Cattle feeding the armed groups in CAR

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For many nomadic Fulani refugees from the CAR cattle has become a memory painted on the wall of their shelter @Mirjam, 2012, Cameroon

Mi tampi, mi walaa, tampere, fuu welleke’
‘We are tired, we lost everything, exhausted, all has gone’; These are just a few words that the three Fulani, one man and two women, whom we met in Bangui last week, repeated in the exchange we had in a bar at a busy road. They refer to the difficulties they have been confronted with over the past decades. I had asked for a meeting with some Fulani who fled to Bangui. A Muslim student who followed my course in Bangui was willing to make this happen. We could not meet in PK5, the quarter of Bangui where the Muslims were uniting to hide for attacks of the anti-Balaka. These attacks are no longer taking place, everybody assures me, but when I propose to go there and meet the Fulani who are displaced and live in an empty school building in PK5 I am held for a complete lunatic, ‘What.. no, no, you cannot go there’. People are still afraid that something might happen, but also the anti-French sentiments seem to be deeply rooted and may lead to difficult situations for people like me, white.

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Meeting ‘displaced’ Fulani from PK5 at a bar at the road @Mirjam 201

Meeting Nomadic Fulani in Bangui
My wish to meet some Fulani was inspired by the many stories about their plight. Since 2012 we (with Adamu Amadou PhD student) are working with the Fulani refugees from CAR in Cameroon and in Chad (with ma-student Eli Doksala from Chad), and the flow of refugees and displacement of Fulani is still continuing. They have been the victim of many different armed groups, their cattle serving as a resource for these groups. Already in the 1990s children of nomads were kidnapped for ransom, later they were simply robbed of their cattle. This has now been going on for 20 years. The cattle of the Fulani seems to be  a resource as valuable as gold and diamonds. But the young Fulani men have also joined the armed groups and formed their own armed groups, apparently for their protection. The number of displaced and refugee Fulani is not known. The many we met in Cameroon and in Chad, also outside the official refugee camps, does however indicate that the situation is serious [see for instance HRW report].

The Fulani nomads in CAR
The Fulani in CAR have different origins and come from different countries. In the 1980s they moved with their cattle into CAR where there was space and grasslands, and a need for meat. They settled and now the second generation of these newcomers already has families and the third generation of Fulani nomads is residing in CAR, where they are known as Mbororo. The name Mbororo is in fact a derogatory term, it is the name of their cattle, the so-called Mbororo are many different lineages, Ali Jam, Uda-en, Wodaabe, and so on. The 1980s and first half of 1990s was a period when they were welcomed. The spaces of cattle and agriculture were well separated and the symbiotic relationship between herders and farmers was not just a dream.

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Amadou in conversation with a Fulani chief in Bangui @MIrjam 2012

However, from the mid-1990s political struggles were translated in unrest in the countryside. This was intensified when in 2003 Patasé was toppled by Bozizé (with help of the French and the Chadians and the chaos in the country was only increasing. With the absence of the state any measure to enforce the guidance of farmer-herder contracts disappeared completely. The Fulani were increasingly considered an exploitable source of wealth. In the interviews Adamou held in the camps in Cameroon and the one interview we held with a Fulani leader in Bangui (December 2012) the expression of powerlessness, of not being heard and being victimized was dominant.

Fulani resistance
As there was no protection offered to the Fulani, resistance and rebellion could only be expected. Armed self-defence groups turned into bandits (Saibou Issa: les coupeurs de route: histoire du banditisme rural et transfrontalier dans le basin du lac tchad (Paris, Karthala 2010)). Baaba Ladde was the first warlord who organised a movement of Fulani and got indeed publicity for the cause. He had his base in Northwest CAR at the Chadian border. Baaba Ladde, a Chadian, directed his actions and discourse against the

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Fulani (wodaabe) with her (sedentary) friend in a village between Bangui and Garoua Boulai @Mirjam, 2012

Chadian State, Idriss Déby. In fact he started his rebellion in 1998, but moved to CAR in 2008. After reconciliation talks he became a member of the Chadian government and later deserted again; then again became a civil servant in a Chadian sous prefecture. In 2014 he returned to CAR, where he was arrested in Bangui in November. He was sent to Chad in January 2015 and is currently in prison. Part of the armed forces of Baaba Ladde joined the Seleka, namely the group headed by Ali Darass, an old friend of Baaba Ladde. He ‘settled’ in central CAR and created the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique.

