Dozens of people have been reportedly killed in attacks on two villages in central Mali amid rapidly deteriorating security conditions. A local mayor told Reuters News Agency that unidentified gunmen arrived on motorbikes before attacking the villages of Yoro and Gangafani. According to Malian military officials, 41 mostly ethnic Dogons have been killed. This comes as the latest in a tit-for-tat of ethnic violence between Dogon and Fulani communities following the massacre of at least 35 people in another Dogon village, Sobane Da, just a week earlier. That too had come as retaliation to one of the worst acts of bloodshed in the country’s recent history, in which suspected Dogon militiamen killed more than 150 Fulani in two villages in central Mali in late March. Last month, the United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced at least 488 Fulani civilians have been killed in the central regions of Mopti and Segou since January 1st, 2018, stating that Fulanis have caused 63 civilian deaths in the Mopti region in the same period.
Earlier this month, the UN warned that similar attacks were likely to escalate unless immediate action was taken. The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Alioune Tine, emphasised that it is crucial these inter-communal tensions be addressed “if the risk of crimes against humanity is to be averted”. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has warned that his country now faces an existential crisis, being quoted in Al Jazeera, as calling upon Malians to unite to “allow our nation to survive”.
With the previous government resigning following the March attacks, Keita’s government came to power vowing to disarm the various ethnic militias and heavily armed jihadist groups that flooded the country following the Libyan conflict in 2011. Since an extremist uprising in Northern Mali in 2012, large parts of the country have fallen out of control of the Malian government. In 2013, French and other African troops entered Mali to try to restore stability. However, despite the continued presence of 4,000 French troops and 14,000 UN peace keepers, Mali’s government still struggles to calm the violence amongst extremists and local groups forming their own militias for self-defence.
The militias’ presences have inflamed tensions between the semi-nomadic Fulani herders and settled Dogon farmers who have lived side by side for centuries. Whereas conflicts have always existed over grazing land and resources, extremists groups are now exploiting and exacerbating their differences to expand their own influence. The increased instability and flow of weapons, combined with a weak and ineffective state unable to provide defence or assert control, means tensions are continuously escalating to violence. Since 2016, intercommunal attacks and killings have risen each year fuelled by cycles of retaliation.
The situation desperately calls for a revaluation of domestic and international peace efforts. Continued security measures since the 2013 international intervention ignore the changing conditions on the ground and fail to address the root causes of violence. An inclusive political solution involving dialogue with all the armed communities and groups – counting the jihadists – is needed. Such a multilateral agreement must focus on structural solutions. “Short-cut solutions will not help Mali”, says Annelies Hickendorff, Researcher of the SIPRI Sahel and West Africa Programme; “it is only by using tailored solutions addressing the needs of local populations that long-term peace in Mali will be achieved”. Further conflict only adds stress to the volatile Sahel region of western and north-central Africa. Numerous countries continue to face a host of challenges including the spread of extremism, poverty, humanitarian needs, climate change and food security, and human trafficking.
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