Mali: A Temporary Reprieve


August 9, 2019: Over the last week the government has persuaded most of the Fulani and Dogon militias to make peace and sign agreements to that effect. The tribal violence escalated during the last four months, leaving hundreds dead and causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. The fighting between Dogon and Fulani tribal militias takes place in central Mali. The current cycle of attacks began with a spectacular March massacre where Dogon (farmer) militia attacked a Fulani village. That action left over 160 Fulani dead and it wasn’t just the Fulani who were outraged by this. The Fulani were the ones who started this violence years ago as they sought to force farmers off the land and away from water supplies the Fulani coveted. But the Fulani raids were meant to terrorize, not exterminate. The Dogon tribe, one of the larger sedentary groups in central Mali, has always been the most organized and aggressive in confronting Fulani efforts to expand south to the better watered and more fertile (for grass and crops) Niger River Valley and beyond. After 2012 and the separatist/Islamic terrorist uprising in the north, there was an increase in Fulani-farmer violence and the bloodiest incidents often involved Dogon militias fighting Fulani. Calls for the government to disarm the Dogon militias were popular for a while until police and army commanders convinced the government that attempting disarmament would be bloody and, in the long run futile. For the Dogon the Fulani, all this feuding is a matter of life or death while the politicians are concerned about appeasing popular outrage, which tends to fade quickly. Then there are the critical foreign media, which influences foreign aid decisions and is more important, especially for corrupt politicians who steal much of that aid. Getting the Fulani and Dogon (and other farming tribes) to settle the land and water disputes peacefully is more difficult but is the only lasting solution but also the more difficult one. Those fundamental conflicts are still there, which is why the current peace deal will be under growing pressure to resume.

The Dogon/Fulani feuding in central Mali has been the main cause of over 200,000 civilians being forced from their homes during the first six months of 2016. That is more than five times as many refugees created in the first six months of 2018. Most of the 600 terrorism and outlaw related deaths so far in 2019 have occurred in central Mali. There is still violence in the north but the Islamic terror groups, even ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara), the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) franchise, has been avoiding combat and concentrating on staying alive.

Fulani are also the biggest supporters of the JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) al Qaeda coalition. This organization was formed in early 2017 to consolidate the many separate Islamic terror groups in Mali. In part, this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members like AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM and several other smaller groups. Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources, especially information and practical advice, and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the region. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The FLM is Fulani (the largest local tribal contribution) while the other groups are largely Tuareg, Arab and some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM groups in the area, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. The income from the drug trade keeps a lot of these factions in business and the Islamic terrorists know that business and religious fanaticism do not mix and keep it that way. Those groups that did not went broke and withered to nothing.

Many Fulani are also members of an ISIL faction that operates on both sides of the Niger border in the north. This groups calls itself ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) and is largely local Tuaregs plus foreigners.

The Dogon-Fulani “ceasefire” continues to be at the mercy of natural (drought, hunger) and political (corrupt politicians) events. In the north, the basic problem is poverty and the negative impact banditry and Islamic terrorism is having on efforts to revive the economy.

August 5, 2019: In the northeast (Mopti), near the Burkina Faso border, a roadside bomb was used against two army trucks. A soldier and two civilians were killed and no one took credit for the attack.

August 4, 2019: In the north (Timbuktu), the Red Cross suspended operations because of the growing number of crimes committed against its personnel. Today there was a carjacking and earlier there were several thefts. Someone was targeting the Red Cross operations but no one was taking credit for the attacks. It could just be an increase in criminal activity. With the economy still crippled by Islamic terrorist violence, there has been more crime in general. Foreign aid groups have more to steal than anyone else in the area.

July 30, 2019: Britain has agreed to send 250 troops to join the international peacekeeping force in northern Mali. There are 12,500 peacekeepers there, from 30 nations. Most of the troops are from Africa but the Western troops bring with them specialized equipment and skills. The UN sponsors the Mali peacekeeping operation, which the most dangerous such operation in the world at the moment.

July 22, 2019: In the north (outside Gao), a JNIM suicide car bomber and gunmen were used for an attack on a checkpoint near the Gao airport. This left one French and fives Estonian soldiers wounded. The three attackers were all killed. The attackers were in a vehicle painted to resemble a UN vehicle and the Islamic terrorists were wearing military uniforms.

July 17, 2019: In the north, on the road to Gao, an army supply convoy was ambushed by ISGS gunmen, which left one soldier dead and two wounded. This incident triggered several days of ground patrols and airstrikes that left over a dozen Islamic terrorists dead or wounded. Two were captured and many weapons were taken as well.

July 16, 2019: A regiment of the Mali army is being converted to a mechanized unit with the addition of several dozen 11 ton Casspir armored vehicles. These are from South Africa which is where this late 1980s vintage vehicle proved to be the first effective modern MRAP (mine and bomb-resistant) design to enter wide use. Casspir will always be remembered as one of the earliest and most successful MRAP type vehicles. Originally designed for the South African police in the early 1980s, this 4x4 wheeled vehicle has remained in production ever since. The basic design has been upgraded over the years. Germany is paying for the vehicles and providing trainers for drivers and mechanics. Casspirs carry up to twelve troops and have plenty of bulletproof windows (with gun firing ports) and are excellent for patrols. Like all MRAP vehicles, Casspirs (and their passengers) can survive most vehicle mines and roadside bombs as well as rifle and machine-gun fire.

July 15, 2019: The U.S. has imposed sanctions on two JNIM leaders. This limits the ability of these men to travel internationally or maintain assets in Western nations.


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