Mali: The North-South Divide


February 19, 2020: A month ago corrupt local politicians managed to put together an anti-French demonstration in the capital, where about a thousand civilians called for French forces to get out of Mali. The capital is in the far south and rarely suffers any terrorist (Islamic or otherwise) activity. You don’t see French troops in this part of Mali for they are all up north fighting Islamic terrorists who want to turn Mali into a religious dictatorship or worse. The French and African troops from neighboring nations are fighting up north to prevent that. The major crimes committed in the far south are politicians seeking new ways to steal foreign aid, much of it meant for the suffering people in central and northern Mali. The foreign aid donors have been putting more and more pressure on the notoriously corrupt Mali politicians to back off on plundering the foreign aid. When faced with this pressure a favorite ploy of corrupt African politicians is to blame foreigners for all the problems the local politicians have caused. Convincing their followers, who often share in the looted aid, that the foreign interference by peacekeepers (who are mostly African) and the special French counter-terrorism force (which is entirely French) are a threat to Mali is difficult. There are 12,000 peacekeepers up north and 5,000 French troops operate throughout the region against Islamic terrorists. The peacekeepers and French troops are welcome up north and that is one of many differences between northern and southern Mali.

The thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than three million, out of 19 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and several years of Islamic terrorist violence there halted tourism (a major source of income, especially in the three major cities up there) and the movement of many goods.

The Tuareg majority in the far north are more Arab than African and the peace deal with them was stalled for over a year because the black majority in the south did not want to even consider granting as much autonomy as the Tuaregs demanded. The two groups have always been at odds but were only united in the same country by the colonial French in the 19th century. Like most African countries, dividing the nation is not an acceptable option and the colonial borders are considered sacrosanct. The current mess began when France took swift action in January 2013 by leading a military operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. Aided by Chad and a growing number of other African peacekeeping contingents, this effort continues and is somewhat open ended. The French acted because in 2012 Tuareg tribal rebels (with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists) in northern Mali chased out government forces and declared a separate Tuareg state. The Mali army mutinied (because of a lack of support from the corrupt government) down south and took control of the capital. The army soon backed off when neighboring nations threatened to intervene. The elected government was soon back in charge and more corrupt than ever.

Corruption has long been a major problem for Mali. The international aspect of this can be seen in the worldwide surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2019 Mali ranked 130th out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 120th in 2018. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/13, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (Finland, New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.

The current Mali score is 29 (versus 32 in 2018) compared to 26 (27) for Nigeria, 40 (41) for Burkina Faso, 32 (34) for Niger, 28 (27) for Mauritania, 30 (30) for Ukraine, 45 (44) for Belarus, 58 (60) for Poland, 80 (81) Germany, 65 (61) for Taiwan, 39 (40) for Turkey, 41 (40) for India, 28 (28) for Russia, 59 (57) for South Korea, 14 (17) for North Korea, 37 (35) for Vietnam, 85 (84) for Singapore, 73 (73) for Japan, 40 (37) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 29 (33) for the Maldives, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 32 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (28) for Bangladesh, 26 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 29 (30) for Burma, 71 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 60 (64) for Israel, 69 (75) for the United States, 41 (39) for China, 44 (43) for South Africa, 20 (18) for Iraq, 39 (40) for Turkey, 53 (49) for Saudi Arabia and 28 (28) for Lebanon.

The Mali corruption score has gotten worse since 2012 when it was 34 and that is a large part of the current problems.

The state of living conditions in Mali can be measured compared to the rest of the world. The effectiveness of governments and the societies they represent is rated each year in the Human Development Index. The UN has compiled these ratings for 29 years. The index ranks all the world nations in terms of how well they do in terms of life expectancy, education and income. In 2019

Mali was 184 out of 189 nations. The rank of other nations puts this into perspective; United States is at 15 (tied with Britain), Nigeria 158, China 89, Israel 22 (tied with South Korea), Saudi Arabia 36, Iran 65, India 129, Pakistan 152, Afghanistan 179, Bangladesh 135, Russia 49, Venezuela 96, Colombia 79, Mexico 76. Egypt 116, Lebanon 93, Syria 154 and Jordan 103. The top ten nations are Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore and Netherlands. The bottom ten are Mozambique at 180th place (there are a lot of ties) followed by Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and in last place, Niger.

