Sharia as ‘Desert Business’: Understanding the Links between Criminal Networks and Jihadism in Northern Mali
How can we understand the social and economic dynamics that enable the operative space of the militant networks in northern Mali? This article argues that jihadist militant groups are actors in local power struggles rather than ‘fighters’ or ‘terrorists’ with extremist ideological motivations. I argue that the sharp distinctions drawn by the Malian government and the international community between compliant and non-compliant groups in the implementation of the peace agreement from June 2015 is problematic. Understanding the conflicts in northern Mali requires an increased focus on the links between jihadist militant groups, local politics and criminal network activities in Gao and Kidal.