Mali’s Ganda Iso Militia Splits over Support for Tuareg Rebel Group

Andrew McGregor

February 21, 2014

In a statement issued on February 9 in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou (host of a series of negotiations between the warring parties in northern Mali), Ganda Iso founder and unofficial leader Seydou Cissé announced that the Malian militia/political movement intended to support the largely Tuareg  Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) in all parts of the peace process being conducted with Bamako. Cissé followed this unexpected declaration of support for his movement’s traditional enemies with the astonishing observation that Ganda Iso made a mistake by not following the MNLA into the 2012 rebellion from the start (L’Indicateur du Renouveau [Bamako], February 12). Cissé formed the movement from Songhai and Peul/Fulani tribesmen in 2008 during Tuareg disturbances in the region “to maintain social stability” (L’Indépendant [Bamako], August 12, 2010).

Ganda Iso Fighters in Mopti, Mali

From 2008 to 2009, Ganda Iso engaged in a private war with the pro-government Imghad Tuareg militia led by Colonel al-Hajj ag Gamou (see Terrorism Monitor, April 19, 2012). Ganda Iso also clashed with the MNLA several times in March 2012, but fled Gao at the joint approach of the MNLA and Ansar al-Din (L’Indépendant [Bamako], March 20, 2012; 22 Septembre [Bamako], March 19, 2012). MNLA spokesman Moussa ag Attaher said he believed the alliance of the two movements affirmed the will of the people of Azawad (northern Mali) to “conduct the good fight” (L’Indicateur du Renouveau [Bamako], February 12).

In a response nearly as strange as Cissé’s remarks, Gando Iso spokesman Muhammad Attaib Sidibé issued a statement saying that Cissé “had never been a member of the Ganda Iso movement. On the contrary, Monsieur Cissé is a known member of the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad and resides in Ouagadougou (L’Indépendant [Bamako], February 11;, February 11). The statement added that Ganda Iso reaffirmed its support for the Coordination des Forces Patriotique de Résistance (CMFPR) under the leadership of Bamako-based lawyer Harouna Toureh.

However, according to the CMFPR, Toureh has not been the chairman of the group since January 14, having been replaced by Ganda Iso president Ibrahima Abba Kantao (22 Septembre [Bamako], January 30). Toureh’s reported absence at nearly all CMFPR meetings led the group to drop him as its spokesman, but Toureh has found other work – the defense of “General” Amadou Sanogo, leader of the 2012 military coup  (Le Scorpion [Bamako], January 30; Les Echos du Parlement [Bamako], November 29). Indicted on charges of conspiracy to kidnap, Sanogo, who exchanged his rank of captain for that of a general shortly after the 2012 coup, has been fortunate in so far evading the more serious charges of complicity in multiple murders facing former defense minister General Yamoussa Camara, former security director General Sidi Alassane Toure, Captain Amadou Konare, the reputed brains behind the coup, and Lieutenant Tahirou Mariko, former aide to Captain Sanogo. The charges relate to the deaths of 21 members of the Malian paratroops/presidential guard who were arrested, displayed on television and then “disappeared” by the military regime after being captured during an unsuccessful counter-coup in April 2012 (for the rivalry between Mali’s “Green Berets” and “Red Berets,” see Terrorism Monitor, February 22, 2013). A mass grave containing the remains of 21 men was recently found near the Kati military barracks outside of Bamako that served as Sanogo’s headquarters and the remains are awaiting DNA testing (AP, February 14). General Camara is alleged to have forged documents claiming the missing men had been sent to the front to fight the Islamists and had been killed there (Reuters, February 13).

The CMFPR styles itself as a group of movements dedicated to driving jihadists and narco-traffickers from northern Mali, though none of these “self-defence” militias played a role of any significance in the military intervention that drove most of the Islamist extremists from northern Mali in 2013, though Ganda Iso military commander Ahmadou Diallo was killed in a skirmish with Islamists in March, 2012.  In the past, such groups often received support from elements of the Malian military in the interest of forming a counter-force to armed Arab and Tuareg movements in the north, but this support appears to have been withdrawn at the beginning of the intervention as the Malian army struggled to re-assert itself. There are reports that Mali’s military thought the militias simply too amateur to be deployed in action (, November 14, 2013). The militias are mostly based in Gao region and are drawn largely from the Songhai, Peul/Fulani and other tribes that are traditional rivals of the Arabs and Tuaregs in northern Mali. The militias that have banded together in 2012 under the CMFPR umbrella include:

  • Ganda Iso (Sons of the Land)
  • Ganda Koy (Lords of the Land)
  • Alliance des communautés de la région de Tombouctou (ACRT -Alliance of communities in the region of Timbuktu )
  • Front de Libération des régions Nord du Mali (FLN – Front for the Liberation of the Northern regions of Mali)
  • Force armée contre l’occupation (FACOArmed force against the occupation)
  • Cercle de réflexion et d’action (CRA – Circle of Reflection and Action)

Despite the effort to present a unified voice for the non-Arab and non-Tuareg communities of northern Mali, continuing dissension within these movements combined with diminished military support will work against these communities having significant representation in talks that will help determine the future of the region.

This article first appeared in the February 21, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.