from Africa in Transition

Islamists Splintering in Mali

January 24, 2013

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blogged previously that the Islamist occupation in northern Mali is inherently unstable. It includes Tuaregs as well as “Arabs,” who regard themselves as “white,” ruling over a population most of which it regards as “black.” Political maneuverings among those calling the shots amounts to little more than warlordism or competition among criminal syndicates dressed up in Islamic rhetoric. If there was a credible government in Bamako, there is a chance the northern coalition would collapse under its own weight.

There are now signs this may be happening. The BBC and Reuters are reporting that Ansar Dine, one of the three Islamist groups holding the north, has split. The secessionists, who are calling themselves the “Islamic Movement for Azawad" (MIA), reject “all forms of extremism and terrorism.” They want negotiations with Bamako, which will lead to a comprehensive political settlement that includes autonomy for the north; not independence.

The leader of the MIA, Alghabass Ag Intallah, was involved in negotiations with Bamako even before the Islamic takeover of northern Mali in April 2012. He is quoted by the BBC as saying, “We are a group of people from the north of Mali who have a set of grievances that date back at least fifty years.” He said some Tuaregs from MNLA, the initial organizer of Azawad, have also joined him.

Alghabass Ag Intallah denies that his movement has any ties with AQIM or MUJAO, the two most radical Islamist movements in northern Mali. He was at pains to emphasize that MIA is made up entirely of “Malians,” thereby separating his group from the “Arabs” and “Algerians” in the two more radical movements. He wants a cease fire with the French and Bamako within the territory he controls around the city of Kidal. He also said he had been in touch with mediators in Burkina Faso and Algeria.

As if to underscore the racial and ethnic dimensions of the Mali crisis, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues reports the Malian army executing dozens of people, including Tuaregs, in the towns they are “liberating.”

It remains to be seen how many fighters Alghabass Ag Intallah will bring with him from Ansar Dine. Nevertheless, this appears to be a positive development.