Mali has faced heavily armed terrorist groups based in the north of the country since 2012. These groups have been behind attacks resulting in numerous deaths within the ranks of the military and civilian populations. This has continued despite investments by the government in military hardware and support from foreign forces such as the French Operation Barkhane and the United Nations’ Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
According to various sources contacted by HumAngle, after the fall of the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 18, attacks have been markedly reduced as the Malian army has destroyed several jihadist camps in the north and centre of the country.
To several observers of the Malian situation, the absence of the head of state and the then existing military hierarchy had rendered the soldiers on the ground freer to operate according to military norms and better able to coordinate their operations.
Alidji Toure, who was born in Tombouctou in the north of the country and has lived through the war between the jihadists and the Malian army as well as against the foreign troops since 2012, says he is still alive because he escaped to Bamako, the national capital.
“The change I am noticing now is that the soldiers seem to be a little freer. For example, during the first week of the coup d’etat, we saw a lot of military hardware coming out of the camp in Tombouctou. We also saw several tanks,” he revealed.
Toure, who is a film producer, observed that attacks on the Goundam-Tombouctou-Dire highway, which were a frequent occurrence, have ceased completely.
“Last week, the terrorists tried to organise some attacks but they did not succeed. There has thus been an enormous change. Now, there is more serious security than before but there was a blockage around Koulouba because Koulouba was a little under the control of France which was stopping the Malian army from acting,” he said.
“Before the fall of the Keita-led government, Malian soldiers were killed in attacks, including ambushes and mine explosions, resulting in a fall in credibility for the army. Many civilians thought the jihadists were set to take control of Bamako because Malian soldiers were dying daily.”
Massale Traore is one of those hoping that peace and security would return to the war-affected regions of the country.
“Since the military takeover and the sacking of the army generals, the jihadists have been afraid. Attacks have been very rare in the conflict zones. We are no longer hearing about serious attacks which is an indication that they are becoming a thing of the past. I think the jihadists have not been protected by their supporters who are no longer in power,” suggested Traore.
On March 23, Malians witnessed the most deadly attack in the history of the country when 160 people were massacred in an attack on Ogossagou.
Several other attacks on Peuhl and Dogon resulted in the deaths of many, including women and children, reportedly because of the virtual absence of the army in these villages, which were only protected by self-defence groups.
Today, the arrival of the military and the new transitional government has brought solace to people in the conflict zones. To communities in these zones, the overthrow of the Keita government was necessary for peace to return to the country.
Hamadoun Dicko, a resident of Gao, argued that the destruction of several jihadist camps after the fall of the former regime was proof that Mali was a victim of a plot.
“Immediately after the arrival of the soldiers, we witnessed a bloody confrontation between the military and the jihadists. The army killed several fighters within the ranks of the enemy and recovered several materials including pick-up vehicles. This was enough proof that Koulouba was complicit to what was happening in the north,” Dicko declared forcefully.
“It was the former authorities that were preventing the army from acting against the armed bandits. All the jihadist operations were supervised by France because we cannot understand that in spite of the presence of the French army with all the means at its disposal, there were still deadly attacks against our soldiers.”
Since the appearance of armed groups in the country in 2015, communal conflicts have increased, especially between the Peuhl and Dogon in the central region. This was because the jihadist group led by Amadou Kouffa recruited its fighters mostly from the Peuhl community.
“Before now, we always heard of villages being attacked by the jihadists but since the fall of the regime to date, no village has been victim to jihadist aggression. This is just the beginning and we hope for a return of peace in our country,” prayed Hamadoun Dicko, who has lost several members of his family to the conflict.
Before now, attacks on vehicles happened frequently and often resulted in the theft of the said vehicles and their contents. Transport vehicles were also attacked with passengers dispossessed of their goods.
Since taking over the reins of power, the new authorities in Bamako have repeatedly expressed their determination to fight against the terrorists who have been operating in the north and centre of the country. The head of the military junta and president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, Colonel Assimi Goita, observed that Mali suffered so much in the past years through a multidimensional crisis.
During these years, according to the military leader who is now the Vice President of the transitional government, two-thirds of the country’s territory had been annexed.
“Insecurity prevails in two-thirds of the national territory. The security and defense forces have been fighting with bravery but we all know asymmetric wars are difficult to win. They are won with time due to determination and resilience,” he declared.
He promised Malians that the military would win the war imposed on them adding that “the defense and security forces must be mobilised, trained and reinforced and put in the material and moral conditions for the victory which they are obliged to win against the enemy of the Malian people”.
