The appearance of coronavirus/covid19 cases in Mali is difficult to measure because there are only about 6,000 medical professionals in a nation of 19 million. Most of the medical personnel are concentrated in the capital and other cities, where less than half the population lives. As a result, the reported covid19 infections and deaths is incomplete. So far there have been 35 confirmed cases per million people and two deaths per million. In most of the country, covid19 would probably be mistaken for influenza or one of the many other diseases present. Covid19 often kills with what appears to be a case of pneumonia and most of the covid19 dead are elderly. That means in many parts of the world a covid19 death is seen as another loss to old age. The covid19 threat was a recent one, even though the disease has been ravaging China for four months. There has been little of the virus in Africa so far and the first case in Mali was not confirmed until March 25th. That prompted the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to authorize a $200 million loan to Mali to deal with the virus. While most of this money will be stolen, a lot of it will go to covid19 treatment if only because most politicians and senior businessmen are not only corrupt but also elderly.
The Larger Terror
A culture of government corruption created the rebels and Islamic terrorists in Mali, a Moslem majority nation. There are several Islamic terror groups in Mali and largest of them is JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). This is an al Qaeda coalition 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), 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 or 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 local 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.
Meanwhile, the Islamic terror groups evolved with more radical JNIM members joining more radical groups like ISIL, which is universally hated by other Islamic terrorists and Moslems in general. Earlier in the year, Malian ISIL members released a video on the Internet in which the group pledged allegiance to Abu Hamza al Qurayshi, the new ISIL leader. By 2018 there were two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one was ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) and showed up in 2018. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other, slightly older and larger, ISIL province was ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). ISWAP was actually a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamic terrorists who had been around since 2004. ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.
There has been increasing friction between ISGS and JNIM (and other al Qaeda affiliates). This is not unusual because, worldwide, ISIL demands all other Islamic terror groups acknowledge the supremacy of ISIL. This rarely happens anymore. In areas where both ISIL and al Qaeda operate there is usually an informal truce or, as is now the case in Mali, open warfare. ISIL groups are usually outnumbered but often survive because they are more ruthless and vicious. In northern Mali, ISGS also accuses JNIM of collaborating with the security forces against the ISIL group. That is not unusual worldwide but it is unclear if it is actually happening in Mali. What is happening is that ISGS continues to recruit new members from al Qaeda factions. This is how ISIL was created back in 2013 and the practice continues.
May 10, 2020: In the north (outside Kidal) a roadside bomb was used against a peacekeeper convoy near the Algerian border (Aguelhok). Three peacekeepers were killed and four wounded. Local Islamic terrorists are believed responsible.
May 9, 2020: The UAE (United Arab Emirates) delivered six tons of medical supplies to help Mali deal with the covid19 virus.
May 1, 2020: In the northeast (south of Gao) in the three-border Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso area, several thousand French, G5 and Mali troops completed a 21 day operation to sweep the territory where the three borders meet for known or suspected Islamic terrorists camps and bases. The counter-terror operations was supported by over a dozen transport and armed helicopters as well as several hundred troops from Britain, the Czech Republic and Estonia. This operation is the latest of several similar operations carried out this year. The Islamic terrorists in the area know they are facing a very large force that has air support, so the usual tactic of ambushes defending a fortified position with a large force is not an option. The latest operation cleared areas in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, in part to demonstrate that the Islamic terrorists could not depend on escaping across borders as they had in the past. The entire counter-terror force was mechanized and the vehicles available included several hundred armored ones. While the enemy fled when they realized they were under attack, or about to be, they had to abandon a lot of weapons, vehicles, equipment (tents, electronics, generators) and supplies (ammo, food, medical). The captured vehicles included many motorcycles. These are a favorite mode of transportation for scouts or raiders. The bikes can move faster, get into more kinds of off-road terrain and are harder to spot from the air. The French have Reaper UAVs and jet fighter bombers available for these operations. The task force suffered over a dozen casualties during the operation. This included two French soldiers, which brings the French dead in Mali since 2013 to 43.
April 23, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti) over fifty Fulani gunmen on motorcycles attacked several villages leaving twelve dead and many wounded. The attackers also stole at least 500 cattle. It is unclear if the attackers were Islamic terrorists or simply tribal militia. The victims were Dogon tribesmen. The fighting between Dogon and Fulani tribal militias had been going on for years and there was a surge in 2019 that began with a spectacular March massacre where Dogon 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 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 expansion into 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 and 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 influence foreign aid decisions and are 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 and will eventually collapse into renewed violence.
The many Dogon-Fulani “ceasefires” were always 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. A lot of the “Islamic terrorist” violence up there is just bandits. It gets more attention if the victims describe the attackers as Islamic terrorists.
April 19, 2020: Despite the threat of Islamic terrorist violence and the spreading covid19 virus, the final round of parliamentary elections were held. These elections had been delayed for nearly two years. These are the first such elections since the military coup in2013. The first of two rounds was held on March 29th and fewer than 15 percent of eligible voters participated. Most of the 19 million people in Mali don’t have to deal with the Islamic or tribal terrorism found mainly in thinly populated central and northern Mali. Everyone knows about this problem and how it has spread from the north to central Mali in the last five years. The main reason for the spread of this violence is corruption. It has been a problem ever since Mali became independent after the French left in 1960. It is a problem common throughout Africa and many other parts of the world.
April 6, 2020: In the north (near Gao) a JNIM attack on an army base outside the town of Bamda left 25 soldiers dead. Many attackers were also killed but the Islamic terrorists took their dead and wounded with them after looting the army base and Bamba itself. The next day this group of Islamic terrorists had crossed the nearby border into Burkina Faso and attacked and looted another town, killing or wounding over 30 civilians.
April 2, 2020: In the northeast, across the border in Niger,
ISGS claimed responsibility for an attack that left four Niger soldiers dead and 10 wounded near Abala.