Two Recent Reports on Mali by Human Rights Watch and SIPRI

Two new major reports on Mali have appeared recently. Here is a short synopsis/excerpt of each.

1. Human Rights Watch, “Self-Defense Group Abuses in Central Mali” (full report here)

This report concentrates on Bambara and Dogon ethnic self-defense groups in Mali’s central Mopti region, and on the broader dialectic that features (a) jihadist recruitment among the Peul, (b) Bambara and Dogon violence against the Peul, and (c) retaliatory violence by jihadists and Peul communities against the Bambara and Dogon. The report also notes how the Malian state and military, though various forms of both presence and absence, have contributed to the violence.

One thing I really appreciated about the report was that in addition to highlighting jihadism, ethnic tensions, and resource disputes, it also really emphasized how the availability of small arms fuels the conflict. Here is an excerpt from p. 21:

Community leaders from all ethnic groups and security analysts in the region told Human Rights Watch that the proliferation of semi-automatic assault rifles and other weapons in the possession of self-defense and Islamist armed groups was contributing to the lethality of the communal violence.

Many said Mali’s cycles of armed conflict in the north was an obvious factor leading to arms proliferation, but they questioned how, more recently, the self-defense groups had procured so many weapons and ammunition without the government acting to control the problem. A European security expert said: “The Dogon and Bambara self-defense militias have more and more AK-47s (Kalashnikov assault rifles), and seemingly endless stocks of ammunition. These are very poor communities so how can they afford to buy all this stuff?”

Villagers said self-defense or hunting societies were traditionally armed with artisanal or single-barrel shotguns and only started seeing “war guns” within the last few years. “The arms they [militias] are using are not the ones our fathers used,” one market woman said. “When they fired, the earth trembled.”

Many local residents and external observers (including me) are increasingly troubled by the question of where these weapons, and the money used to purchase them, come from.

2. SIPRI, Aurélien Tobie and Grégory Chauzal, “State Services in an Insecure Environment: Perceptions among Civil Society in Mali” (full report here)

This report starts with the finding that Malians by and large want the state to provide essential services but see it as sometimes incapable of doing so. In areas of state weakness or absence, communities are pursuing their own strategies and models. The study is based on a survey, and the variations within responses (by gender, region, topic, etc.) are extremely interesting. Here is one example from pp. 9-10:

The questionnaire also included questions on the best level for decision making, as the issue of decentralization is important in Mali. Initiated in the 1990s, the process of decentralization is regularly debated in the context of the recurring crises. Closer proximity to the decision-making process is sometimes seen as a way to adapt services to local needs and demands…

However, respondents’ preferences for national or decentralized service provision seem to depend on the sector considered: while most respondents were in favour of a nationalized justice system, most preferred transport, water, healthcare and food security to be decentralized. Preferences for education and security were less clear-cut and varied by region, with the South often standing out: respondents in the South tended to favour the nationalization of security policies, whereas those in the North and Central zones wanted them to be decentralized. On the question of education, the opposite pattern appeared: most of the respondents in the South wanted this to be decentralized, whereas those in the North and Central zones wanted a national policy. This may be due to the fact that education is considered a strong vector of integration in Mali and is seen as one of the main instruments for fostering national cohesion. The lack of educational infrastructure in the North, including the absence of a university, has been seen as an obstacle to the development of the regions there.

 

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Mali: Roundup on the Reported Death of Amadou Kouffa

In November, media outlets reported that French and Malian forces had killed Amadou/Hamadoun Kouffa, the foremost jihadist in central Mali, on 23 November. A few days later, French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly confirmed Kouffa’s death (see also her initial statements on the raid). An official statement from France’s counterterrorism mission in the Sahel, Operation Barkhane, can be found here. The operation seems to have taken place in the Mopti region of Mali, near the Malian-Mauritanian border.

The organization Kouffa belonged to – Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM, the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims), a part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – has not yet issued a eulogy. The Mauritanian journalist Muhammad Mahmud Abu al-Ma’ali has said that a source within JNIM denied Kouffa’s death and proclaimed him to be in good health. (See also here.)

I have never seen a really definitive biography of Kouffa, but some profiles can be found here and here.

