While the tribal and religious (Islamic terrorist) violence up north gets most of the headlines, overall Mali is at peace and that has led to renewed economic growth. Food and raw materials production is way up and the GDP is expected to grow by 5.4 percent in 2016. That is up from 4.9 percent in 2015 but down from 7.2 percent in 2014. Nearly all that growth is in the south. The thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than two million, out of 16 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and over a year of Islamic terrorist government halted tourism, which was a major source of income, especially in the three major cities. The Islamic terrorist rule also interrupted the movement of many essential goods, like food, fuel and medicine.
The south has always prospered while the north scraped by. But because of the 2012 uprising the north is surviving on charity and continued envy of and anger at the wealthier (and ethnically different) south. Because of the continued failure of the government to deal with the long-standing problems of corruption and inefficient government, especially in the Tuareg/Arab north, foreign economists do not expect a higher GDP growth rate in 2017. Corruption and tribalism are a problem throughout Africa and there are no easy solutions other than for elected officials to take a stand and try to enact needed reforms. That can be very dangerous because many such reformers turn out to be just using their popular reform program to engage in more corrupt behavior (like establishing a dictatorship).
Meanwhile the EU (European Union) is spending nearly two billion dollars between 2014 and 2018 to support implementation of the 2012 peace deal with the northern rebels. While much of that pays for support of the largely African peacekeeper force, most goes to economic programs like road building and other needed infrastructure projects. EU officials administering this aid report that the corruption is still there and more has to be down south where most national officials come from, to deal with the problem.
In central Mali the FLM (Macina Liberation Front) Islamic terrorists remain active. But so far this year they have carried out, at most, one attack a month. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men and is affiliated with the largely Tuareg Ansar Dine Islamic terror group from the north. The Fulani tribes of central Mali are producing a growing number of recruits for Islamic terrorists. FLM openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local branch of the Fulani). This group became active in early 2015 and since then has claimed responsibility for a growing number of attacks. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM considers Ansar Dine their friend and ally mainly because Ansar Dine was inspired by al Qaeda but was always composed of Mali peoples, mainly Tuareg, northern Arabs and some Fulani. Although most Malians are Moslem few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples from the Sahel (the semi-desert area between the Sahara and the much greener areas to the south). That makes joining FLM more attractive to young men, especially since the Fulani have also been involved with smuggling for a long time and that is seen as an acceptable profession. Another thing that sets the Fulani apart is that still think of themselves as nomadic and thus don’t really believe in borders.
October 4, 2016: In the north (outside Timbuktu) someone ambushed a government convoy, killing one soldier and wounding two others. The target may have been some senior government officials, one of whom was wounded.
October 3, 2016: In the north (outside Kidal) mortar shells were fired at the Aguelhok peacekeeper base near near Algerian border. In response two vehicles carrying peacekeepers were sent to find those who fired the mortar shells. These vehicles took a route where landmines had been placed and detonated at least one of them. One soldier from Chad died and several others were wounded. Islamic terrorist group Ansar Dine took credit for both incidents. The 12,000 peacekeepers in Mali have lost 32 dead so far this year.
September 29, 2016: The UN revealed that all three Hermes 900 UAVs they had ordered for the Mali peacekeepers were now in Mali and operational. This process began about a year ago when the UN arranged for a European firm (Thales) to provide a unit of three Israeli Hermes 900 UAVs along with operators, two ground stations and maintenance staff for three years’ service in northern Mali. There was also an option to extend the contract for two more years. A British division of Thales handled this because they had experience with Hermes UAVs. By July 2016 the first Hermes 900 was operational in an airbase near Timbuktu. Currently the Hermes 900s are staying in the air eight hours per sortie at a time and no more than 600 kilometers from their base. The Hermes unit is controlled by civilian UN officials in Mali, not the military commanders of the peacekeeper force. As with earlier peacekeeping missions, the UAVs are unarmed and used mainly for surveillance and reconnaissance. Peacekeepers and relief workers have increasingly been using UAVs, often small, inexpensive (under $1,000 each) commercial models. But in some places, like northern Mali, Sudan or Congo large areas must be monitored and larger UAVs are needed. France and the U.S. have been using large (like Hermes 900) UAVs over northern Mali before the French forces entered in early 2013. These operate out of Niger and sometimes Mali.
