Twenty five Malian soldiers have been killed and sixty reported missing after attacks on two army camps in Mali on Monday 30 September, Reuters reports. It is suspected that the attacks were carried out by Islamist jihadist groups on army camps located at Boulkessi and Mondoro in the Mopti region of central Mali. The Malian government has stated that there were also “four wounded … and heavy equipment losses,” and Defense Post has reported that there were at least two civilian casualties. The government has also stated that the army has launched a joint operation with neighbouring Burkina Faso forces against militant groups aligned with al Qaeda or Islamic State, as well as receiving support from French forces who are stationed in the area. The attack signals one of the largest losses of life this year by Malian government troops, in a quickly escalating violent situation engulfing the African region.
The Minister of Communications, Yaya Sangare, released a statement on Twitter reporting the details of the attack and reiterating the government’s calls towards the international community for help in reaching a resolution towards peace and stability within Mali and the surrounding nations. International awareness of the situation in Mali and the Sahel region has recently come into focus, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stating earlier in the week that “we are losing ground in the face of violence,” and claiming West African nations and international powers are failing to tackle the threat of Islamist militancy.
Mali has seen conflict since 2012 when a Tuareg separatist group rebelled in the north of Mali, creating the opportunity for Islamist militant groups to move in on the instability and gain control over territory in the north. In turn, the instability has sparked intercommunal violence between ethnically aligned self-defense groups against communities supporting Islamist armed groups. Additionally, this has created the opportunity for Islamist militant groups to acquire a stronghold, which has spread violence and instability into neighbouring countries. The situation deteriorated in 2018 when hundreds of civilians were killed in a spike of violence, and this trend has continued and accelerated into 2019. The UNHCR estimates that there are 136,032 Malian refugees and internally displaced persons. In February 2017, France and the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5) countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – created the G5 Sahel Force, which included a 5,000-strong force aimed at fighting militant groups with the ability to run operations across the borders of the Sahel region. So far, the G5 has been unable to slow the increase in violence.
The inability of the G5 to slow the increase in violence emphasizes the need to look for alternative ways to bring peace to the region. Additionally, Malian government forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings, with the government unwilling until recently to open investigations into the violations of law. It is clear that the degree of violence being perpetrated by both sides will lead to a perpetuation of instability and hamper any efforts to a peaceful resolution. Throughout the last few years there have been attempts at dialogue with Islamist militant groups to reach an agreement to end the violence, but with little progress. Nevertheless, this approach is the most fruitful for coming to an agreement that would benefit all parties involved and bring respite to the civilians caught in the middle.
While members among the Malian government, Jihadist leaders and international actors such as France and the United States explicitly condemn this sort of approach, the Malian government should mandate the ability of trusted religious leaders to approach militants with aim of reaching local ceasefires before extending their aims to a broader peace in the first place. In addition, the underlying reasons for support among communities towards Islamist militants must be approached. Grievances around the socioeconomic conditions and perceived lack of trust in political institutions creates the opportunity for hard-line Islamist militant groups to gain support among local communities and in turn, create more violence and instability against the current Malian regime. If the government is able to gain the support of these communities by providing support with socioeconomic troubles, garnering trust in their ability to successfully implement helpful and protective services and institutions, this would place the Malian government in a stronger position to enter dialogue with the militant groups. This would make it clear that their extreme version of Islam and the violence and extreme control is not welcome within the region.
Mali and the surrounding Sahel region are some of the regions more vulnerable to an increase in violence and humanitarian crises. In conjunction with the area’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change, the increase in Islamist and communal violence exacerbates a situation where civilians face already underdeveloped health, education, and employment access. It is of the greatest importance to bring to the attention of the African and international community the potential for a crisis and in response, to act fast and comprehensively to ensure that this area returns to a peaceful domestic situation.
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