Hamma Biamoye, a teacher in Gao, is one of the founders of the “We’re not moving” movement.
This has been the first week in a long time that we haven’t heard any gunfire. Since the MNLA left, life in Gao has gone back to normal. There’s no more looting, no more fighting [Editor’s note: most of the violent assaults committed in the last few weeks have been attributed to MNLA Tuareg fighters]. The Islamists have set up a camp outside the city and we see them driving around Gao in their trucks during the day. But for the moment, they are not causing any problems and everything is okay.
"We’ve set up a committee to keep watch on the city"
When the separatist, Tuareg-led rebels entered Gao at the end of March, many residents fled the city. These people ended up in refugee camps on the borders of Mali, living in terrible conditions. But some of us decided not to panic and stay in Gao. And that’s how the “We’re not moving” movement was born. Now we’re proud that we didn’t flee and chose instead to stay.
We’ve set up a patrol committee to keep watch on the city. The MUJWA Islamists have their own police force but we too want to ensure that local residents are safe. So in each neighbourhood there is a group of around 15 volunteers who are responsible for protecting their local area. If somebody is acting suspiciously, they arrest them and bring them to our headquarters. We detain them here while we try to ascertain if they have committed an offence. If we discover that they are a wanted criminal, we hand them over to MUJWA. As long as the Islamists don’t steal our possessions, we’re prepared to work with them.
"We are not pro-Sharia but we’d rather live alongside the Islamists than the Tuareg rebels"
We don’t want to see the strict application of Sharia law, such as whipping people in public, but we’d rather live alongside the Islamists than the MNLA. The Tuareg separatists want to divide Mali, but we don’t want an independent north. Although they have appropriated this region for their cause, they aren’t representative of people from northern Mali. [Only 10% of Mali’s population of 14 million belongs to the Tuareg community or other ethnic groups of Berber origin. Likewise, in the north of the country, the Tuareg community remains a minority.]
We want to see life return to normal throughout the north. We hope that the Islamists will agree to leave the cities of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu before ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States] decides to intervene.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.