Ali Darass
Ali Darass is said to be from Niger, and ‘uses’ the story of the Fulani crisis for the justification of his movement. His territory is expanding. It is alleged that he is an ally of the government and therefore not stopped; one of the rumours around this is that the president whose name is derived from a Fulani name (Faustin-Archange Touadéra), supports the Fulani and UPC. The other story is that as the UPC is not against government measures to control the conflict like the DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). He is openly willing to support these.

And very recently a new group presenting themselves as defenders of the rights of the Fulani was born: 3R (Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation), that is said to have attacked villages and people, creating a bloodbath in November 2016 in the region North-East, the region where Baaba Ladde also had his fiefdom. This group 3R is accused of serious atrocities. However, their leader Sidiki is invited around negotiation tables and tells a different story. He denies all atrocities supposedly committed by his men.

 ‘les peuls negocient et ont de bonne comportement autour de la table’

(…) said a UNICEF employee when we were discussing the very difficult situation in CAR at the head office in Bangui (27 January 2017). Do the Fulani have a reason to resist/rebel? Also in the stories of our research in Bria, Bambari and Paoua the Fulani are very present both as rebels/resistance fighters and as victims. They have become a new military force in CAR, and are expanding their territory very fast. The seeds sown by Baaba Ladde seem to have taken a new direction in their growth over the past few months.

The Fulani nomads are filling the ranks of their generals, of 3R and Ali Darass, out of anger that their cattle is feeding other armed groups that are fighting in the CAR; this vicious circle can only be broken if the government will take control over the areas again. But that is still a dream for CAR, despite the presence of international forces mission MINUSCA .And until a solution is found the Fulani nomads will also continue to be part of the flows of refugees and displaced people who have no home but an empty school in Bangui.

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Quest for citizenship of the Fulbe (semi)nomads in Central Mali

 movement in Serma; Ahmadou walks in front' @Boukary Sangaré

The nomads on their way to the first meeting of the Fulbe nomads’ movement in Serma; Ahmadou walks in front. Photo: Boukary Sangaré

Alternative citizenship
Due to increasing possibilities to connect and link to others in a globalizing world, awareness of belonging and the right to belong is on the rise among the Fulbe nomads from the Hayre, Central Mali. This implies claiming rights, of which the most basic is the right to a livelihood that is sustainable (and having the ability to sustain). In many Sahelian regions this right is still to be fulfilled. The ecological conditions and insecurity make the guarantee of a descent livelihood a difficult promise for governments. Nevertheless, this claim is increasingly made by the population. The awareness of injustice leads to protest, silent or explicit; violent or peaceful. The lack of recognition of these protests intensifies the feeling of non-belonging and denial of rights. Hence, citizenship is not only a discursive category, but (the lack of it) has become a real empirical experience for many people.
Citizenship is: the realization of one’s rights and thus the unavoidable confrontation with government bodies and relations of power. These imply divisions of power. I think I am observing in the Sahel and particularly in Central Mali that the old divisions of power are crumbling, which leads to a re-positioning of social groups, in which a claim to citizenship takes many forms. Protest and resistance should probably be considered as the emergence of alternative forms of citizenship. Forms of protest are expressions of the wish to belong. Reactions to these forms of protest are crucial in the process of the realization of accepted forms of citizenship. But such contestation of power is often interpreted (by those in power) as the opposite of citizenship (public disobedience) and the standard reaction is coercive measures. Alternative forms of citizenship have a difficult future in our world.