February 14, 2020: In the north (outside Gao), ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) claimed responsibility for ambushing an army patrol and killing eight soldiers. Elsewhere in the area, one soldier was killed when Islamic terrorists fired on his base. Since 2018 ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has had two “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one was ISGS which showed up in 2018. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

In central Mali (Mopti, near the Burkina Faso border), a Fulani village was attacked and looted, leaving about 30 civilians dead. The attackers, apparently Dogon tribesmen, do not appear to have suffered any casualties. During the last year attacks like this have left several hundred dead. The fighting between Dogon and Fulani tribal militias had been going on for years but the 2019 surge began with a spectacular March 2019 massacre where Dogon militia attacked a Fulani village. That action left over 160 Fulani dead and it wasn’t just the Fulani who were outraged by this.

The Fulani were the ones who started this violence years ago as they sought to force farmers off the land and away from water supplies the Fulani coveted. But the Fulani raids were meant to terrorize, not exterminate. The Dogon tribe, one of the larger sedentary groups in central Mali, has always been the most organized and aggressive in confronting Fulani expansion into the better watered and more fertile (for grass and crops) Niger River Valley and beyond. After 2012 and the separatist/Islamic terrorist uprising in the north there was an increase in Fulani-farmer violence and the bloodiest incidents often involved Dogon militias fighting Fulani. Calls for the government to disarm the Dogon militias were popular for a while until police and army commanders convinced the government that attempting disarmament would be bloody and, in the long run futile. For the Dogon and Fulani, all this feuding is a matter of life or death while the politicians are concerned about appeasing popular outrage, which tends to fade quickly. Then there is the critical foreign media, which influences foreign aid decisions and is more important, especially for corrupt politicians who steal much of that aid. Getting the Fulani and Dogon (and other farming tribes) to settle the land and water disputes peacefully is more difficult but is the only lasting solution but also the more difficult one. Those fundamental conflicts are still there, which is why the current peace deal will be under growing pressure and will eventually collapse into renewed violence.

The Dogon-Fulani “ceasefire” was always at the mercy of natural (drought, hunger) and political (corrupt politicians) events. In the north, the basic problem is poverty and the negative impact banditry and Islamic terrorism is having on efforts to revive the economy. A lot of the “Islamic terrorist” violence up there is just bandits. It gets more attention if the victims describe the attackers as Islamic terrorists.

February 11, 2020: In the north, just across the border in Algeria, a group of Mali based ISGS Islamic terrorists attacked an Algerian army base using a suicide car bomber and gunmen. The attack was repulsed but the car bomb killed an Algerian soldier. Attacks like this are rare and the reason for this one is probably that Mali based ISGS is an ISIL faction is led by Abu Walid el Sahrawi a Moroccan who was born and raised in an Algerian refugee camp. Sahrawi has spent most of his adult life in Mali and Niger working with al Qaeda related groups. He started his career in Algeria and Morocco as a member of Polisario. Algeria has been, since the late 1990s, too hostile for Islamic terrorists of any type.

February 7, 2020: In the northeast (south of Gao were the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet), French troops searched for and found Islamic terrorists. In three separate operations over the last two days at least 30 Islamic terrorists were killed during two clashes. The French effort had air support from a Reaper UAV and two armed helicopters.

February 2, 2020: France announced that it was going to increase the size of its Sahel counter-terrorism force from 4,500 to 5,100. There will also be more combat and logistics vehicles. The new troops and equipment will arrive by the end of March. France will also supply more equipment and other resources for the G5 Sahel Joint Force. France has always wanted to expand G5 and now it is providing the resources for that to happen. The G5 Force was organized in 2018 to deal with transnational Islamic terrorist organizations. G5 was a consortium of five Sahel (the semi-desert area stretching across Africa from Senegal to Somalia) nations; Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Each contributed troops best able to deal with Islamic terrorism and G5 operated throughout the Sahel region as needed. By 2019 G5 forces were spending more time in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso,

Mali is still the most troublesome Sahel nation but also has the most outside assistance, including a peacekeeping force along with a separate French counter-terror force that also covers much of the Sahel along with the G5 force. The Mali contingent of the G5 is considered the least capable and that has to be taken into account while the training program for the Mali military slowly improves the quality of leadership and troop reliability. With Mali secured by all these foreign troops, the G5 has been able to deal with Islamic terror problems elsewhere, especially Burkina Faso and Niger.