“The coming months must be months of results and decisive engagement so that Mali rapidly recovers all its sovereignty throughout the national territory,” the colonel said, reassuring the people that the security and defence forces were responding and would continue to respond with bravery.
On his part, Rtd Colonel Bah Ndaw, in his first declarations after taking over power, noted that jihadists had occupied certain parts of the country for decades and that their sanctuaries had continued to enlarge to the detriment of national security.
“We must totally and durably win and to achieve this victory necessitates political management where it is necessary but it is important to equip ourselves with the most dissuasive means possible through a materially and morally strong and ready army. The army, it is true, should not only combat the enemy. It should not be guilty of fleecing the civilian populations. That is not acceptable and will not be accepted,” the new Malian leader declared.
Another shortcoming he has expressed his wish to correct is the corruption within the military administration. He revealed that during the regime of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, funds destined for military equipment were embezzled and said, henceforth, such money will be totally used to cater for the army’s needs.
“Each centime invested in the defence and security of this country will be scrutinised and evaluated as long as I preside over the destiny of the transition,” he assured.
“I am taking the oath here. The good management of our resources, our meagre resources, is in effect, an obligation. That would be one of the main goals of this transition. It would be a daily obligation. It would be reinforced and will not be neglected for a single instant.”
In order to reverse the tendency for the inhabitants in the conflict zones and break the links between them and the jihadists, the state must durably invest in the economic development of the regions affected by the terrorist conflict. This is because many inhabitants of the conflict zones have joined the jihadists in their fight against the Malian nation.
Seven years after the beginning of the Malian crisis sparked off by the salafi insurrection and pro-independence groups militating for the independence of the north, the security situation in the country has not improved significantly. Numerous armed groups continue to operate within its territory with sometimes blurred agendas and unclear ambitions. Worst of all, from the beginning of the crisis, armed groups claiming to be jihadists have also been implicated in the crisis and sometimes control large segments of Malian territory.
On the other hand, other less structured groups, which are often indifferent about the peace accord, continue to mobilise fighters with community interests or for entrepreneurial, political, or self-defence reasons, reflecting general weakness in state authority.
Boukary Sangare, a consultant and researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, feels that there is an urgent necessity to identify the manner in which these multiple armed groups are perceived locally beyond the sole global security prism.
According to him, it is through a thorough understanding of the political and social dimensions of their presence within the populations that their capacity to create links with the populations and thus impose their presence can be explained.
“Only fully adapted responses can perhaps be adopted in order to diminish the impact of the presence of the armed non-state groups on the security situation in all of Mali,” he explained.
A number of studies on the crisis in the north and centre of the country indicate that the presence of non-state armed groups in the north has strongly destabilised the formal economy.
With a significant proportion of the populations plunged into abject poverty due to the crisis, there is strong hostility against the return of state institutions in the crisis zones as the few businesses operating there see state agents as enemies who only frequent them to extort money by way of exorbitant taxes.
In any case, the semblance of an economic fabric now existing in the north is controlled by criminal gangs who abhor government presence but are perceived by the locals as their only means for survival.
Experts say that if state authorities ever hope to regain the confidence of the local populations in the north, they must change their attitudes towards them and initiate social and economic development projects that would benefit the people.
During all these years of the economic crisis, the markets in the big towns of the north were replenished with supplies from Algeria and Mauritania, which included sugar, flour, dates, milk, drinks, oil, and motor fuel. Thus, cigarettes and petroleum products were imported without the payment of excise duty, making the goods cheaper and creating a favourable impression within the populations of the north about the illegal trade.
Toure is of the opinion that the jihadists benefitted from the support of certain inhabitants of the north because they constantly denounced the injustice and corruption of the representatives of state authorities in the area.
“Because of corruption, intimidation, absence of justice, the agents of the state alienated themselves from a large segment of the community. This had nothing to do with ethnic origins. In reality, one had to be poor to find his rights swept under the mat by court judges,” he said.
With a view to bringing about the return of peace and economic growth in the affected areas of Mali, the state in 2017 put in place the Integrated Security Plan for the Centre Regions. The plan envisaged the creation of secured poles of development and governance in several localities in the Centre of Mali with a view to putting in place a hybrid approach to development, governance, and security.
The intended results have, however, not started to manifest as killings have continued across the regions. Most recently, two Malian soldiers were reported killed while six others were wounded last Tuesday in an ambush in the centre of the country.