Even though it’s highly improbable that Iyad Ag Ghali wrote this tract, with its eloquent and flowing French, a language that Iyad is apparently not particularly enamoured with, I believe that it represents his political philosophy, his aims and objectives pretty accurately. I haven’t spoken to him to confirm this (who has?!!) but my hunch remains strong. Iyad sincerely believes that strict Salafist Islam is the ONLY way for his country and his people to return to strength, independence, justice and ultimately peace. And here, in this posting, his arguments are laid out plainly and coherently for everyone to read and react to. Now, you may disagree with him. Many in the international community…most…will disagree with him. But I believe that it’s no longer sufficient simply to claim that Iyad and Ansar Eddine are the pawns of Algeria or Qatar, or that their whole Salafi project is a smokescreen behind which the lucrative job of trading drugs, arms, people and cigarettes can continue (NB the final sentence of the platform vows pitiless justice and retribution on drug barons and major criminals). The basic message in the platform is that the post-colonial and democratic system in West Africa has failed the people miserably. Many ordinary citizens of Mali and its neighboring countries would agree with that assertion. The question is what is the alternative. Iyad believes that it is Islam. Many disagree with him. But many, more than we in the west find it comfortable to admit to, do in fact agree with him, partially if not entirely.
A couple of things strike me about Ansar Eddine’s platform. The first is that if you remove the religious references and Salafi rhetoric, the entire document could easily have been written by the MNLA propaganda machine. It’s Touareg nationalism pure and simple. This goes a long way to explain the occasional alliances between the MNLA and Ansar ud-Dine. At their core, their several projects are one and the same – a strong, independent, proud and free Azawad. It’s the Salafi and Shari’a aspect that divides them. In country less prone to settling its political problems with the Kalash, these positions might be represented by two legitimate political parties, one that favours a secular, liberal, democratic and pro-Western approach and another that favours an Islamist, Shari’a driven, anti-Western one. The situation in northern Mali is in fact analogous to that in Tunisia or Egypt. It’s only the stark peculiarity of the territory, with its vastness, its remoteness, its vacuum of governmental power, its lack of state security apparatus etc, that gives the political struggle in northern Mali its peculiarly violent, anarchic and dramatic character.
The second striking aspect of the platform is that the portion about crime, corruption and moral degradation in southern Malian society could equally easily have been written by one of the religious luminaries of southern Mali, such as Mahmoud Dicko, the President of the High Islamic Council, or Mohammedoun Ould Cheickna Hamala, the ‘Chérif of Nioro’. It might also have been written by any literate member of their enormous body of followers. It’s a stark illustration of the morality and law and order debate that has gripped Malian society for a number of years.
This platform is highly significant. We may be in visceral disagreement with Iyad’s vision of a Salafi future in northern Mali, but at least we now know precisely what we’re dealing with. Hypocrisies lurk at various points throughout the text, but it’s the central argument that we must now take up, counter and refute. And in that process of refutation we cannot be blind to the decades of failure and despondency that Mali’s liberal, democratic, secular and pro-Western rule in the north has left behind. We are justifiably disgusted by the ‘monkey’ Shari’a law that the Islamists have imposed in Gao and Timbuktu. But what do we want in its place? Not the status quo ante…that has been proved a failure. New arguments and new solutions need to be found to the problem of northern Mali, Azawad, call it what you will, in order to build a credible counter-argument to the contents of this Ansar ud-Dine platform.
In many ways, the platform also puzzles me greatly. How can Ansar ud-Dine now be on the one hand overtly in favour of an independent Azawad and on the other hand still allied with MUJAO and, by association, presumably also allied to it’s new katiba Ansar Essuna which is mostly comprised of young Songhoi men viscerally opposed to the partition of Mali. And what is the position of the MNLA in all this? They have declared their desire to find a settlement to the crisis by peaceful means, placing their faith in the Burkinabé sponsored peace talks with the Malian government. No doubt, this will endear them to the international community, with whom they have been desperate to find favour for many months. But it will not endear them to the average Touareg nationalist footsoldier, in whom the dream of independence still shines bright. The dilemma facing the young Touareg men of the north will now become even more tortuous than ever before. Go with the MNLA and compromise your dream of independence, whilst also opting for by far the weakest organization in the region in military terms? Or go with Ansar ud-Dine and their military strength, and accept Iyad’s Salafi dream? It’s a devilish choice indeed.
Andy Morgan. (c) 2013