Mr. Maiga, a Gao resident who lived here both when it was occupied by the MNLA and then by the mosaic of Islamist rebel groups recently driven out by the French-led forces, says he was ecstatic when the French first intervened.
But now he questions the motivations behind the intervention. “I don’t trust them [the French] anymore. They’ve betrayed us,” he says.
The MNLA swooped into Kidal last month after rebels linked to Al Qaeda abandoned the city in the wake of French airstrikes. Since then, the MNLA has been manning checkpoints, and warning France and its African allies that the Malian army is not welcome and would be treated as enemies.
For now, it appears that France prefers to collaborate with the MNLA and focus on rooting the Islamist rebels out of their mountain strongholds, rather than help the Malian army retake the territory that initially fell to the MNLA last year.
And while France is supporting the Malian army in its bid to consolidate control over the regions of Gao and Timbuktu, there is mounting evidence that it is doing the same with the MNLA in Kidal.
Drivers who recently travelled to the region said that the MNLA is charging between $60 and $80 dollars to enter, and $80 to $100 more to enter Kidal city. The same fees apply when exiting Kidal.
The MNLA paper for drivers shows an exercise of authority: The document, written in both French and Arabic and is replete with a header that reads, “State of Azawad: Unity, Liberty, Security,” requires details on the driver, the type of vehicle, the owner of the vehicle, and various registration numbers.
Toward the bottom, a stamp depicts a map of the aspirational borders of an independeant Azawad, includes the regions of Gao and Timbuktu.
“They said their goal was to fight the Islamists and to restore the territorial integrity of Mali, but now they are helping separatists,” says an elected official in Gao who asked not to be named, speaking of the French. “They are working with the terrorists!” he shouts, pointing at the document in question.
Residents in Gao fear that the money earned by transit taxes will be used to fund another separatist rebellion; the MNLA contends that in the wake of several suicide bombings in and around the city, the documentation and taxation are necessary in order to maintain security.