The G5 force consists of 5,000 soldiers and police that are stationed in three operational areas along with troops familiar with local conditions. Thus Sahel East consists of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central is staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West uses troops from Mali and Mauritania.

What G5 could not do was replace a lack of security forces in one of its member nations. Burkina Faso is the best example of this because after a new government took power in 2014, the internal intelligence and security forces were reorganized and became much less effective. Islamic terrorists took note and established themselves in the part of Burkina Faso adjacent to Mali. As a result that part of Burkina Faso has seen an increasing amount of Islamic terrorist activity since 2015.

France offered to take the lead in raising more money to expand (as much as double) the size of the G5 Force but it was soon realized that it was easier to find the money than to find the qualified troops. The new French G5 aid will enable Chad to contribute another infantry battalion.

January 31, 2020: In central Mali, ISIL members released a video on the Internet in which the group pledged allegiance to Abu Hamza al Qurayshi, the new ISIL leader. This was confusing because the video was not released by ISGS and the men in the video are apparently recent defectors from JNIM who have joined ISIL. Whether this is a new faction or a component of ISGS is unclear. For several years JNIN has been losing its more fanatic members to the more militant ISGS, a group that does not normally operate in central Mali. JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) is an al Qaeda coalition formed in early 2017 to consolidate the many separate Islamic terror groups in Mali. In part, this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL, which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members like AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM and several other smaller groups. Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources, especially information and practical advice, and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the region. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The FLM is Fulani (the largest local tribal contribution) while the other groups are largely Tuareg, Arab and some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM groups in the area, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. The income from the drug trade keeps a lot of these factions in business and the Islamic terrorists know that business and religious fanaticism do not mix and keep it that way. Those groups that did not went broke and withered to nothing.

January 26, 2020: In central Mali (near the Mauritania border) about a hundred JNIM gunmen attacked a military base, killing 20 paramilitary police and wounding several more. At least four of the attackers died and some were wounded but the attackers retreated taking most of their casualties with them. Army reinforcements soon arrived and swept the area around the base for any dead or alive attackers. The JNIM men had arrived at 5 AM on motorcycles and pickup trucks and made their escape on these vehicles.

January 23, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti), gunmen (apparently JNIM) attacked an army outpost, killing seven soldiers and wounding several others. The attackers occupied the outpost temporarily then fled as army reinforcements approached.

January 19, 2020: The EU delivered a donation of 13 more Bastion MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) vehicles. Bastion is a French made 4x4 wheeled APCs (armored personnel carrier). In effect, the 12 ton Bastion is MRAP lite as it has many of the same design features of an MRAP but is not as well protected against mines and roadside bombs. It can carry up to twelve (usually 8-10) and has a turret-mounted heavy machine-gun or automatic grenade launcher. Bastion does have excellent cross-country mobility and was designed mainly as a reconnaissance vehicle that can also serve as a convoy escort or in peacekeeping operations. Bastion is also used by the French military.

In mid-2019 a regiment of the Mali army was converted to a mechanized unit with the addition of several dozen 11 ton Casspir armored vehicles. These are from South Africa which is where this late 1980s vintage vehicle proved to be the first effective modern MRAP design to enter wide use. Casspir will always be remembered as one of the earliest and most successful MRAP type vehicles. Originally designed for the South African police in the early 1980s, this 4x4 wheeled vehicle has remained in production ever since. The basic design has been upgraded over the years. Germany is paying for the vehicles and providing trainers for drivers and mechanics. Casspirs carry up to twelve troops and have plenty of bulletproof windows (with gun firing ports) and are excellent for patrols. Like all MRAP vehicles, Casspirs (and their passengers) can survive most vehicle mines and roadside bombs as well as rifle and machine-gun fire.

January 15, 2020: In neighboring Burkina Faso, the parliament authorized the organization of local defense militias to protect rural areas from Islamic terrorist violence or threats. The government would supervise selecting, training and arming the volunteers. Some legislators feared that this program would end up creating more armed bandits in the countryside. The majority of legislators thought that was worth the risk in order to cope with the growing Islamic terrorist violence.




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