The death count has reached 134 in a massacre that occurred over the weekend in Central Mali. The beleaguered West African nation is in the midst of an ever growing and unstoppable war that mixes Islamic extremism with ethnic violence. This war has only escalated in violence since its outbreak in 2013. This weekend’s massacre is the most recent atrocities committed against the people of Mali in this ongoing turmoil.
For decades there have been long-standing divides between Mali’s cultures in the north and south. In 2012 these divides were leveraged as the country experienced massive upheaval. Tuareg separatists and Islamic groups linked to al-Qaeda in the north sought to take over the country while in the south a military coup did the same. In 2015 a new group linked to al-Qaeda and known locally as the Macina Liberation Front began to assert itself in the regions that remained stable within central and southern Mali.
These Islamic extremists exercised extensive control over their areas of activity within Mali. In many ways, they brought order to the destabilized nation by stopping the rampant crime and lawlessness in the rural areas, but that order came at the price of extensive violence and atrocities committed against the locals.
More than two dozen execution style killings were documented from early 2015 to 2016 as the MLF organization grew in prominence. Since that time the violence has only worsened, and Mali has been in meltdown mode since 2015.
Moussa Kondo of the Accountability Lab Mali reported in mid-2018, “These groups have killed thousands. They have massacred hostages in a popular hotel, slaughtered adults and children on buses, and ambushed military bases.” The government’s response, when there was one, was ineffective.
In the fall of 2017 four US Special Forces, soldiers were killed by militants near the border of Mali. In the spring of 2018, 95 extra judicial killings were recorded in Mali’s unstable borderlands. More and more militant groups of various ideologies and loyalties were springing up throughout the country, frequently fighting against one another using the villages and people of Mali’s rural areas as their fighting ground.
In March of 2017 the merger of several of these militant groups formed the al-Qaeda backed Group to Support Islam and Muslims frequently referred to as JNIM based upon the acronym.
As Mali melted down the government became more corrupt. Multiple Prime Ministers in the course of a few years have handed out offices to friends and family members. While many government posts remain unmanned and organized crime has increased in the cities, large areas of the country have become dependent upon food aid.
As 2019 dawned the violence intensified and spread in Mali. In January a village in the central part of the country was attacked and 37 people were killed. The attack was attributed to ethnic violence.
JNIM has demonstrated their ability to strike freely at nearly any target they desire throughout Mali. Less than two weeks ago the group assaulted a military base in the central Malian town of Dioura. They occupied the base, plundered it, then withdrew. This attack on March 15, marked the deadliest of the year until the events of this past weekend.
Videos emerged over the weekend of the most recent attack on the villages of Ogossagou and Welingara in central Mali. Bodies were seen scattered across the ground while homes burned behind them. The early death counts of 60 quickly climbed with the most recent report of 134 dead in the massacre.
The government has attributed the massacre to ethnic violence, but locals believe it was a retaliation for the JNIM attack on the military base from the week prior. This weekend’s massacre demonstrates how ethnic violence and Islamic extremism is frequently woven and confused together.
The international community is not blind to what is unfolding in Mali. French forces intervened in the former French colony during the meltdown of 2012. In 2013 extremist groups were pushed back for a short time before they regrouped and resurged across the country. The French have 4,500 forces in the region, most of these are based in Mali.
The United States also has hundreds of troops in the region.
The United Nations has a peace keeping mission of more than 13,000 troops in Mali. Two hundred members of this UN Peace Keeping Mission have been killed since 2013 making this the UN’s most dangerous peace keeping mission in the world.