“People in Gao feel closer to the Islamists than the MNLA”
In my opinion, the Islamists and the Tuareg separatists are out to destroy Mali. But in Gao, Ansar Dine and MUJAO have won the communication war.
“The Islamists have always found stolen scooters or given money to those in need”People in the north clearly feel closer to the MUJWA than the MNLA, for the simple reason that the Islamists offer them more protection. While Gao was under control of both groups, crimes such as scooter thefts and assaults were always blamed, rightly or not, on Tuareg rebels. Whenever someone was robbed, the Islamists found the stolen goods and returned them. Sometimes, they even offered the victim financial compensation.There were lots of Malian and MUJWA flags at Tuesday’s demonstration. Unlike the MNLA, Islamist groups like MUJWA and Ansar Dine do not want Mali to be broken up. This makes them popular with the locals, who just want life to return to normal.
“The MNLA taxed people coming in and out of Gao”People in Gao dislike the MNLA for a number of reasons. They forced vendors to pay a tax every time they came in and out of Gao to do business [before Islamists took control of the town, the MNLA controlled several strategic sites in the area including the airport]. For example, I was on the bus leaving Gao on Wednesday, when an MNLA soldier pulled us over and told the driver he had to give him 100 CFA Francs (€0.15) for every passenger on the bus. There were 50 of us. The people are fed up with being treated this way, which explains, in part, why they were happy the Islamists took over.