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Olympia2014 - Militancy in the Sahara

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Yvan Guichaoua

on 17 March 2016

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Transcript of Olympia2014 - Militancy in the Sahara

Saharan Politics and the Rise of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

The return of Bahanga, revived nationalist activism: the Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad

MNLA’s blitz military victory: ATT’s defense by proxy militias vs Libya-imported firepower

No external support for the MNLA

Major HR violations and no attempt to administer cities
2011-Jan 2012. « Now or never », MNLA’s lost gamble

What kind of reconfiguration of alliances produced AQIM's entrenchment and its eventual takeover of Northern Mali?

Methodological requirements
--> Dropping the fetishism of acronyms!
--> Careful historical analysis needed
At Independence (1960): Northern Tuareg elites’ against inclusion into Mali

1963 fierce repression

Exile and activism abroad (Libya, Algeria)

1990s: rebellion

Mid-1990s: division among Tuareg groups and pervasive communal violence

Post-conflict: Failed attempt at decentralisation

2006: violence resumes (Bahanga)... but the context has changed
Post-Colonial Mali. A Central State Struggling with its Periphery (1963-2006)
Sahelian / Saharan communities belong to an integrated political economy bridging North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Connectivity is a fundamental condition of their economic viability

Connectivity is also a political resource: connections with the outside world help push local agendas and consolidate local dominance (cf. Bayart's 'extraversion')
April-May 2012. MNLA’s defeat and Islamist rule
2003. Algeria expels Islamist hardliners. GSPC becomes AQIM and starts a highly profitable hostage-taking business... in bed with high-level state actors

Since the mid-2000s: re-routing of cocaine trade via Africa --> State actors involved, too

2006-9. Gov. response to Bahanga: divide and rule and proxy militias (Gamou and Ould Meydou)
2006-2012. Imported terrorism, narcotrafficking, and proxy militias

Pretty much the same actors that ruled Northern Mali under ATT (with a few notable exceptions), strategically regrouped behind AQIM, and trading the mask of statehood with the Sharia Law

'Terrorists': not a pathology taking advantage of 'ungoverned spaces': were instrumental in the pre-war system of governance!

The irony: some of these actors are co-opted in state networks again under Mali's new Presidency
The rise of Iyad Ag Ghaly’s Ansar Dine

AQIM’s joint venture with Arab militias

MUJAO’s joint venture with Tilemsi Valley Arab traffickers in Gao

The siphoning of MNLA’s rank-and-file

Sharia Law: an efficient ‘hearts and minds’ campaign?
Malian gov., ex-junta, France (*3?), MINUSMA, Algeria (*n?), EU, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, High Islamic Council, MNLA (*3?), HCUA, MAA, Imghad militia, Ganda Khoy, Ganda Izo, big and small smugglers, MUJAO, AQIM, Ansar Dine, Switzerland, Humanitarian Dialogue, Sant’Egidio... Britain?
Patient micro-level diplomacy needed. Yet serious challenges ahead, e.g.: what do we do with narcotrafficking?

In addition: state-level and regional coordination hugely important. Problem: who is taking the lead?
--> Messy situation

A glimpse of actors that count in Mali today
1) Background and empirical puzzles
2) Sahara's political economy (why is the Sahara NOT an ungoverned space)
3) How did AQIM entrench in Northern Mali?
4) How did AQIM (briefly) rule Northern Mali?
5) Counter-terrorism and the risk of 'accidental guerrillas'
Background and empirical puzzles
Sahara's political economy (why is the Sahara NOT an ungoverned space?)
How did AQIM entrench in Northern Mali?
How did AQIM (briefly) rule Northern Mali?
Counter-terrorism and the risk of 'accidental guerrillas'
Source: Lydon, Ghislaine. 2009. On Trans-Saharan Trails. Islamic Law, Trade Networks and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa. CUP: Cambridge.
- Terrorists take advantage of a political void

- Imposing state presence is the answer
Ungoverned Spaces
Two Postulates to Debunk
A Political Void?
Connectivity and Parochialism in the Sahara 1/2
Essential reading: Scheele, Judith. 2012. Smugglers and Saints of the Sahara. Regional Connectivity in the Twentieth Century. CUP: Cambridge.
Key behavioural logic: Alliance

Alliances dictate positions in the political, commercial, economic Saharan space

Alliances may involve state actors as well as irregular armed groups

Agency distributed among a mosaic of groups, clans, sectional interests etc. --> highly fluid, contested terrain, with some big regional players though (Algeria, Gaddafi's Libya until 2011)
Connectivity and Parochialism in the Sahara 2/2
Reformulating the empirical puzzle
2011-13. A Dramatic Sequence of Events
Present situation. No war no peace situation in N. Mali.
Islamist militancy weakened but organisational and geographical reconfiguration
Jan 2012
May 2012
May 2012 - Jan 2013
Jan 2013
Jan 2013
Apr 2013
May 2013
Just before the war in Libya breaks out, Northern Mali's political landscape is made of a a complex web of criminalised elites from various groups (inc. jihadists), remotely controlled by central authorities

Profusion of armed actors. Gov. armed forces, Jihadis (AQIM, MUJAO), Tuareg nationalists, ‘residual bandits’, militias, big traffickers…

--> A picture slightly more complicated than what the 'ungoverned space' narrative makes believe
An attempt at characterising N. Mali pre-war governance system
So, who are the ‘Islamists’ who ruled Northern Mali during nine months?
Binary approaches impossible. If the dynamics of militancy is based on nested rivalries and even private feuds then simply taking out ‘terrorists’ won’t work

Enforcement of commercial transactions
Yvan Guichaoua
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