Nomads unite
For many people who live in the North of Mali, the 2012 conflict meant a new confrontation with the global world. The case of the (semi)nomads of the Hayre is exemplary. Their region being occupied by MNLA and the Jihadist movement MUJAO led to the realization of who they are, and how they relate to their elites. The invisibility of the state, except for the – as violent experienced – actions of the forest service (e.g. fining nomads for cutting wood) against the nomads, became part of their discourses that interpreted their situation as being forgotten by the state, being marginalized. And it led them to create the movement ‘Deewral Pulaaku’, indeed asking for their right to have the decent livelihood they so far had not experienced. They’d analyzed the power relations in their own society and decided that it was time to turn a page in their history. The role of new Communication Technologies is undeniable (see previous blog 1; and 2).

'When MUJAO occupied the region paintings of human faces were covered, Douentza town, August 2013' @Boukary Sangaré

When MUJAO occupied the region, paintings of human faces were covered. Douentza town, August 2013. Photo: Boukary Sangaré

How successful has this nomad movement been so far in claiming their rights within the frame of the Malian state? And which are the forces that hamper or stimulate the continuation of the movement? In which direction will it go?
I was in Mali at the end of September and together with Boukary Sangaré we continued our quest to understand. People were still very hesitant about going to the North. I did not go, but did gather information about what is happening in the North and how the nomads’ movement was progressing. The daily interaction between PhD student-researcher Boukary Sangaré and the people from the Hayre informed us about the developments. We also spoke to some key persons from the Fulani elites and we met again with people from the Dutch Embassy. Our conclusion is that the tide is turning against the possibility for the nomads to succeed in their mission. Indeed, everything indicates that they are denied Malian citizenship, and that their claim is rising. This is also proven by the establishment of yet another movement, ‘Pinal Pulaaku’, of young nomads from the Hayre and Burgu who claim more rights for Fulani nomads who claim a role in the in the resolution of conflict.

Who listens to the nomads?
Recognition is a key in these politics of belonging. One can only belong if one is being recognized as ‘belonged one’. But who recognizes the nomads as a separate group? Who even knows they are a separate group? Among those concerned, like the Malian State, the personnel of MUNISMA and NGOs in the region, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about the social structure of Fulbe society, and hence the presentation as a separate group of nomads is not understood. Often, the recognized spokespeople of the nomads are their elites, but these do not always defend the rights of all nomads. It has become clear these elites and their nomads are no longer on speaking terms. A problem for intervening bodies like the UN or NGOs is that leadership among the nomads is not very clear and negotiations are often with these elites. As long as this obscurity prevails, the nomads will not be listened to. Another problem certainly is language. Fulani is not a main language in circles of intervening bodies, nor of the government.
The presentation of their problems in Bamako during meetings with the EU, Dutch Embassy and MINUSMA did not finally lead to the recognition of these problems and its translation into (aid) actions. Although the interventions in Serma for reconciliation and better communication between gendarmes and nomads and the opening of a transhumance route are certainly seen as positive, these are just small interventions in a huge region and security issues are not solved. The nomads do not feel safe. Ahmadou, one of our main informants, said he cannot rely on ‘these’ people and still has to handle and hassle with tensions in the region, varying from forces of gendarmes to bandits.

Trust
Trust in the state is certainly not yet there. Since the establishment of the movement Deewral Pulaaku there have been moments of hope: when Ahmadou and the other leaders visited Bamako, or when they received help when they were imprisoned; on the other hand, both events were a deception: the nomads are regularly arrested and accused of Jihadism. I described this arrest in a previous blog, and on October 8, Boukary received a call from a friend in the region reporting on yet another arrest of a Fulani man, based on the assumption (and fear) that this particular Fulani man would have been part of an attack on a village in the eastern part of the Hayre. Clearly, the meetings in Bamako did not yet lead to what the nomads had hoped for. This became painfully clear when Ahmadou called me after his liberation and said that, despite everything, he had to pay again. Things had not really changed. And they are still confronted with injustice.
Trust is a two-way process. The manner in which the State perceives the Fulani nomads is certainly not one of trust. Since a few months, the increasing appearance of the ‘Front de la Liberation du Maacina’ (FLM) has reinforced the State’s mistrust in the nomads and particularly in the Fulani. This phenomenon first showed in the Inner Delta of the Niger (January2015), when they attacked villages there and destroyed the tombs of Sheku Aamadu, the Fulani leader of the Maacina Empire in the 19th century, who has the status of saint. Destroying the tomb was also an act of showing their Jihadism, and they were from then on officially recognized as one of the Jihadist groups in the North. After this attack other attacks followed. Their presumed leader is Hamadoun Kouffa, a Muslim scholar who has been preaching in the Inner Delta for years and apparently gathered a group of followers. FLM is supposed to be basically Fulani. However, doubts exist if this group is indeed a well-organized force, or if it is a loose network of groups that link to the ideology of Jihadism and prepare attacks.

