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Fulani-Dogon Conflict

In 2019, conflict in Mali intensified and spread from the north of the country to central and western areas. Insecurity spilled over the border into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, igniting a new regional crisis in the central Sahel. On 16 May 2019, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, announced it had recorded "at least 488 deaths" in attacks on Fulanis in the central regions of Mopti and Segou since January 2018. Armed Fulanis "caused 63 deaths" among civilians in the Mopti region over the same period, it said. The Fulani are primarily cattle breeders and traders, while the Bambara and Dogon are traditionally sedentary farmers.

Mali’s population today reflects a composite of ethnicities that together form a mosaic of national identity. Recent killings in central Mali highlight the age-old conflict between the nomadic and predominantly Muslim Fulani (also called Peuhl, representiang about 15% of the population) and the generally polytheistic and sedentary Dogon [9% of the country's population]. Since 2015, relations between the nomadic Fulani herders and Mali's Bambara and Dogon farmers have been antagonistic following accusations of Fulani grazing cattle on Dogon land as well as land and water access issues. Fulani are seen as being linked to the jihadists of the Islamic State of Greater Sahara, while Dogon militias are said to have the support of the Mali military.

The region is being hit particularly hard by climate change. Conflicts over resources like water and land are not new. But where there used to be a predictable three-months span of rainfall in a year, precipitation has become erratic and hard to predict, increasing the pressure on the population. While resources like water, land and pastures are dwindling, "the number of people who depend on them as farmers or cattle herders is actually rising. Poverty makes it easy for either side to recruit fighters for the militias. Especially young men in this region have very little to do and very few prospects.

Brutal violence battered communities. Some 208,000 people were internally displaced by the end of 2019, a sharp increase from 120,000 in 2018. Attacks against civilians were relentless, with 1,343 security incidents recorded throughout the year, the majority of them in the crisis epicentre of Mopti. An estimated 900 civilians were killed and 545 were injured.

The United Nations, France and G5 West African leaders continued to provide primarily a military response to stabilise the country, under the umbrella of counterterrorism operations. But there was no significant positive impact of national and international military operations to protect civilians. At times, these operations incited revenge attacks and added to the violence, with significant humanitarian consequences.

Despite the intense international military attention, humanitarian funding for the millions suffering and investments in good governance were sorely inadequate. The 2019 aid appeal was just 52 per cent funded. Media attention was also lacking, with most atrocities taking place away from the international spotlight. One violent attack that received coverage was a massacre in March in the Mopti region, where over 150 people were killed. The prime minister resigned after the massacre. However, the 2015 peace accord made little progress throughout the year towards ending the bloodshed. Violence continued unabated in the first half of 2020. Some 73,000 people had fled their homes by May, many for the second or third time.

The UN reported in March 2019 that over the past year, fighting between the Fulani and Dogon ethnic communities had resulted in the deaths of some 600 women, children and men. Disputes over land and water between Fulani herders and Dogon “Dozo” or traditional brotherhood of hunters are common. Often recruited from among the nobles, the dignitaries, especially the warrior classes, the members of these brotherhoods played a very important role in traditional society. The dozos are supposed to be depositories of secular mystic knowledge. A traditional hunter is outfitted in a distinctive brown hunting suit and gris-gris amulets worn around the neck. The amulets (gris-gris) worn by Dozos possess magical properties protecting them from harm.

Ths situation in Mali made it difficult to define dozos, as Ibrahim Maïga, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, based in Bamako, explained 26 June 2018. " We think we know who these dozos are, but the situation is much more complex. When speaking of dozos, in principle we speak of people who are introduced to traditional rites. This is not the case for everyone. You have, in the ranks of these groups dozos, people, young people who consider to be in a logic of self-defense and not necessarily to be dozos, in the ritual sense of the term". In this logic of self-defense, some dozos would have engaged in the fight against the terrorists of the Macina Liberation Front, a predominantly Peul group operating in the center of the country.

The fighting has grown increasingly violent. Conflicts between farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and dozos hunters are not new, but rarely have the balance sheets been so heavy. The deadly conflict has been fueled by a proliferation in arms and an Islamic insurgency moving ever further south from its strongholds in Mali's north. One of the reasons is certainly to be found in the security context, which has deteriorated terribly in the center of the country. The presence of terrorists and the weapons that circulate have resulted in much greater violence at each confrontation. The state, absent locally, no longer plays its role of regulator.