There is a lot to say about Kouffa, but I want to start with a roundup of the coverage of his reported death:

  • The Malian journalist Adam Thiam makes a number of excellent points here, including how one might know whether Kouffa is dead in the absence of a eulogy (e.g., if Kouffa’s wives go into formal mourning, or if he does not surface soon on WhatsApp messages, or if a successor is named). Thiam goes on to say, “It will be difficult to find a natural successor with the stature of the late preacher. But the bleeding will not necessarily stop.” Thiam notes that various root causes of the insurgency in the center are still in place, ranging from Malian army abuses to ethnic and resource conflicts to the continued influence of Iyad ag Ghali, JNIM’s leader. Thiam also notes, sagely, that Kouffa’s death may have unanticipated consequences.
  • An in-depth report at Le Monde surveys Kouffa’s life and career and discusses the potential impact of his death.
  • Also at Le Monde, Thomas Hofnung warns – in a similar vein to Thiam – that by killing Kouffa, France/Mali struck at the top of the pyramid while failing to halt the expansion of that pyramid’s base. Hofnung emphasizes the issue of governance in the center and preventing “a war of all against all.”
  • On Twitter, MENASTREAM wrote a thread giving important details and context about the raid and its significance, including the very important point that Kouffa had recently appeared in a video, and that there seems to be something of a trend where jihadist leaders who expose themselves by making videos can end up quickly targeted and killed by counterterrorism forces. See MENASTREAM’s thread on that video here, and the video itself is here.
  • Both MENASTREAM and Aurelien Tobie, in a separate thread, note another important detail about the raid: as many as thirty JNIM/Kouffa fighters, including other officials of the group, were reportedly killed alongside Kouffa. So the group’s losses may extend well beyond just their regional leader.
  • Arabic-language Mauritanian media outlets such as Sahara Medias have also covered the raid in some depth, but have not, in my view, added many distinctive details.

Mali: Another Look at the Presidential Election Results

The “Les Afriques dans le Monde” project at Sciences Po Bordeaux has posted some useful maps and charts on Mali’s presidential elections.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • It’s really striking to see the pie charts that include abstentions. The visuals really underscore the weakness of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s second term mandate.
  • The post highlights that of more than 65,000 new voters added to the rolls for the 12 August runoff, approximately half of them were in Gao and half in the diaspora. These are the kinds of numbers that have raised eyebrows in Mali.
  • The maps showing vote share by region are also extremely useful. The map of the first round highlights how well IBK did in the north (especially Kidal and Gao) and how poorly he did in Mopti (which also had, far and away, the highest number of polling place closures due to violence. Interestingly, as the authors note, IBK’s main rival Soumaïla Cissé had his best score in Timbuktu (20%), and his second-best in Gao, so this is not a story of Cissé doing well in south and IBK doing well in the north – rather, it’s the story of two candidates with significant northern support amid a divided south, where the share of votes going to other candidates was much higher. Cissé had minimal support in the south, actually.
  • The map of the second round reinforces these patterns. IBK dominated Kidal, but Cissé preserved a substantial vote share in Timbuktu (increasing, actually, to 26% there) and Gao. Only in those two regions, moreover, was the share of people voting greater than the share of people not voting. In the south, again, Cissé had relatively little support. Moreover, abstentions reached 70% in Segou, Bamako, and Sikasso.
  • I would reiterate what I’ve said before, namely that IBK is in some sense not really the president of Mopti (and even, one could argue, Segou). The violence was so severe, and the abstentions so high, that I take the outcome there as a rejection of the process itself.

Mali Elections: Counting Polling Place Closures from the First Round (Regional and Cercle-Level Data)

Hopefully this post doesn’t duplicate work that has already been done elsewhere, but I have not seen anyone go through and give the cercle-level data from the Malian government’s list of polling place closures from the first round of the presidential elections. Let me restate, for clarity: when Malians voted on 29 July, 871 polling places were closed “for various reasons” (mostly connected to insecurity), according to the government. Those closures were concentrated in one region – Mopti, in the center – and even within Mopti they were concentrated in certain administrative cercles, especially the ones that had already been deeply affected by violence.

So here are some figures on the closures (hand-counted by me, so it’s possible that some mistakes crept in, particularly with Mopti cercle and Tenenkou cercle):

Regional Level

Mali has ten regions (formerly eight). The closures affected four of those regions:

  • Mopti: 729
  • Timbuktu: 101
  • Segou: 39
  • Koulikoro: 2

Both of Koulikoro’s closures were in one cercle, Nara, so I won’t go through that in the counts below.

Cercle Level – Mopti

Mopti has eight cercles (see the Wikipedia map here). The closures affected seven of those cercles (the unaffected cercle was Bankass, the southeasternmost cercle):

  • Mopti: 193
  • Tenenkou: 190
  • Douentza: 154
  • Koro: 58
  • Youwarou: 58
  • Djenne: 50
  • Bandiagara: 26

Cercle Level – Timbuktu

Timbuktu has five cercles (unless my information is out of date since the reorganization from eight into ten regions, in which case I hope readers will correct me; in any case, the Wikipedia map is here). The closures affected four of those cercles:

  • Tombouctou (Timbuktu): 47
  • Gourma-Rharous: 40
  • Niafunke: 12
  • Goundam: 2

Cercle Level – Segou (39 Total)

Segou has seven cercles (Wikipedia map here). The closures affected two of those cercles (the two that border some of the worst-hit areas in Mopti)

  • Niono: 32
  • Macina: 7

I may draw some more conclusions from this data in other posts or pieces, but the immediate and obvious conclusion is the Mopti was the worst affected by far, and that the broad north-south band from Niono in Segou up through Mopti (particularly the western half of the region (Tenenkou, Mopti, Youwarou, Djenne, although obviously Douentza was very bad as well) and then into the Timbuktu region was the main corridor of electoral violence in the first round.