September 27, 2016: A war crimes court sentenced Ahmad al Mahdi al Faqi to nine years imprisonment for responsibility (while a leader of Ansar Dine) for the destruction of religious shrines in northern Mali. This was the first time the war crimes court had convicted anyone of such a crime. Destruction of religious shrines has become popular with many Islamic terrorist groups. Many in Mali thought Faqi should have gotten a longer prison sentence while those who support Islamic terrorism saw the conviction as another assault on Islam.
The UN indicted and arrested Faqi in mid-2015 for war crimes while he was a leader of an Islamic terrorist group that ran Timbuktu in 2012. He was sent him off to Europe for trial. Specifically al Faqi was accused of ordering the destruction of numerous religious shrines in June and July 2012. Al Faqi was in charge of enforcing “Islamic manners” for Ansar Dine. In doing that he supervised the destruction of ancient tombs of Moslem clerics and scholars worshipped by Sufi Moslems. To some conservative Sunni Moslems, Sufis are heretics and their shrines are to be destroyed whenever possible. Ansar Dine was affiliated with al Qaeda which, along with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), encourages this sort of righteous vandalism. The destruction of the tombs was condemned by many Moslem leaders worldwide, and the ICC (International Criminal Court) declared it a war crime. These Moslem shrines were big tourist attractions to visitors of all religions and important to the local economy. Since 2013 foreign donors have supported restoration efforts meant to address religious and economic concerns over this destruction.
Timbuktu (population 54,000) is the oldest city in the north and a popular tourist attraction in part because it is the site of many antiquities including some 14th century tombs of Sufi clerics and scholars.
September 19, 2016: In the north (Kidal) there was another fatal clash between the CMA (a former Tuareg rebel group) and pro-government GATIA Tuareg militias. In two days of fighting there were several dozen casualties, most of them among the CMA (who lost ten dead). The situation has calmed down a bit since nearly a week of the fighting in August left nearly fifty dead. CMA and GATIA signed a peace treaty in October 2015 and while that stopped the state of war between the two groups it did not eliminate the many disputes (some recent, some ancient) that remain unresolved. Working out long-term peace deals between the rival Tuareg groups in the north was long seen as necessary to end the cycle of blood feuds up there that have led to years, if not generations, of killings to avenge past murders. These clashes help the remaining Islamic terrorist groups to recruit new members and gain some popular support.
September 9, 2016: In central Mali (Mopti province) someone ambushed an army vehicle, killing three soldiers and wounding two. It was unclear if the attackers were local FLM Islamic terrorists, tribal militia or bandits. This attack took place near Boni, a town recently raided by FLM.
September 5, 2016: The Defense Minister (Tieman Hubert Coulibaly) was fired because of the continued activity of Islamic terrorist groups like FLM. This change was mostly about the brief seizure of the central Mali town of Boni the day before.
September 4, 2016: In central Mali (Mopti province) a dozen or so armed FLM Islamic terrorists raided the small (several thousand residents) town of Boni, set fire to the government building there, kidnapped a government official and were gone by the time soldiers showed up. Local police fled and the incident was big news throughout the country. That was apparently the main point of the operation.
September 2, 2016: The UN released details of recent operations in Mali and Congo where UAVs (drones) and attack helicopters were highly effective in peacekeeping missions. The UAVs and attack choppers can operate in jungles and rugged terrain. The attack choppers have a high availability rate in tropical weather conditions. The UN’s peacekeeping office wants the Security Council to provide a “UAV and attack helicopter support package” for other peacekeeping missions in Africa. In Congo the UN has employed South African made Rooivalk attack helicopters. In Mali U.S. made AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were provided by the Netherlands. One Dutch AH-64 was downed in Mali.