This was also the tendency in the interviews with Temoré Tioulenta, a prominent leader in the organization Taabital Pulaaku and in the Inner Delta. Most attacks that are done by the FLM are against State services and their employees. Despite this uncertainty around their ‘real’ existence, it is clear that they are increasingly present in the region. Also in the Hayre, camps of this group are observed. For instance just next to Serma, the camp where Ahmadou resides, a group of the FLM has its camp in the bush. Ahmadou contacts them to secure the safety of Serma.

'Fulbe nomads' movement' @Boukary Sangaré

Fulbe nomads’ movement. Photo: Boukary Sangaré

Imagining nomads as jihadists
The imaginations made of FLM certainly influences the ideas and images of the Fulani nomads in general. It is certainly reinforcing the vision of the Malian state and the population that these nomads are (potential) jihadists and hence enemies of the State. Distrust characterizes the relationship between the State and the Nomadic Fulani.
The quest for belonging and recognition therefore continues. The experience of not being listened to, the lack of care of the State and the ‘push’ towards the image of Jihadist, might finally turn into a reality as protection and security might be coming from the ‘Jihadist’ side. MUJAO, FLM, Al Qaida may step into that vacuum. It will reinforce the nomad’s experience with MUJAO in 2012. MUJAO was able to stabilize the region and give the nomads a feeling of basic security. If the State, or MUNISMA for that matter, does not guarantee security in the region, Jihadism may tip the balance of trust.

The hope for a good harvest, after waiting for a long time for the rains to come, will for now postpone such choice. However, a next dry season with severe harshness and without a good base to sustain their livelihood might push the nomads definitively to the camp of the Jihadists.

Ahmadou: a nomad leader in Mali

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Ahmadou overlooking Bamako.

Ahmadou’s first call to me (in Holland) via mobile telephony was in 2007. He called from this ‘remote’ place in Central Mali where until that time telephone connections were impossible. Ahmadou had never traveled further south than Douentza. Only in 2012 he traveled to Bamako, the capital city of Mali, to visit me there as it was impossible for me to go to Douentza or Boni because of the conflict and chaos in the region at that time. Anno 2015 he is a regular traveler to the south, involved in politics around the conflict, and he calls me at least twice every week. Ahmadou’s life has changed profoundly both as a consequence of mobile telephony and of the 2012 conflict.

I have doubted for a long time whether I should present Ahmadou as a counter voice in this blog. Ahmadou is an old friend. He herds our cattle in the Seeno, that is the southern part of the 2012 occupied zone, then called Azawad. Ahmadou and his family became deeply involved in the conflict despite themselves, but irreversibly so. Ahmadou’s role as a leader in these changes has turned him definitively into a counter voice. I described the (re) union of the Fulani nomads in a former blog. And it did not stop there.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAA simple herder…
Some background information about Ahmadou: he was born around 1960, we are age-mates. We first met in 1990, when I started (together with Han van Dijk) an ethnographic research in Serma, the hamlet that also serves as a meeting and service point for the nomads during the rainy season, when they work their millet fields. In November, after the harvest, many nomad families leave the region to search for pasture areas further away. Ahmadou’s father was our host. We got to know the family well and when we finished the PhD research we decided to buy a cow to establish a long relationship with the family. And that is what happened. Friendship and cows are intimately related in Fulani life. Ahmadou’s father passed away in 2010 and Ahmadou became head of the family; together with his brothers he continued to manage the family herd (including ours). Ahmadou married two wives. He has 8 children. One son (the eldest son of his second wife) was sent to the Koranic school, quite a rare decision for nomad’s children. The other sons herd cattle and camels and work the fields during the rainy season. His daughters have all married within the family group. They continue to live close to each other. Ahmadou’s mother lives with him, her eldest son. So far Ahmadou’s life is the life as expected from a Fulani man, except for the son in the Koranic school.

