At least forty people have been killed in a series of attacks in central Mali, an escalation of the ethnic tensions that have plagued the West African country in recent years. The worst of the violence left thirty-one people dead in the village of Ogossagou, which is largely inhabited by Fulani people and was the site of another massacre which killed 160 people in March last year. Government officials blamed that attack, as well as this month’s events, on ethnic Dogon militants. Last week, an apparently unrelated ambush in the Gao region saw eight soldiers killed and four wounded.
Village chief Aly Ousmane Barry said approximately thirty gunmen were responsible for the Ogossagou assault, according to AFP. He described the carnage which ensued just hours after government troops left the area, explaining that “Huts and crops were set alight, livestock was burned or taken away”. Moulaye Guindo, mayor of nearby Bankass, corroborated the suggestion that the attack followed the departure of Malian soldiers from their base in the region.
These attacks have been common in Mali since a 2012 rebellion in which several insurgent groups in the north of the country fought for independence. That conflict led to the deployment of several thousand French troops and was partly alleviated by a 2015 ceasefire agreement. Nevertheless, ethnic violence and attacks on government troops have persisted, inflamed by the emergence of Jihadi militias throughout West Africa.
Last month, 89 soldiers were killed by militants just over the border in Niger. French President Emmanuel Macron, however, has equivocated over his country’s military commitments to the region. At a Paris summit with West African leaders at the start of the year, he emphatically noted that “French soldiers” were the ones “dying for the citizens of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.” That meeting nonetheless led to France agreeing to send a further 220 troops to the region, adding to the 4,500 already stationed there. But attacks such as those seen last week demonstrate that there is a limit to what a French military presence can achieve. As long as national armies remain poorly trained and under-resourced, they will be ineffectual in protecting civilians, and will themselves continue to be targeted for attacks by militants.
Indeed, whether a military solution can address the fundamental problems of the conflict is doubtful. Last year, UN representative Alioune Tine argued that “It will be difficult to eradicate violence in Mali” without “good governance and concrete development initiatives”. Mr Tine echoed the sentiment of many Malians who have criticised the government for its inattentiveness to the country’s central and northern regions, where “The lack of an effective state presence… [has been] one of the aggravating causes of the current security situation”. He identified persistent school closures and chronic youth unemployment as contributing to cycles of violence in the area. The clashes between the Dogon and Fulani people, who are pastoralist farmers and nomadic herders respectively, have been largely fuelled by resource scarcity as the groups compete for arable land and water access. Without a more expansive peace deal than the one agreed in 2015 – and in the absence of serious efforts to combat underdevelopment – many more Malians will be tormented by this violence.
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