The second round figures are here, although I have not yet seen a cercle-level breakdown of closures. But in the second round as in the first, Mopti was far and away the region with the most closures.

Mali: A Few Details on the Mass Graves in Mopti

In April of this year, Amnesty International reported allegations that six bodies had been found in a mass grave near the village of Dogo in the Mopti Region of central Mali. Villagers accused Malian security forces of perpetrating the killings following a mass arrest. This month, RFI (French) reported new accusations by villagers in Nantaka and Kobaka, Mopti, that another mass grave containing twenty-five bodies had been found. Again, security forces are accused of killing detainees, in this instance following a mass arrest on June 13; in this case, as in other instances, the accusation is that security forces conducted executions on an ethnic basis, targeting the Peul ethnic group (all twenty-five bodies are reportedly those of Peul villagers).

Central Mali is the site of a multi-faceted conflict involving state security forces, ethnic-based militias and hunters’ groups, jihadists, bandits, and others. Security force abuses are one driver among many in the conflict, especially as reports grow of collective punishment of the Peul – who furnish some recruits for jihadists, but who are now facing ethnic profiling by the state and by other ethnic groups.

Yesterday, the Malian Ministry of Defense and Former Combatants posted a statement (.pdf) acknowledging the involvement of FAMa (Malian Armed Forces) in “grave human rights violations” in Nantaka and Kobaka. The Ministry is directing the military to open a formal investigation.

Nantaka and Kobaka are located (.pdf) just north of Mopti city, on the Niger River.

More at Reuters and Studio Tamani (French).

Roundup on Reported Battles Around Mopti, Mali

Since Monday, there have been reports of fighting in Mali around Mopti (map), Sevare (map), Konna (map), and Gnimignama (map, possibly inaccurate) between the Malian army and fighters from the Islamist coalition that includes Ansar al Din. These reports suggest an organized push southward by Ansar al Din and its allies. I had hoped to write an analysis of these events for today, but the situation remains too murky for that in my view. As the journalist Peter Tinti remarked on Twitter yesterday, in a comment that eloquently characterizes the reaction to many unfolding news stories, “Lots of people buy account X, others Y, all are peddling educated guesses and calling them certainty.” So instead of aiming at certainty I’ve rounded up some relevant stories that give a partial picture of the competing accounts.

  • BBC: “The army used artillery [on Tuesday] against the Islamist fighters in the village of Gnimignama, 30km (19 miles) from army positions, according to army sources.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Rebel fighters in Mali have captured at least 12 government soldiers along with their vehicle and equipment, reports say. The incident on Monday took place during a government patrol outside the town of Kona and near the city of Mopti, as fears rise that the rebels, who seized vast swathes of Mali’s north, are moving increasingly closer to areas under government control.”
  • Reuters has a brief quotation from the Malian Ministry of Defense, saying, “The armed forces have driven off this attempted attack.”
  • WSJ: “The Islamist rebels on Tuesday took new positions near the outskirts of a Niger River trading town that marks the south’s last outpost under government control, Mali’s army spokesman Lt. Col. Idrissa Traore said. The rebels entered the area around the sparsely populated town, Mopti, on Monday, he said.”
  • Al Akhbar (Arabic) describes an Islamist attack on a Malian military unit and says, “Prominent leaders from Al Qa’ida are taking leadership of the ongoing military operations at present.”
  • ANI (Arabic): “The Malian Army Fires Warning Shots in Konna.”
  • Al Akhbar (French): Islamists attempted “to take control of the airport situated around twenty kilometers from the entrance to [Mopti]…the international airport of Mopti could serve as a forward base for African forces in case of intervention in northern Mali.”
  • Sahara Medias (Arabic, from Monday) on fighting in Konna between Ansar al Din and the Malian army “without losses.”

Also of interest is an IRIN report from Sevare published January 3.

For updates I recommend following Bate FelixBaba AhmedPeter TintiAndrew LebovichHannah Armstrong, Baki 7our MansourTommy MilesPhil Paoletta, and Dr. Susanna Wing on Twitter.