Three Recent Journal Articles on Mali and Mauritania

Three journal articles with crucial perspectives on Mali and Mauritania have appeared recently.

1. Adib Bencherif, Aurélie Campana, and Daniel Stockemer, “Lethal Violence in Civil War: Trends and Micro-Dynamics of Violence in the Northern Mali Conflict (2012-2015),” in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. The abstract:

This article discusses the trends and micro-dynamics of violence in northern Mali. Using a mixed research design, we focus on the violence used by jihadist groups during the first phases of the Malian civil war (2012–2015). Integrating research on civil war and terrorism, we distinguish between direct and remote violence. Quantitative analyses show that the involvement of jihadist groups in this conflict had a strong impact on the level and intensity of violence of all warring parties. Qualitative analysis of data collected during field research done in Mali between 2016 and 2017 complements the quantitative work. It enlightens that relational dynamics strongly influence the decision to resort to violence within non-state armed groups, including jihadist ones, while local contexts often explain temporal and geographic variations in violence.

And one very interesting excerpt, from pp. 12-13 of the .pdf version:

The Timbuktu region illustrates another kind of relational dynamics between secular rebel and jihadists groups. These dynamics affected the level and intensity of violence and show how pragmatic these groups were. The factions of secular rebel groups operating in this region chose not to confront AQIM and fled to areas outside those controlled by jihadist groups. AQIM was the dominant jihadist group in Timbuktu. AQIM took control of Timbuktu on June 28, 2012, and Lere on November 28, 2012, with- out any major violent confrontations. Given their lack of military capability, MNLA leader in the Timbuktu region decided on a pragmatic retreat.93 Furthermore, at that time the relationships between the different communities living around Timbuktu were relatively stable. Armed groups were reluctant, at least in 2012, to exploit latent inter and intra-community tensions to expand their control over these communities as they had done in Gao. For example, the Front de liberation nationale de l’Azawad (FLNA), an Arab militia created in April 2012, was opposed first to the Tuareg rebels and also the jihadists. They occupied a part of Timbuktu on April 26, 2012. Abou Zaïd, one of the leaders of AQIM, asked the FLNA to leave to avoid death among civilians. On April 27, 2012, they left Timbuktu without a clash.97 Among the Timbuktu region, numerous notables had and are going to have relations with jihadist groups. One young Tuareg from Timbuktu and member of the MNLA summarized: “One of the few who rejected any collaboration with the jihadist groups was the colonel Abass who fled with his group to the Mauritanian border [on November 28, 2012]. (…) After that, in Timbuktu, you could find the true terrorists and Arab and Tuareg who were only collaborating with them because of fear or economic interests.”

2. Oumar Ba, “Governing the Souls and Community: Why Do Islamists Destroy World Heritage Sites?Cambridge Review of International Affairs. The abstract:

From Bamiyan to Timbuktu and Palmyra, Islamic fundamentalist groups have willfully destroyed cultural edifices which were listed as world heritage sites. Yet, beyond the criminal acts and their shock value, this article argues that attacks on cultural and religious sites may be viewed as actions embedded in a political project of gouvernement. In this regard, spectacular destruction of cultural heritage may not be simply a signal sent to the international community, but rather an action embedded in a broader political project of governing territory and its inhabitants, aimed at building a new political community based on a new ethos that includes the control of the economyof cultural heritage sites. This article uses the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Timbuktu in 2012 to show the ways in which they fit within the political project of the Ansar Dine jihadist group. Furthermore, the Islamic State’s attacks on cultural sites in Syria and Iraq are also analyzed in light of a political project to govern the territory and communities. The broader implications of this study include the need to pay closer attention to perpetrators’ claims and justifications and to take them seriously, by both international justice scholarship and policy circles. Doing so does not absolve the crimes or mitigate their gravity, but rather allows for better approaches to identify, protect or rebuild cultural heritage in conflict settings.

Ba’s book States of Justice: The Politics of the International Criminal Court has also just come out with Cambridge University Press.

3. Elemine Ould Mohamed Baba and Francisco Freire, “Looters vs. Traitors: The Muqawama (“Resistance”) Narrative, and its Detractors, in Contemporary Mauritania,” African Studies Review (link is to full .pdf version). The abstract:

Since 2012, when broadcasting licenses were granted to various private television and radio stations in Mauritania, the controversy around the Battle of Um Tounsi (and Mauritania’s colonial past more generally) has grown substantially. One of the results of this unprecedented level of media freedom has been the propagation of views defending the Mauritanian resistance (muqawama in Arabic) to French colonization. On the one hand, verbal and written accounts have emerged which paint certain groups and actors as French colonial power sympathizers. At the same time, various online publications have responded by seriously questioning the very existence of a structured resistance to colonization. This article, drawing predominantly on local sources, highlights the importance of this controversy in studying the western Saharan region social model and its contemporary uses.

One interesting paragraph, from p. 261:

To the best of our knowledge, the existing body of academic discussion on this topic—the rivalry between Hassān and Zwāya status groups— predominantly relies on historical documentation. We draw rather on other elements, analyzing, in particular, documents emanating from different media outlets such as newspapers, radio, TV shows, and social media. Our approach is important insofar as it incorporates a significant corpus of nonreferenced bibliographical materials, largely published online on Mauritanian media platforms or newspapers. This methodological option effectively broadens the scope of available sources on contemporary Mauritanian debates and authors. It should also classify and validate such sources as significant elements in the understanding of regional history. Our selection incorporates the authors—often with a limited track record of published materials (books)—who, through their public voices (in Arabic and French), have more clearly delineated the muqawama controversy.

Finally, you can watch the authors discuss the battle of Oum Tounsy in a video here (in French):

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