The trend of increase in violence in central Mali taking place between Fulani herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers has been triggered by accusations that the Fulani are grazing cattle on Dogon territory as well as disputes over access to land and water resources. The Peuhl are accused of working alongside jihadists from the Islamic State of Greater Sahara to attack Dogon villages and prevent them from cultivating their land. They in turn have alleged that the Dogons are collaborating with the Malian military though there is no conclusive sign of state support.

Community leaders from all ethnic groups and security analysts in the region told Human Rights Watch that the proliferation of semi-automatic assault rifles and other weapons in the possession of self-defense and Islamist armed groups was contributing to the lethality of the communal violence. Villagers said self-defense or hunting societies were traditionally armed with artisanal or single-barrel shotguns and only started seeing “war guns” within the last few years.

Clashes between Dogon hunters - who have a highly distinctive traditional culture dating back centuries – and the semi-nomadic Fulani herders, have become a growing flash point in recent years. Intercommunal violence related to disputes over transhumance (seasonal migration) and cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani in the Mopti Region, Bambara and Fulani in the Segou Region, and between various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani ethnic group and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities. Self-defense groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in attacks.

The agricultural Dogon live on the Bandiagara escarpment high above the western reaches of the Niger bend. Dogon arrived in the Bandiagara area in the 15th century and dispersed into relatively autonomous communities that colonized not only the Bandiagara cliff and plateau but also the vast plain of Séno-Gondo, a sandy area east of the cliff that provided fertile ground for cereals, abundant water resourcesand nutritious wild fruit. Once an animist culture, the Dogon fled to this area more than 500 years ago to escape persecution by Muslim Fulani. The geography offered protection from would-be invaders. The Bandiagara Escarpment stretches 150 kilometers across brush-filled plains and forms a sort of wall between Dogon Country and the rest of Mali. The sheer face of the cliff looks like a bisected mountain; the multi-colored layers of sediment resemble a sunset built in stone.

Amma, the otiose deity who created the mythical and human worlds, is the ultimate spiritual force in Dogon religious thought. Amna is formless; and ie thought to be creative energy rather than a being. The principal Dogon spirits are the eight Nuhmos. To the Dogon, the checkerboard is a symbolic diagram of the ideal human order; the spiral or zig-zag depicts the form and path of the mythical Nummos.

In 1818, the Fulani conqueror Seku Amadu founded the Empire of Massina (Diina) and a new capital, Hamdullahi, located southeast of Mopti. The Massina Empire gradually extended from Segou in the south to Timbuktu in the north. Like many other precolonial political formations, the Massina Empire maintained fuzzy peripheries where pagan peoples were either converted to Islam by force or enslaved.The Fulani used their cavalry to raid the Dogon plateau and the plain of Séno-Gondo, destroying thecrops of the farmers and enslaving the local populations.

In response, the Dogon built spectacularfortress villages in the Bandiagara Cliff, a World Heritage site listed by UNESCO in 1989. The Cliff of Bandiagara, Land of the Dogons, is a vast cultural landscape covering 400,000 ha and includes 289 villages scattered between the three natural regions: sandstone plateau, escarpment, plains (more than two-thirds of the listed perimeter are covered by plateau and cliffs). The communities at the site are essentially the Dogon The social and cultural traditions of the Dogon are among the best preserved of sub-saharan Africa, despite certain important irreversible socio-economic mutations. The villages and their inhabitants are faithful to the ancestral values linked to an original life style.

The Dogon people are specialists in collecting wild herbs, seeds, flowers and plants. From these, Dogon women produce many unique seasonings, called some. They produce seasonings with dried okra - a local vegetable- with baobab leaves; with different varieties of local peppers; with different varieties of local onions. In the past, some was a basic ingredient in most Dogon cuisine. But in recent times the people have abandoned their traditional food in favor of cheap and convenient imported stock cubes full of unhealthy preservatives.

In Mopti region, central Mali, communal violence in 2018 killed over 200 civilians, driven thousands from their homes, undermined livelihoods, and led to widespread hunger. The victims are largely ethnic Peuhl targeted by ethnic Dogon and Bambara “self-defense groups” for their alleged support of armed Islamists largely linked to Al-Qaeda.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on 05 April 2018, 14 Fulani men suspected of terrorism were killed by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA). The FAMA issued a statement saying that 14 men had died while attempting to escape; however, witnesses believed that these men were executed by the FAMA. On 19 May 20189, a Malian battalion assigned to the G5 Sahel Joint Force summarily and arbitrarily executed 12 civilians at the Boulikessi livestock market in an act of retaliation, according to a MINUSMA investigation.

Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou regions reported abuse by government forces. According to HRW, seven Fulani men arrested by the Army in Sokolo while celebrating a baptism ceremony February 21 were declared by the Ministry of Defense as killed in battle against Malian forces on February 27. Additionally, HRW reported that according to eyewitnesses, the bodies of six Fulani men previously arrested in Dogo by the Army were discovered in a common grave on March 22. HRW also documented several cases of torture or severe mistreatment of detainees during the year.

On 17 July 2018, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement expressing concern about intercommunal violence in the Mopti Region, mainly between pastoralist Fulani and agriculturalist Dogon ethnic groups. Intercommunal violence resulted in at least 289 civilian deaths since the beginning of the year.

On 02 January 2019, Armed men, believed to be traditional hunters, killed 37 Fulani herders in a central Mali village, according to the government, which has launched an investigation into the attack. The latest killings were part of a trend of an increase in violence, in central Mali, taking place between Fulani herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers. The killings were perpetrated by Dogon farmers, and many homes were burned in a part of Koulogon village which is inhabited mostly by Fulani. The attack took place around the time of the first call to prayer of 2019.

The 23 March 2019 massacre of some 160 Fulani herders by an ethnic vigilante group shocked the nation. The killings by suspected hunters from the Dogon community on Ogossagou, a village in central Mali populated by rival Fulani herders, were bloody even by the recent standards of Mali's ever-worsening violence.

The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, expressed his deepest concern and strongly condemned recent attacks against villages in Mali, including mass-killings last weekend in the Mopti region, which left 160 dead, including some 50 children, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). The assault on the villages of Ogossagou and Welingara, populated with people from the Peulh – or Fulani – ethnic group took place on 23 March 2019. In addition to the killings, at least 70 were injured, allegedly by members of the Dogon ethnic group. It was the fourth major attack since the start of the year against villages populated by Peulhs/Fulanis. On 1 January, in Kolougon, at least 37 women, children and men were killed during the day.

“Over the recent months, violence has reached unprecedented level amid retaliatory attacks and serious violations of human rights in central Mali impacting on all communities,” Special Advisor Dieng said. “Unless these concerns are immediately addressed, there is a high risk of further escalation of the situation in which atrocity crimes could be committed,” he warned.

Since January 2019 there had been reports of at least 22 incidents of human rights violations by community-based self-defense groups, which had resulted in the deaths of at least 230 people by March 2019. The Mopti region has been the scene of deadly violence since the beginning of the year. The camp of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMAs) in the village of Dioura suffered an attack in which several of its soldiers were killed. On 26 February, 10 people from the Dogon community were killed in an attack on the village of Gondogourou. Further, on 1 January, 37 people were executed in the Fulani village of Kulogon by unidentified armed elements.

Human Rights Watch has said that Youssouf Toloba's ethnic militia known as Dan Na Ambassagou has been implicated in scores of deadly attacks over the past year. The militia has accused ethnic Peuhl of collaborating with Islamic extremists increasingly operating in central Mali. These militia fighters protecting Dogon villages are believed to have semi-autonomic weapons, making their attacks on Peuhl communities particularly deadly.

Over 100 people were reportedly killed during an attack on a traditional Dogon hunters’ village in Mali on 09 June 2019, prompting a call from UN chief António Guterres for authorities to act fast and “bring the perpetrators to justice”. Spokesperson for the UN human rights office (OHCHR), Ravina Shamdasani, said 11 June 2019 “these traditional disputes have always been there”, often fuelled by disputes over access to land and water. “But lately it has taken on a particularly deadly turn because entire Fulani communities - and we are talking about millions of people - are being painted as violent extremists simply because they are Muslim.”

Mali's government now says 35 people died in the gruesome attack on the village of Sobane, not 95, citing the governor's office in the Mopti region. "This number is based on a painstaking count carried out by a team comprising officials from the civil protection force, forensic doctors [and] the public prosecutor of Mopti" region, the government said in a statement on 12 June 2019. About a hundred women had succeeded in fleeing to a nearby village, and this was one of the causes of the confusion, it said.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:57 ZULU