Ahmadou and his new phone.

Ahmadou and his new phone.

…or a leader?
Ahmadou also took another decision in his life. His father was head of the family group, responsible for administrative matters, and mediator in case of conflict. Ahmadou followed his father’s path and also became lineage leader. He took his task a little heavier than his father had done and developed into a politician, with good relations with representatives of different parties, who he called regularly. Finally he chose to follow one of the opposition parties. Here, he deviated from the Fulani elites. In that period he also bought land in Boni (the town near his rainy season camp) to build a house. His aspirations were changing. His son in the meantime returned from the Koranic school as a Muslim teacher (Mallam). Gradually Ahmadou positioned himself as more than a lineage leader, he became intermediary to national politics, and also developed ideas that went beyond the ideas of the Fulbe elites, whom he increasingly considered extensions of the State. He did not expect any good from the State that for him represented basically oppression and impossibilities: the forest service did not allow them to exploit the resources they needed, the hospitals are far away, the police acted against them, etc. Ahmadou was reinforced in his idea that the Malian State was not really ready to support the Fulani nomads, and he did not expect much help from the Tuareg. He experienced the presence of MUJAO (a Jihadist group) as more protective and providing security than the others.

2012-11-14 16.45.43In that atmosphere Ibrahim Moodi approached him in 2012, to help him establish a movement of the Fulani nomads. At the same time he realized that joining the jihadists would not be a good future, hence he embraced the idea for the Fulani nomad’s union and became one of the leading figures in that meeting and organization. The meeting was held in autumn 2014, and afterwards he and two others (among whom Ibrahim Moodi) went to Bamako to meet with UN, EU and others. They returned to Boni with some hope, but when nothing was done for them, they became a little desperate. Instead of any help, they experienced increasing insecurity, criminality, and in fact complete absence of any security in the region. Other Fulani groups started to organize themselves in self-defence groups (see short vodcast made by Boukary Sangaré). Ahmadou and Ibrahim kept quiet and continued to believe in a dialogue.

BurgukoobeShocking April 2015
Their trust in a future was crushed by the events of April that really left all in shock. On 1 April the police were attacked in Bulli Kessi, the village of Ibrahim Moodi. As a counter act the police (most probably afraid for Jihadists) killed three young Fulani men, who were accused of being Jihadists. Shortly after, on 3 April, the police, this time in Boni, were attacked again and two civilians got killed. On 7 April the gendarme/police came to Serma where they arrested 18 men, among whom were Ahmadou, Bura (secretary of the Fulani movement), and some young men, who they all accused of being Jihadists and possible attackers of the police. On 11 April Ahmadou, Bura and three of the young men were transferred to the prison in Sévaré/Mopti. The others had paid considerable sums to be free. In Sévaré they could hardly communicate with the authorities, nor with the police (language barrier), and they did not in the least understand why they were arrested. They had nothing to do with these attacks and tried the dialogue way; also, they were convinced that it is better to keep out of the Jihadist movement. The arrest was experienced as a violation of their rights; the deaths of the three young men in Bulli Kessi as a direct attack on the Fulani nomad community. After negotiations and no clear evidence against them, they were allowed to leave and headed back to Boni/Serma. Intervention by MUNISMA (the UN mission in Mali) led to the replacement of the policemen by ‘northerners’. MUNISMA and the European Union did send a humanitarian mission to do research on the situation, also after alert mails from Boukary, Han and myself. The Fulani-case is taken very seriously by these organisations. They should regret their lack of action after the call of the Fulani leaders last November, though. (More about the April events in this article by Boukary Sangaré.)

