In 2018 tribal and Islamic terrorist violence left about 1,200 dead in Mali and 58 percent of those fatalities were civilians. Seven percent were Mali soldiers and police. The rest were Islamic terrorists or tribal militia. Life is not safe for the 16,000 UN peacekeepers (and support staff) service in Mali, which continues to be the most dangerous assignment the UN handles. Since 2013 this UN force has suffered 160 dead. So far in 2019 fifteen have died. Most of the peacekeepers in Mali are from African countries.
Despite, or perhaps because of those heavy losses senior French officials recently visited the Mali capital and assured Mali leaders that France would maintain its counter-terror force in Mali and the region for “as long as it takes.” The French visitors also announced over $100 million of additional aid and investment.
The tribal violence is largely started by the Fulani herders of central Mali. Fulani tribesmen, in general, are also the biggest supporters of the JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) 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 (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 al Mourabitoun (an al Qaeda splinter group). Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources (including information and 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 while the other groups are largely Tuareg, Arab and some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM or al Mourabitoun, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. Al Mourabitoun is believed to have largely rejoined al Qaeda but some small Al Mourabitoun factions remain independent.
Internal politics for Islamic terror groups is a lot messier than these religious zealots like to admit. That’s mainly because each group believes they are uniquely qualified to be the supreme leader of all Islam. Coping with this aspect of Islamic radicalism has proved burdensome and ultimately becomes a major reason for Islamic terror movements failing and fading away (via desertion and other forms of self-destruction). The new JNIM is more heavily influenced by its Fulani component and that is another reason for more attacks in central Mali, which has long been the scene of conflict with Fulanis. Largely because of the Fulani and JNIM there has been more Islamic terrorist activity since 2017 and that has impeded reconstruction and foreign aid efforts. Add to that the existing culture of corruption, especially in southern Mali and you have an atmosphere that is hostile to good government, national unity or economic growth.
The French support is important because the government is still crippled by corruption and the growing popularity of conservative Islam by the Mali Moslem majority (90 percent). The senior Islamic clerics in Mali are opposed to Islamic terrorism but are heavily influenced by the conservative Saudi Arabian Wahhabi form of Islam. Mali, like most African nations with large Moslem populations, has accepted Saudi offers of cash to build mosques and religious schools. The Saudis also offer Islamic clerics and teachers trained in Saudi Arabia. A growing number of these Saudi trained clerics and teachers received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. Sub-Saharan Moslems have not been very receptive to the idea of living according to Sharia (Islamic) law, which is what Wahhabism demands. But Islamic clerics who regularly criticize corrupt behavior is respected.
Corruption Corrosion Continues
Not surprisingly corruption has gotten worse in Mali. On a global scale (Transparency International survey) Mali is 120 out of 180 countries for 2018 compared to 122 in 2017 when it came dealing with corruption. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Mali score is 32 (up from 31 in 2017) compared to 17 (17) for Libya, 35 (33) for Algeria, 43 (40) for Morocco, 43 (42) for Tunisia, 19 (20) for Chad, 34 (33) for Niger, 35 (32) for Egypt, 70 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 19 (19) for Angola, 26 (23) for CAR, 26 (26) for Uganda, 56 (55) for Rwanda, 17 (22) for Burundi, 36 (36) for Tanzania and 35 (37) for Zambia, 34 (35) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Kenya, 24 (20) for Eritrea, 14 (16) for Yemen, 13 (12) for South Sudan, 16 (16) for Sudan, 61 (61) for Botswana, 72 (75) for the United States, 25 (25) for Cameroon, 40 (39) for Benin, 41 (40) for Ghana, 43 (43) for South Africa, 45 (45) for Senegal, 41 (40) for India, 72 (73) for Japan, 38 (37) for Indonesia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 18 (18) for Iraq, 41 (40) for Turkey, 49 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 28 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 33 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (29) for Russia and 39 (41) for China.
A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Mali’s corruption score has not made much progress lately as it was 34 back in 2012.
African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. Fixing an existing culture of corruption has proved a most difficult challenge. Somalia was rated the most corrupt nation in the world and has held that dubious distinction for a decade. But in Africa, there are exceptions, like Botswana (a landlocked nation north of South Africa). In the Middle East Israel and the UAE are the exceptions.
February 23, 2019: In the north (north of Kidal near the Algerian border), Islamic terrorists in several vehicles attacked a peacekeeper base and killed eight peacekeepers and wounded several others. The attack was repulsed.
In the south (near the capital), an EU (European Union) training center came under fire from unidentified gunmen. Two Mali soldiers were wounded and the attackers fled.
February 22, 2019: In the south, outside the capital (Bamako) unidentified gunmen fired on a peacekeeper convoy, killing three peacekeepers and wounding another.
February 21, 2019: In the north (outside Timbuktu), French air and ground forces attacked Islamic terrorists traveling on a road and killed several JNIM members. One of them was identified as the second-in-command of JNIM.
February 18, 2019: In central Mali (Mopti), police raided a location where a senior government official was being held by JNIM and rescued the prisoner. The official had been taken in May 2018 and was being held for ransom.
February 16, 2019: In the north (outside of Gao), in what was apparently a friendly fire incident, a Mali soldier was wounded by German peacekeepers at night as the Germans were returning to base in the dark. The Mali soldier opened fire and the Germans fired back.
February 3, 2019: In central Mali, just across the border in Burkina Faso, Islamic terrorists attacked a village near the border and killed 14 civilians. Over the next few days, Burkina Faso carried out raids in the region in which 146 Islamic terrorists were killed. The military had already located the probable location of Islamic terrorist camps in the area because of several similar raids on villages in the past month. The G5 and French counter-terrorism forces assisted in this operation. The part of Burkina Faso, adjacent to Mali, has seen an increasing amount of Islamic terrorist activity since 2015 and in that time at least 300 Burkina Faso civilians and security forces personnel have died, as well as an even larger number of Islamic terrorists.
February 2, 2019: In central Mali over 5,000 former members of armed groups signed up for the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) amnesty program. About twelve percent of those accepting the amnesty surrendered their weapons as well.
January 29, 2019: In the north (140 kilometers north of Gao), a JNIM suicide car bomb and gunmen were used for an attack on an army base, which left two soldiers dead and ten wounded.
January 28, 2019: In central Mali (Segou), a JNIM roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded two others.
Elsewhere in the area, just across the border in Burkina Faso, four soldiers were killed and four wounded when local Islamic terrorists attacked a base. Later a French fighter-bomber and several French helicopters were seen in the area, assisting Burkina Faso forces in locating the area the attackers came from.