Political Discords of Mali

Photo source: The Atlantic

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

It was before dawn, when a militia mercilessly attacked a Mali village of Ogossogou, killing more than a hundred people in an instant, on March 23rd 2019. 


The victims had included pregnant women, young children and the elderly. It even included the village chieftain, and his grandchildren.

Although there had been some runaway survivors, in the nearby Peulh village, where Muslim Fula tribes lived, it soon became improbable to probe the number of killed, in the rampage, as per inputs from President of Peulh group, Tabital Paulaaku.

Some footages of the charred dead bodies appeared, and there was also fire in the village homes. In response to this horrifying episode, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said that new military chiefs would be named. In January, the Dogon hunters were blamed for killing thirty-seven people. Despite this, the Dogon militia also faced strong retaliation in the past, where several of its armed men were killed, alongside soldiers of Malian Armed Forces, especially in the village of Dioura.

The UN mission in Mali had confirmed reports of an attack, but gave no figures. It is believed that a militant group known as Dan Na Ambassagou, splintered from Dogon group, has been instrumental in this attack. It was said that the attack was perpetrated because Fulani Muslims were accused of grazing the cattle on their land.

In 2013, a largely French driven military operation happened in the region, but the jihadist violence has escalated, and large areas of the country, are still supposed to be lawless, despite the creation of UN peacekeepers, and creation of a five-nation military force in the region. There had been a large terrorist attack on G5 Headquarters in June 2018 that reflected rising tensions in the country.

Quite recently, the conflict has escalated between the Dogon and Peulth communities. Members of Dogon militia accuse the Peulth community of siding with Islamic extremist groups, having ties in Libya and Algeria. Peulth, on the contrary, have accused Dogon militia of supporting the Malian army, in its effort to stamp out extremism. However, now, the government vows to end the operations of the Dogon militia.

In December 2018, Human Rights Watch warned that: “militia killings of civilians in central and northern Mali are spiraling out of control.” There has been a prominence of Islamic extremists, since 2015 in the region.

In the capital, Bamako, visiting UN Security Council president Francois Delattre, condemned the killing as an “unspeakable act.”

At the present moment in time, there are conflicts prevalent in Northern Mali and Central Mali villages.

In January 2012, a Tuareg rebellion erupted in Northern Mali, led by National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), It was in March that year when a coup happened by a military officer called Amadou Sanogo, citing Amadou Toumani Toure's failure in quelling the rebellion, which had led to sanctions, and an embargo, by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The MNLA had quickly controlled the north, eventually, declaring independence, as Azawad. 

Slowly, several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),  took control of the North, with an aim of implementing Islamic Sharia in the region.

There are reports from Human Rights Watch, where Tuareg rebels, in the north, included the use of child soldiers, attacks on hospitals, schools, abductions, rapes and uncalled summary executions.

In Central Mali, the conflict has mainly escalated since 2015, as the groups involved namely Dogon, Bambara, and the pastoral Fula, have been fighting over access to land and water. These groups have formed “self-defence groups”, and as per many Human Rights Reports, the fighting has been exaggerated and instrumentalised by different actors for opportunistic ends. The Government of Mali has been accused of acting as a proxy, by supporting some of these groups, in a war against Islamists in the region.

The UN Security General Antonio Guterres voiced a strong condemnation to this massacre. According to deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq: “the secretary-general condemns this act and calls on the Malian authorities to swiftly investigate it and bring the perpetrators to justice."

Historically, after gaining independence from France in 1960, Mali endured decades of political disorder. The majority of the population resides in the south. The Tuareg and Arab tribes, that sparsely populate the north, have rebelled against the government in 1963, 1990 and 2006, which they named as Azawad. It was in 1992, when the Government of Mali, referred its situation to the International Criminal Court, and consented to the crimes against humanity in the Rome Statute.

According to data given by the Council of Foreign Relations, there are around 16,227 UN personnel situated in the country. There internally displaced persons have swelled to 120,298. CFR cites the number of Malian refugees around 136,032. Experts from the Hague Institute for Global Justice argue that the reason Malian government do not effectively tackle the rise of Islamic extremism and conflict of Tuaregs, was due to widespread corruption in the state. For this reason, in 2012, African Union suspended Mali’s membership.

The violence against the UN soldiers also seems a norm. UN Security Council had extended MINUSMA’s mandate for a year, in June 2018. However, in January 2019, local al-Qaeda affiliate, the Group for Support of Islam, and Muslims (JNIM), claimed a series of attacks on UN peacekeepers. The capital, Bamaka, also has been targeted by extremist groups, many number of times. The group was declared a terrorist organisation, in 2018, by the US State Department.

Some Malians, according to a 2018 US Congressional research paper, at a point in time, want the government to initiate a dialogue with jihadists, but the government and Western donors have rejected the idea. A study of 2018 US Holocaust Memorial has reflected that if the overlapping violence consisting of jihadists, security forces and communal self-defence groups doesn’t end, mass atrocities could occur.

In June 2015, the government had failed to sign a peace agreement with the Coordination of Azawad Movement, and a coalition of Tuareg rebel groups. In the peace agreement, an autonomy proposal was drafted, with some political representation in the north, aiming for development, and to integrate rebel groups into Malian Armed Forces. However, all of these measures remain unfulfilled, until now.

Currently, Mali is not a vibrant democracy, and not economically stable, as it used to be between 1996 to 2011. Its President, Ibrahim Keita won a second term in August 2015, but only with election irregularities, and low voter turnout, much lower than his win in 2013. Its economy is mostly confined to the area irrigated by the Niger River.

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