Reversing Central Mali's Descent into Communal Violence

Since 2016, an unprecedented wave of violence has swept across an area of central Mali to the south and south east of Mopti. The attackers – jihadists, the self-defence groups mobilised against them and others – target civilians in acts of mass killing, theft and property destruction. While sporadic at first, the attacks have now become more frequent and widespread. They have also become increasingly communal in nature, pitting the Fulani against the Dogon. The Malian government is partly responsible for the discord, having focused on fighting terrorism without paying sufficient attention to communal reconciliation or the state’s other vital functions. The transitional authorities that emerged after the 18 August coup should harmonise the efforts of various state entities and mediation NGOs to negotiate local ceasefires, which should also involve regional elites and security forces. In the long term, they should create the conditions for lasting reconciliation after the transition with ambitious reform of laws governing access to natural resources, especially land. Although violence has intensified of late, the conflict is rooted in longstanding communal rivalries. These have been exacerbated over recent decades by a pastoral crisis that has impoverished the nomadic Fulani, pressure on natural resources – particularly land – and the inability of either the state or traditional authorities to provide viable answers to these challenges. Such tensions have made the area fertile ground for the growth of both jihadist and armed self-defence groups. The conflict’s communal dimension has been reinforced by the establishment of these armed groups, which often recruit along ethnic lines. This report analyses the conflict dynamics in the four cercles of the zone exondée where civilians are the victims of rampant violence. It makes concrete recommendations for halting this spiral in the short term, and it suggests other actions that can help stabilise the region in the long run. Crisis Group has already published two reports (in 2016 and 2019) on central Mali and the problem of jihadist groups. This report complements the earlier two by analysing violent actors other than jihadist groups, and the dynamics behind them, though the jihadists continue to play an important role. Research for this report spanned a period of over six months, during which more than 60 interviews were conducted, including in Mopti and Bamako.