Fighting for his people
When Ahmadou called me last week from Bamako, where he was to ‘arrange’ all kinds of things, he made it clear to me that the replacement of the policemen was indeed an improvement: he could at least communicate with these men, but in order to keep them as friends he had to ‘pay’ them. Order had returned somehow. Nevertheless, he did not trust the situation: another attack against them could be expected soon; he also suspected his elites to be behind all this, as they are in league with the Malian State. The beginning of a trust relationship that Ahmadou and Ibrahim had tried to establish crumbled to nothing. Ahmadou now felt obliged to come to Bamako, to fight for an honest treatment of his people, leaving the cattle in the hands of his sons, despite the bad quality of the pasture this year. It has certainly become clear to him that he cannot expect any substantial aid and support from the Malian State.Mirjam and Ahmadou in 2012.

Mirjam and Ahmadou in 2012.

Nomads unite: a story from Northern Mali

Fulbe nomads arriving at the big meeting that was held 20 October 2014.

Fulbe nomads arriving at their big meeting that was held in Serma, 20 October 2014 (Photo: Boukary Sangaré).

Eight days in Bamako, Mali, writing a report together with Boukary Sangaré, Malian PhD student at Leiden University, on the basis of field reports from local researchers who worked in the border zones between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. We are trying to understand security issues and pastoral nomads’ lives in times of turbulence. The Mali conflict in 2012 meant a definitive change for the power relations in the region. In this blog we share our observations.

Hierarchies
I was eager to meet Ibrahim Moodi Diallo, who had emerged in Boukary’s encounters with the Fulbe (or Fulani) nomads in the Seeno, Central Mali, as a new leader of the nomads. Fulbe society consists of several social categories organized in a strict hierarchy that is maintained by power relations defining access to vital resources like pastureland and cultivable land and that is related to religious piety. The ‘noble’ elites inherited their identity from their warrior background and early adoption of Islam. They have positioned themselves since colonial times between the nomads and the ‘Modern’ state, which signified an important revenue for the elites. The nomads have never really entered the modern state until recently. They still do not send their children to school, nor do they relate well to services as the police and the forest services. For a long time, hospitals were places of death and only a last resort. Hence, the elites could rule and define the nomads’ access and possibilities in the modern Malian state. Their turn to Islam dates from 50 years ago and continues. Nomads were the ‘voiceless’, until the conflict in northern and central Mali erupted again in 2012.

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Ibrahim Moodi Diallo. (Photo: Boukary Sangaré)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new leader
That year became the start of the leadership of Ibrahim Moodi Diallo from Bulli Kessi, who is about 55 years old. He traveled a lot during his life, went to Cameroon, to Niger, to Burkina Faso, where he met people and learned about the world. He never frequented Western oriented school, but he followed the Muslim itinerary of learning and became a marabout, one of the first of his generation among the nomads. During his travels and while studying the Koran with different Muslim scholars he learned that the world is not equal and that injustice is part of his society. He also discovered the lack of voice of his group. His intelligence brought him to search alliances with others and share his ideas. He picked up the French language while traveling; he is one of the few nomads who master this language.

Gaining voice
Hence he became part of a network of Fulbe nomads who increasingly became aware of their difficult position and sought ways to voice it. Some nomads were organized by Western NGOs; these nomads were gaining more voice, though they were limited to a small group of NGOs and not recognized by African leaders. The story of marginalization of the nomads, the increasing decline of the Sahelian ecology and the increasing insecurity in the Sahel, have become part of the Fulbe nomads’ stories. The stories of attacks on Fulbe villages (Niger), of kidnappings of their children (Chad and CAR), of violence (refugees in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria) increasingly find their way to internet networks, facebook pages, and international NGOs’ reports. On the other hand, the Sahelian states increasingly accuse the Fulbe of being part of violent and criminal networks like Boko Haram, Janjaweed, Seleka etc. Ibrahim has no access to all these media and circuits of information, but he is discovering the people behind the networks and tries to contact them by acquiring their phone numbers. He travels to these people who reside in Bamako, Burkina and Niger and shares his ideas. Ibrahim finances these activities all by himself. He is a relatively wealthy cattle owner.

