Community and citizen initiatives and mediation in Central Mali
By Adam THIAM
Since 2015, Central Mali has been beset by recurrent insecurity problems, leading to a rapid and unprecedented erosion of social harmony, a loss of public confidence in the State, a marked deterioration in production conditions (livestock, agriculture, fishing) and a rejection of the secular education system, resulting in the closure of several hundred schools.
In the absence of precise statistics, it is widely accepted that the crisis has cost between several hundred and over a thousand lives in five years, (more than 600 deaths in 2019 according to MINUSMA), caused the displacement of 70,000 people (source: OCHA, July 2019), destroyed dozens of villages and undermined the local economy, jeopardising agriculture and transhumance.
The crisis began in the Mopti region, which remains the most badly affected area and the centre of the trouble, and has since affected about ten municipalities in the Segou and Koulikoro regions.
Nearly a hundred attacks have taken place in 2019, including particularly deadly assaults on the Fulani communities of Ogossagou, the Dogon village of Sobane Da and the Malian military camp of Bullikessi, demonstrating that insecurity in Central Mali is currently due to:
- jihadist activities of local groups, including Amadou Koufa's Macina Liberation Front, whether operating alone or in connection with the northern network (Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM);
- disputes over identity or political grievances (issues which are aggravated by local frustrations and the various ways in which the crisis is being instrumentalised);
- inter-community conflicts (with an increasing risk of ethnic clashes);
- criminal acts (livestock theft and banditry are on the rise);
The State’s failure to act or to provide adequate solutions continues to exacerbate the crisis, of which the Mopti region is the epicentre and the most badly affected area.
1.2. Use of mediation
The State continues to favour the military approach to resolving the issue of religious radicalism. However, in the face of inter-community conflicts that tend to pit ethnic groups (including the Fulani and Dogon) against each other, the State has employed both the carrot (negotiations, encouraging dialogue) and the stick (with a view to ensuring that it has a monopoly on violence). Discreet and informal attempts at dialogue, it must be stressed, have always taken place at the local level, drawing on the wealth of experience garnered from the successive rebellions in northern Mali.
This approach to mediation is based on two observations:
- First, that the crisis in Central Mali is having an insidious and serious effect on the social fabric of communities, their cohesion and harmony.
- Second, that mechanisms exist within so-called conflict communities and that it is thanks to these mechanisms that different ethnic groups and their production systems have been able to coexist for centuries.
- Precarious agreements
Central Mali has become a testing ground for initiatives over the last five years, all trying to promote dialogue. These initiatives are mainly conducted by civil society organisations, both international humanitarian NGOs and home-grown initiatives led by opinion leaders (often a combination of the two).
Mediation focuses on:
- conflicts between producers: these are numerous and are often mistaken for ethnic disputes given that, roughly speaking, the Fulani are herders whereas the Dogon and Bambara are farmers;
- strictly ethnic conflicts that are sometimes an offshoot of disputes over production;
- conflicts between self-defence groups and radical armed groups.
Several dozen community agreements have been signed, sometimes in a short period of time but without success. The conflicts they were supposed to resolve have often resumed with renewed vigour and, as has been observed, with even more intensity than before.
Mediators believe that agreements are most likely to be respected when they are confined to identifying barriers to production systems and proposing guarantees to prevent these systems being disrupted. These guarantees generally involve:
- the respect of the agricultural calendar and the distancing of livestock from fields during the growing season;
- the respect of herds’ trails and passages;
- local sanctions against livestock theft or field pillage;
- the denunciation of troublemakers.
On the other hand, the more agreements focus on judicial intervention, the less likely they are to succeed. This is particularly true when it comes to identifying the perpetrators of crimes and offences and bringing them to justice, identifying victims and providing them with fair compensation, and arbitrating between agricultural areas and transhumance corridors.
3.2. Success stories: Djenné, Toguere Koumbe
In 2019, the two inter-community agreements outlined below were concluded, following a number of low-key initiatives, and continue to be respected.
The Djenné Agreement between hunters and herders
This agreement, signed in the presence of the Prime Minister of Mali in Djenné, was negotiated for several months with the assistance of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, which had been approached by the area’s inhabitants. The conflict between herders and hunters had reached the point where none of the groups could carry out their production activities. Worse still, it had taken on the appearance of an ethnic clash between the Fulani and the Bambara, with all the associated risks of misinterpretation and stigmatisation.
Signed by between around ten representatives from each party, the agreement has restored the free movement of people and goods in the Djenné Circle, and has enabled farmers and herders to resume their activities. At the time of writing, the peace established since July 2019 is ongoing.
The Toguere Koumbe Agreement
Jihadist groups had been running the village of Toguere Koumbe since 2018, with an embargo preventing the inhabitants of Toguere (mainly farmers and agro-fishermen) from accessing their fields, generally located outside the village. The villagers could not travel to the surrounding markets and supplies could not be brought into Toguere.
The resolution of the Toguere crisis owes much to the involvement of the Faso Dambe movement, a civic initiative that started in Bamako and grew with the backing of opinion leaders and moral authorities from the Tenenkou Circle, and financial support from the Ministry of Reconciliation.
The free movement of people and goods has now been fully restored. Faso Dambe denies having made any concessions to the jihadists other than the promise of bringing back the expelled Fulani families.
- CONCLUSION: REQUIREMENTS FOR SUCCESSFUL MEDIATION
The first lesson learned from the many talks is that opening channels of dialogue on inter-community crises seems both much more straightforward and better received than potential mediation between the State and radical groups.
Second, the decision to engage in dialogue must be discussed and agreed with the State, after an exhaustive assessment of the chain of stakeholders and their willingness and capacity to engage in dialogue. Subsequent steps should focus on building trust. The facilitator or mediator must be able to demonstrate impartiality, fairness, transparency and discretion.
As the negotiations in Central Mali confirm, certain details are crucial. These include: the question of where the first talks should be held; the importance of listening to and analysing grievances; the setting of red lines for each of the parties in the conflict; the identification and bypassing of “spoilers”; and the issue of being as inclusive as possible.
Traduction littérale : “In 2019, the three above-mentioned inter-community agreements were concluded, following a number of low-key initiatives, and continue to be respected.” Mais vu ce qui suit nous imaginons que le texte devrait plutôt faire référence à deux accords au lieu de trois…
Adam THIAM is a sociologist and the editorialist of the Malian newspaper Le Républicain