The role of illicit trade in the logic of armed group formation in northern Mali
Over the past decade the displacement of narcotics supply lines has placed the remote and marginalised Sahara-Sahel region on the international drug route to the European market. Border control has become of primary importance, and an essential part of understanding the dynamics of competing political claims and armed movements.
Secessionist, jihadist and statist political projects in northern Mali must now be interpreted in the light of dynamics of protection and extraction. In particular, the customary system of the droits de passage (rights of passage) has been transformed by the leap in scale and nature of traditional desert contraband. New actors have arisen, while others have been sidelined as various groups contend for the protection of illicit trade.
This report explores the micro-level processes by which illicit economies have reshaped political and armed mobilisation. It explores the ways Tuareg traditions and grievances have been reconfigured under the influence of new illicit revenues. It also examines the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, a jihadist splinter group that took control of the city of Gao in 2012 when it aligned with business figures seeking to wrest control over trafficking from rival Tuareg groups. In this context, both nationalism and jihadism tend to mask acute social tensions in the region.
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