Ethnic Violence on the Rise in Mali

A Dogon village. ( Ethnic conflict has reared its ugly head in the West African state of Mali with the ongoing tension between Dogon hunters and the majority-Muslim Fulani herding community. The two groups have a history of ethnic conflict. The current conflict has been escalating since January. On June 10, members of the Fulani ethnic group attacked a rival Dogon village, killing more than 95 people and burning their homes to the ground.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the conflict zone in 2019 alone. One of the most horrific incidents occurred on March 23, when gunmen killed more than 150 Fulani herders. A Dogon-affiliated militia is widely believed to be responsible for the massacre. The March attack occurred in the Fulani village of Ogossagou, near the town of Mopti, and eventually was labeled a massacre. The attack is one of the worst examples of bloodshed in recent Malian history, according to Reuters.

The massacre led to a mass demonstration in Bamako, Mali’s capital in April. The rally was called by Muslim religious leaders, opposition groups, and civil society groups. The demonstration included more than 15,000 people, although the Malian authorities numbered the participants at 10,000. Demonstrators called on the government to take more constructive efforts to curb ethnic violence. Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta responded to the demonstration by firing and replacing two generals and disbanding a militia group suspected of participating in the killing, according to Al Jazeera.

Much of the violence is viewed as a larger extension of Islamist and jihadist extremism in the region that has escalated since 2012 when the Tuareg minority attempted to secede in north Mali. It is widely believed these groups are exploiting the ethnic conflicts between the Fulani, who are a semi-nomadic and primarily Muslim, and non-Muslim groups such as the Dogon. Both of these groups have traditionally engaged in conflict related to access to land and food resources.

The most recent spate of violence is a near mirror image of the March 23 massacre. The violence involved a raid by Fulani from the Bankass district on the neighboring Sangha district. Armed Fulani men fired on the population and burned the village down.

Sangha's Mayor Ali Dolo said “95 charred bodies had been found so far” and that the village was still on fire the day after the attack, according to ABC News.

The government of Mali condemned the June 10 massacre and Secretary General of the UN António Guterres expressed his concern as well. The Malian government extended condolences to all those impacted. They also vowed to take steps to arrest and punish those responsible. The UN has utilized a number of different methods to support the government’s efforts to battle the violence. These include providing air support to combat insurgents. The UN has also kept a force of more than 16,000 personnel in the region as part of a peacekeeping mission started in 2013. This force includes more than 12,000 soldiers brought in from Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Chad, and Niger, according to the UN.

Critics of the Malian government tell a different story about the origins of the violence, and they fault the government’s attempts to address the growing crisis in northern Mali. Human rights groups have criticized the government’s tactics since the 2015 peace accord with separatist groups, which has included extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture, and the arbitrary detention of suspected jihadists and sympathizers. This situation is compounded by the presence of jihadists whose camps and bases are located in the semi-arid and desert regions of the country, which is largely outside of government influence, according to ABC News. This area is part of the Sahel, a region that includes parts of Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, and other nations. Mali’s ability to control its borders and maintain stability have been tenuous at best since 2012 when jihadist and extremist groups took control of the northern part of the country. This occurrence prompted a military intervention by France in 2013. Although the groups were pushed back, they managed to spread across the cultural landscape of the country, primarily in the Sahel. Observers believe that the collapse of the Islamic State in the Sahara has pushed more fighters into the region.

This situation has exacerbated tensions, and the violence by Islamist groups has doubled each year since 2016. The death toll has increased markedly in the past three years from 218 to at least 1,110. Currently, Mali has at least four active Islamist groups. The presence of these groups accounts for at least two-thirds of the violence in the region since 2018, according to The Washington Post.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.