Chaos
The year 2012 meant ‘chaos’ for Northern Mali. The state services and its personnel left the area after the first attacks by Tamacheck (Tuaregs) at the city of Gao in the extreme North. The Seeno became a non-governed land. The Fulbe elites lost their allies. The occupation by the Tamacheck of their lands was only seen as an offense, as their relation with these Tamacheck had always been one of war and competition. The same counted for the Fulani nomads. The elites and nomads each chose their own path in this new situation. The elites clung to their compatriots in the diaspora and in Bamako, while the nomads geared towards the new leaders in the region. After the MNLA (Mouvement national pour la libération de l’Azawad, mostly made up of Tamacheck) had been chased from the area by the Jihadist group MUJAO, the power balance changed in the perception of the nomads. They were captured by the message of MUJAO, who offered security in the region, literally by training large groups in the proficiency of arms. By then the nomads had bought arms, for instance through the intervention of a business Fulbe elite in Boni, who discovered the arm trade as a lucrative business. We have no idea about the numbers of Fulbe youngsters and older people who went to the camps of MUJAO in the North and were well trained as fighters.
Among them was Ibrahim. He travelled to Gao to see the leader of MUJAO in order to solve a conflict within his village. He asked for the aid of MUJAO. Indeed MUJAO sent an agent to the village, but it was not enough to calm the situation. Again, Ibrahim went to see the leader of MUJAO and he was invited to join the training camp – which he did. He did not like the food they offered him, so he paid for decent food himself. He emphasized that he is the son of an important Tijjaniyya (a brotherhood that is widespread in the Sahel) marabout in the region of Bulli Kessi. When a representative of MUJAO visited him, he noticed the tomb and Mausoleum that commemorated his father, which had become a place for pilgrimage. During his stay with the MUJAO, Ibrahim followed Tijjaniyya prayers, which was not really appreciated by the MUJAO leaders, who expressed their malcontent with him. Ibrahim was shocked by their behavior.

Visitor of the big meeting of Fulani nomads, October 2014.

Visitor of the big meeting of Fulani nomads, October 2014.

A new ideology
Hence the Fulbe got involved in the MUJAO structures. The main leaders in this structure left the region, but their preaches and films are still circulating in the mobile phones of the nomads. Their access to this new medium increased considerably since 2012. Ideas about marginalization, Muslim identity and pride of the nomads circulate with these films and have transformed the youth and leaders in the nomadic communities. The story against the elites, who had been oppressing them for too long, became increasingly theirs. And their disgust with the elites goes hand in hand with the perception of the state as basically oppressive, never defending the rights of the nomads.

A long way to go
To free themselves from this jug, Ibrahim does not preach the violent path, instead he believes in dialogue and political power. Decentralization and democratization in Mali began after the revolution of the 1990ies, when dictator Traoré was sent off duty and a government of transition introduced democratic values, with strong support and guidance from the international ‘development’ scene. It has been a very gradual process and the events in 2012 have shown that the democratization process still has a long way to go, if it is not a complete failure altogether. However, the process did take on board some nomads, like Ibrahim, but also our good friend Ahmadou, who, after the death of his father, became the leader of his lineage and a political leader. During the previous two elections, he and Ibrahim supported the party in power (ADEMA) through the elected deputies. The process of political conscience was underway.

Modern nomads
The arrival of electricity in the capital city of the region in 2001, and later of the telephone networks, also in the smaller towns, improved the nomads’ access to information, people and networks. In addition to radio, to which they already listened, it brought them television. It opened their eyes for the modern world, that aroused both feelings of admiration and feelings of detestation, not understanding the freedom that is shown on these canals and films. The return migration of ‘modern’ nomads during the conflict years of Côte d’Ivoire fed this tendency well.
The political conscience, knowledge of media technologies, their increasing realization of being in a position of non-voice fed by discourses of the MUJAO, have finally turned the tide. Ibrahim and Ahmadou connected and became friends – or brothers-in-the-fight. They expressed their anger and also felt they had to do something against the injustice in the region and the rampant criminality and violence. They do not deny that their own youth were implicated in these gangs, but they want to develop a possibility of changing things forever. Ibrahim seeks the political way. He stepped out of ADEMA, as he did no longer see the party’s benevolence to help the youth. A vote against ADEMA is also a vote against their own elites and the state. Ahmadou listens and follows Ibrahim in his actions.

