On Sunday evening, 9 June 2019, a Peul militia attacked a Dogon village in central Mali, killing over 100 people, wounding others, and then burning down the village. It is thought that the attack was, at least in part, a revenge attack for a 23 March attack of a Peul village by a Dogon militia group the Dan Na Ambassagou. Ethnic tensions in mid-Mali have been growing since the start of 2019.
The degree of poor administration and the disintegration of the State of Mali became apparent in March 2012 when there were revolts led by the Twareg in northern Mali. The creation of a new state, Azawed, to be led by ethnic Twareg was proclaimed. At the time, the Association of World Citizens, concerned with the resolution of armed conflicts through the creation of appropriate administrative structures had called for the creation of a new Mali Federation rather than the creation of a separate State.
France, which had been the colonial power in Mali, sent troops to put down the Twarg rebellion. The United Nations built on the foundation of the French forces to create a U.N. military, peacekeeping force, the Minusma. A “peace agreement” was signed in 2015. However, while the French and U.N. military can prevent a certain number of attacks by militias, they cannot create the decentralized forms of government administration necessary.
Thus insecurity has continued. There has been a shift of violence from the north of Mali toward the middle area of the country. Some of those involved in the north have move to the center. However, once violence starts, others join in. Thus we find ethnic groups in the middle area starting to fight each other for reasons not directly related to the causes of the original conflict in the north.
A stark example of this new violence is the struggle between the Dogon and the Peuls. (Traditionally, the plural of “Peul” was “Fulani” but increasingly there is a tendency to put an s on Peul, which we will do here). The Dogon are well known in French anthropological study. In order not to become Muslim, the Dogon moved from the plains into mountains with steep sides making their villages relatively easy to defend. In order not to be tempted to become Muslim, the Dogon strengthened their traditional beliefs and rituals – much to the joy of the French anthropologists who started to study them in the late 1930s. (1)
The Dogon did not consider themselves as a “warrior” group, but in recent time, the concept of “self-defense” has grown among groups in Mali in light of the inability of the government to defend them.
This growth of ethnic-related violence in central Mali merits close attention because Mali is not the only example of armed conflicts between herders and settled agriculturalists. We find the same causes of armed conflict in the Darfur conflicts in Sudan and in the conflicts in what is now South Sudan. These conflicts are likely to spread to other areas of Africa due to the pressures of climate change and the inability of traditional forms of dispute settlement between agriculturalists and herders. There is also a lack of adequate government services. In some ways this is a test for “early warning”. It will be important to see if this violence leads to new efforts to deal with agriculturalist-herder needs and culture.
1) On the Dogon, it was Marcel Griaule who was the leader, his key books being Dieu d’eau, and the later Le Renard Pale.
The writing of his co-workers Genevieve Dieterlen and Michel Leiris are also important.
Rene Waldow. President of the Association of World Citizens