Many thousands of people have been protesting on Friday 5 April 2019 in the capital of Mali, Bamako. It was massive. Also in Bandiagara, Bankass people went to the streets. Earlier protests in Paris, and elsewhere in the world were organized where people expressed their worry about a possible horror scenario in the Sahel. Mali is at the centre of these worries, but many make allusion to a much wider problem. The killing of 170 people in three villages near Bankass on the 23rd of March is the immediate reason for the protests in Mali. The Ogossougou massacre will be forever part of the history of Mali and the Sahel.
I was in Mali on this 23rdof March, living the horror with my colleagues of a research team doing research on political developments in Mali, with all Bamakois and with myself. Most of the killed people were innocent Fulani pastoralists among who were some who fled the horror of earlier troubles around another village in the Koro district. Beginning this year another deadly attack was in Koulogon also near to Bankass, where 37 people found their death. These attacks reach the international press, but many smaller attacks are hardly noticed not even within Mali and are a daily phenomenon for almost two years now. Not only Fulani pastoralists but also sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups in the region are victims. The killings on the Fulani seem to be higher in number, but we cannot be sure because they are also more mediatized. One of the problems is that we do not have information about what is exactly happening. We spoke with displaced Dogon and Fulbe in the South of Mali (near Bougouni) and in the Capital city Bamako and their stories are all equally horrible.
Certainly the underlying causes for this situation are multiple. We already touched on some of these in other blog posts. Making a sound analysis is almost impossible to do now, soon after these events and with the turmoil in my head. It is important to take a distance first from my own emotions.
Therefore I decided to write this short blog to warn against fast interpretations of these violent events in emotional terms, and against superficial analyses. This would be very dangerous in the extremely tense situation that we are facing in Mali and other Sahelian countries. Many of the reactions are borne out of extreme concern with the region, and from a genuine sentiment of ‘feeling worried’. The urgency to do something is also big. But who should do something? Who are the right actors to do things and talk with?
People from all ethnic groups, urban and rural, different economic classes were present, joined the marches. It gives an idea of unity. Whereas in written reports it is not easy to avoid to create oppositions. Authors use sentences between brackets to avoid any presupposed biases. It is difficult to be neutral and to try to just describe. The phrasing of the problems by displaced Dogon we met in a village about 50 km south from Bamako towards Bougouni struck me. They refused to accuse the Fulbe, but said it were ‘yimbe ladde’ (people from the bush) they did not know.
We also met Fulbe refugees in dilapidated huts on the garbage heap in the middle of Bamako. They are angry but not angry with a specific ethnic group. They do not really understand what is happening around them. However, following the last attack, these displaced people who have lived through such difficult times start to use a different language acquired from their elites. Especially Fulani elites have been quite vocal in their accusations. After this last massacre they tried to moderate their language but they already aired their emotions in previous interviews and publications on Facebook. The use of the word genocide is no longer taboo and ethnic cleansing also appears in reports.
The marches were full of anger and emotions, of course; like the media who reported about them. In one article the number of people in the streets went up to 30,000, others report more modest numbers. In the march in Bamako different reasons and emotions crisscross the street. It is both a cry for peace and the stopping of the awfull violence. It is also a march that protests against the government. Most Malians are appalled and ashamed by this intercommunity violence. They do not recognize themselves in this hatred. Religious, cultural, and political organizations called for the march. Each with their own agenda.
The people who step in have to be aware of those agendas and let’s hope that they will not be instrumentalized by these organizations. Malians have more than the intercommunity violence to be angry about. The state does not function, schools are closed, hospitals do not function, and many people have difficulties to feed their children more than once a day. This combination will feed the emotions that make the opposition camps to the government stronger and stronger, but that will not be a guarantee to end the violence because they can also be used to scapegoat other groups in society.
We will continue to follow the situation and hope to come up with good analyses. Such analyses can only be multi-vocal. It will take time to understand all the different voices. The problem is that we have no time as the situation is degrading every day.
 The research project for which I was in Mali concentrates on the ‘new pastoralists movements’ in the Sahel.