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Azawad’s Facebook Warriors

The MNLA, Social Media, and the Malian Civil War

Series:

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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Conclusion: Change Without Resolution

Extract

The digital public sphere, if such it is, may increase the number and range of participants but, in terms of outcomes, it could still be argued that bombs, guns, and Apache attack helicopters tip insurrections and win revolutions.

—Barrie Axford, 20111

ON APRIL 6, the streets of Kidal were lined with cheering crowds, and buildings were draped with the black, red, yellow, and green of the Azawadian flag. A group of school-age children marched down a street wearing matching t-shirts emblazoned with more Azawadian flags. But this was not 2012, when the MNLA was at the height of its military power. This was 2019.2 The MNLA has failed to achieve an independent Azawad, and the group has declined markedly in influence. Yet eight years after the MNLA’s rebellion began, for some in northern Mali, the dream is not dead. On Facebook, the dream is not dead either. Many of the accounts in the dataset have continued to post in support of the MNLA and an independent Azawad into 2020. Neither the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation nor anything that has come after has provided a true resolution to the MNLA’s rebellion or especially to the issues underlying it.

Yet if the situation in northern Mali today is very much unresolved, it is certainly not the same situation that existed in 2011. Despite failing to realize its political objectives, the MNLA and its movement have impacted events both offline ←149 | 150→and online. Offline, more...

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