Join forces!
Together they joined forces to organize a big meeting in the region (20 October 2014) with the Fulani nomads from Maacina to Burkina.

They asked for permission to organize it, used their own funds and were able to unite probably 1000 nomads in Serma, a small hamlet in the middle of the Seeno (the home hamlet of Ahmadou where we happened to do our first fieldwork in the 1990s, see De Bruijn & van Dijk, Arid Ways, Thela Publishers, 1995)). Interestingly, this meeting was also visited by people from the commune, police, MINUSMA (UN mission in the region) and the governor. They all presented their discourses during the meeting, with an interpreter next to them. The nomads, not able to speak French but increasingly fluent in Arabic and familiar with Muslim learning, are not congruent with the model of the modern state.

Cattle in Nothern Mali (photo: Boukary Sangaré)

Cattle in Nothern Mali (photo: Boukary Sangaré)

They need the freedom to move and the freedom to access pasture areas. External actors fear them for their fury and their weapons. Yet the fury of the nomads is fed by injustice and non-voice, marginalization, accusations of being MUJAO partisans hence jihadists, accusations of having weapons, of being criminals; some of them were arrested because they did indeed attack state stations, but others for no reason. They are still in prison in Bamako. Others were fined for weapons they did not own. Nobody knows where these huge sums of money have gone. Security in the region has not returned after the invasion of the French and the UN. Instead, insecurity is rising. The soldiers and policemen were afraid to act, MINUSMA and the French only passing on their way to Gao. They do not invest in the security of this region; in the meantime, they have all defined the Fulani as a potential threat, as it is one of the largest ethnic groups in the region, present from Mopti to Boni, to Gao and Abderamboukane.

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UN soldiers in Mali. (Photo: Boukary Sangaré)

Elections 2016
Ibrahim is also preparing for the elections of next year. He wants to represent his people in politics. However, his visit with a delegation to Bamako last November, as a follow-up to the big meeting they organized in Serma, was not a very big success according to the representative of the European Union, who very much appreciates the efforts of the nomads to be heard: “They do not have the ability to express their wishes, what is their agenda? Who are they in fact? The other groups from the region all have their (educated) porte-parole (spokesperson) to translate their discourse into our language and concepts. They will only be listened to if they are able to develop as a coherent force. Not being heard may lead them to take up arms!”

Become their porte-parole?
Boukary invited Ibrahim to come to Bamako and meet me. It was an emotional encounter. I never met Ibrahim, but immediately we felt a connection, as he is this nomad whose ways of doing have become part of me in the course of my research among the nomads. I no longer master the language as before, but I still understand and can communicate. The language is emotion and feels good. Ibrahim speaks little French, but in Fulfulde his story flows. He had heard stories about me and my long stays and involvement in the Seeno, with my family and husband Han van Dijk. He has seen our cattle that is in the hands of Ahmadou and he knows about our house in Douentza. Boukary has been in the region on and off over a long period of time and has also become part of the Fulbe nomadic society. If we like it or not, we are seen as compatriots in their fight for freedom, because that is what it has become. A fight for freedom that unites them with so many other Fulbe nomads all over West and Central Africa. Increasingly, Ibrahim realizes their power. Increasingly, I start to understand that we cannot simply step aside and look as objective researchers to these developments. I am part of it. Should we become their porte-parole?

One thing is certain: no action to ‘help’ these nomads from the side of the authorities, MUNISMA and others who claim to have the development and stabilization of the region high on the agenda, will solve the problems of the nomads and they might decide to revolt. The youth who have been trained in the MUJAO camps do indeed herd the cattle again, but the ideas implanted, the films and records in their phones are not silent. Ibrahim expresses his hope that they are contained now, but he as well as I know better. The Fulbe youth will never be the same as before 2012.