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Ethnic violence or terrorist attack: Mali suffers the ruinous effect of insecurity

09.04.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Years after the 2012 terrorist attack in Mali which necessitated France’s intervention, Mali is still facing dwindling security. In 2013, the landlocked country experienced a democratic transition after the defeat of the insurgent group, linked to al-Qaeda took control of the Northern part of the country. Close to 6 years thereafter, violence has increased as nomadic Fulani herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers engage in ethnic conflicts. In 2018, the situation became fiercer as regular uprisings have left close to 18 million people vulnerable. Though some have blamed terrorist fighters for fanning these attacks, the consequences remain very heavy in the Malian population.

Mali is yet to recover from years of war and jihadist attacks as an inter-tribal conflict break out shortly after the ousting of insurgents in 2013 who had sowed tensions and caused severe political instability in the West African country.

Despite the presence of more than 16,000 United Nations personnel on the ground as well as 12,418 troops made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger, Togo and Chad,  Mali is still on its knees due to the precarious security situation.

Malians have expressed growing dissatisfaction with the ongoing situation and blamed the government for its inability to resolve the ethnic dispute. On April 5, 2019, thousands of people stormed the Malian capital to request for a quick solution to the barbaric killings.

Mali clamps down on terrorist attacks

The ethnic violence which is ravaging the country is a spillover from the 2012 war in Mali. The armed conflicts which erupted in 2012 between the northern and southern parts of Mali saw the birth of insurgent groups which began a campaign against the government while demanding for the independence of Northern Mali, also known as Azawad.

The conflict led to the ousting of former Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré and National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad took control of Azawad. Mali’s three largest northern cities of Kidal, Gao and, Timbuktu were filled with rebels. The military was sent out of the region and MNLA proclaimed the independence of Northern Mali from the rest of the country, renamed it Azawad and imposed strict Sharia law.

After the Malian government sent out a cry for help, the French military launched an offensive against the Islamists in 2013 followed by troops from the African Union states. Finally, the Islamist fighters were contained and the government regained control Malian of the region. This was followed by a ceasefire agreement in 2015 signed in Algeria between the Malian government and the Northern rebels.

Despite this agreement, the country is yet to be spared from violence as it is believed that rebels who had retreated from the region are now promoting inter-ethnic violence and again gradually gaining control.

Ethnic conflict takes center stage to foil security in the country

The conflict in Mali which basically started as violent conflict staged by insurgents in the northern regions has now developed into a nationwide conflict. The situation escalated in 2018 and has now spilled into 2019 with 2 deadly attacks in January and March.

The conflict is mostly related to disputes between nomadic Fulani herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers over access to land and water. High death tolls were recorded in northern and central Mali in 2017.  However, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project’s (ACLED) reported that in 2018, close to 750 fatalities were recorded which is the highest casualties Mali has ever witnessed.

Unfortunately, self-defense groups have also been accused of targeting the Fulani community and accused them of supporting armed Islamists largely linked to Al-Qaeda. However, the March 2019 attacked forced Mali’s president Ibrahim Keita to take drastic measures to dissolve all ethnic militia as well as sacking senior military officers.

The Crisis demands more attention as villagers decry economic slowdown

Peace and security experts in Mali have pointed out to the fact that the limited presence of the state in the country makes it difficult for the conflict to be resolved. The presence of the state is almost not felt on Central Mali which has caused jihadists to operate with little or no constraint. Hence to be able to handle the ongoing conflicts in the country, the government has to take effective control of all its territory.

Villagers have noted that the source of their livelihood is being threatened by these conflicts as Dogon and Bambara self-defense groups banned them from selling or buying at markets. Others have met their untimely death while grazing in the fields. This has resulted in severe economic hardship in the country. In 2018, the government revealed that dozens of villagers died from acute malnutrition linked to the insecurity. 750 schools have been shut down and displaced children and families lack adequate access to health care services.

As a means to quell down the attacks, the government and the international community doubled anti-terrorism effort which led to the death of the Fulani Islamist leader, Amadou Koufa in a military operation carried out by French soldiers in November 2018.

Unfortunately, these efforts have failed to resolve the crisis and the masses are paying heavily for it. The latest violence attack on March 23, 2019, shocked the entire community as charred bodies were littered everywhere. This sparked the recent April 2019 rally in the capital Bamako as civilians are now calling for the resignation of Keita.

Whatever the case, the government has a crucial task of finding a lasting solution to end violence and maintain peace and stability. The strategy developed by the government will have to tackle both terrorism and ethnic violence because though the efforts made by France may help eliminate terrorist groups, ethnic tensions will require more stringent measures.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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