2012 or mid-2014. But with the signing of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in June 2015, military action was replaced by wrangling over whether and how the Agreement would be implemented as the chief means of contesting the fate of northern Mali/Azawad. Five years later, northern Mali has achieved neither peace nor reconciliation.

Since June 2015, the most pressing question on the future of northern Mali has been the fundamental nature of the Agreement itself. Would it bring a paradigm shift to all of Mali, as some of its provisions promise, or would it be merely a payroll peace* like the treaties of the 1990s, buying armed groups’ grudging loyalty but doing little to address the underlying factors that led to the MNLA’s rebellion in 2012? Five years of the Agreement’s ostensible implementation have answered that question: whether or not the Agreement was composed with the ←131 | 132→intention of being a payroll peace, it has certainly been implemented as one, and the Agreement’s implementation has failed to deliver on its promises. However, the implementation of the Agreement as a payroll peace has wrought great changes in...

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