The return of jihadist groups to the Mopti region of Mali in 2015 imposed an unfamiliar regime on the population, which had profound negative effects that led to their prolonged suffering. The region is witnessing a complex security reality due to the extremist terrorist groups’ exploitation of the weak government presence in the region and the strengthening of their spread. That has led to the emergence of armed groups whose aim is self-defense and ensuring the security of their regions. These reasons collectively contributed to fueling conflict of a societal nature in different parts of the country, especially Center region.
The Masina Liberation Battalion is the most prominent separatist movement in Mali, and its hierarchical structure is based on a specific hierarchy. In each region, the battalion is represented by the head of the center and is in the position of deputy governor, who is authorized to command the general leadership in his geographical area. All important decisions are taken by him, and all files concerning the affairs of the town are approved by him. He has the final say in the judiciary and trials. He appoints the person in charge of collecting zakat and reports to Amadou Koufa, the supreme commander of the Massena Battalion. Each center has a chief of staff who takes care of combatants, Islamic police that monitor the correct application of sharia law and a bilateral or tripartite committee responsible for feeding all staff. This administrative and managerial body has a significant impact on the lives of the population.
In 2017, the Masina Battalion developed a plan for expansion and territorial control, particularly inaccessible areas flooded in the Delta. In pursuing its objectives, the battalion pursues a criminal approach to the execution of offenders, the abduction of State officials, dignitaries, clerics and any suspect of collaborating with Malian authorities by providing information or leaking news.
Since 2018, disruptions caused by violent extremism have turned into conflicts between community components, including murder, immediate execution, sexual violence and destruction of villages. Following the approach of the Masina Battalion, many extremist armed groups are expanding through land grabbing to increase their influence and control, and trying to gain the confidence of the population in the light of the weak presence of the State and its institutions, encouraging them to join their ranks.
Under these difficult and complex conditions, specific communities were classified as biased towards terrorist groups, often for ethnic reasons as with the Fulani communities. The arrests carried out by government forces did not succeed in reducing the phenomenon of people joining terrorist groups, further complicating the security crisis. As the relations between the spectrums of society became turbulent and inflamed and trust between them became completely lost; no one trusts the other despite their intertwined interests and interdependence in daily life.
Between the actions of armed terrorist groups and the reactions of the Government and the Malian armed forces, the general population suffers, the situation becomes worse and more complex as the actions and reactions of both parties intensify. In order to ascertain the reality of the situation, we review the cases of “Dialloubé and Tugiri Combi,” which were banned by extremists in 2018. This arbitrary measure was due to the possible involvement of the population in cooperation with the Malian Government and the armed forces, as well as communicating information and news.
The jungle is the source of livelihood for the people of these two low-income areas, where these residents suffered enormously as the embargo and blockade had a negative impact on the economic level and on the level of coexistence in the two areas. The Fulani communities were under great pressure and did not dare say a word. The people who imposed the siege on them are also of Fulani ethnicity, further complicating the situation.
The unrest and attraction in the Mopti region between extremist and self-defense groups has resulted in bad practices, such as irregular searches, intimidation of the population, organized assassinations and abductions. Social ties have diluted, and before one can speak a word, one checks around him right and left to ascertain who is listening lest being reported. Extremists had banned many customary holidays, prevented the diviner from overseeing weddings or carrying out baptisms, and the administration of all population affairs was in the hands and at the behest of extremists. If there is a dispute between the inhabitants of Mopti, they do not dare bring the case before the judges or the police for fear of being killed by terrorists.
Violent extremism in the center of the country has severely disrupted the social fabric, and the turbulent and complex reality has brought all interactions between groups of society to a halt. Schools closed, weekly markets stopped, leading to internal population migration and an ever-increasing number of migrants. Abductions motivated by murder, settling scores or personal reasons were widespread in the region. Fearing arrest or murder, most residents were afraid to return home. Security incidents in the area were not stopping, and the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous and complex.
In the Dogon plateau, the pursuit operations are carried out for all the Fula people, occasionally humanitarian workers may not be allowed access to certain areas because of their ancestry, especially if they are Fula people. Likewise, in the flood zone, extremist groups controlled by them have a high sense of security and prevent any stranger from entering out of fear of being a covert agent in charge of passing information to the Malian armed forces or foreign forces. Humanitarian access was impeded by such security precautions, non-governmental organizations were unable to reach many areas to assist populations living in the most impoverished and needy situations and suffering from hunger, misery and disease.
The adverse effects of extremism were also evident in the internal Niger Delta, most notably the restriction of population displacement, the classification of the Fula community, the lack of free access by humanitarian workers to communities, frequent abductions of officials by extremists and the movement of qualified labor to urban areas.
The worst effect was the enrolment of a large number of young people in extremist groups, not least because of the absence of the State, which allowed extremists to penetrate and close schools throughout the Delta; in fact, most schools were even burned. Young people who had not migrated had joined terrorist groups, which were very hostile to all those belonging to the State, with the exception of health workers, some mayors and humanitarian non-governmental organizations.
Terrorist groups were also hostile to teachers, all of whom were threatened with death, some of whom have been kidnapped. In 2019, teachers were kidnapped in the town of Korumbana, and the primary school in Dialloubé burned down after the 2020 legislative elections.
In embargoed villages, people were prevented from tilling their fields. Women and girls were prevented from bringing firewood for cooking, and residents were not allowed to go to markets in neighboring villages. Extremists imposed compulsory taxes on the entire population in the name of zakat, bringing them into all sectors such as agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting.
The phenomenon of violent extremism has resulted in the deterioration of the economy in the center of Mali, the cessation of tourism, which is an important element in this geographical area, and the loss of control of a large part of the country by the State.
The humanitarian situation remains of serious concern in all areas under the control of terrorist armed groups, as the population is suffering cumulative effects due to a shortage of agricultural crops and security crises that make it more vulnerable.