World View: Thousands of Mali Refugees Flee into Burkina Faso to Escape Ethnic Violence

UN moves to draw up sanctions blacklist for Mali

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Al-Qaeda linked JNIM attacks two peacekeeper camps in Timbuktu, Mali
  • Canada debates whether there is any point to a peacekeeping force
  • Thousands of Mali refugees flee into Burkina Faso to escape ethnic violence

Al-Qaeda linked JNIM attacks two peacekeeper camps in Timbuktu, Mali

Jihadists in Mali dress as UN peacekeeprs and display UN logos (Reuters)
Jihadists in Mali dress as UN peacekeepers and display UN logos (Reuters)

On Saturday, Al-Qaeda linked jihadists carried out a sophisticated attack on two separate peacekeeper camps in Timbuktu in northern Mali. One UN peacekeeper and 15 jihadist suspects were killed while seven French soldiers were wounded.

The most likely perpetrator was the al-Qaeda linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim (JNIM, Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, GSIM). JNIM was formed in 2017 by a merger of four Mali-based al-Qaeda linked groups, including Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Murabitoon, and Katibat Macina (Macina Liberation Front). These groups were responsible for a surge of hundreds of al-Qaeda-linked attacks in Africa’s Sahel (the strip of Africa just below the Sahara desert, separating the Arab north from Black Africa to the south), including Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The increasing frequency of JNIM attacks in the Sahel region, and the great complexity and scale of Saturday’s attack, indicate that the capability of JNIM is growing. The jihadists, some of whom were disguised as UN peacekeepers, arrived in vehicles bearing the logo of the UN and the Malian army. They attacked using rocket-propelled grenades and mortars and detonated at least one suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED).

They attacked two separate peacekeeper bases simultaneously. They attacked the camp of the UN peacekeepers MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) with mortars, exchange of fire, and a vehicle suicide bomb attack. MINUSMA was established in 2013 and now has 11,000 soldiers. 150 MINUSMA forces have now been killed, making it by far the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission in the world.

The second simultaneous attack was on the camp of Operation Barkhane, which was set up by the French military in 2014, and includes troops from Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso – which operate collectively as the G5 Sahel. The rules are different for Barkhane and MINUSMA in that MINUSMA is UN peacekeepers who are unarmed, while Barkhane is soldiers who are fully armed, and authorized to use them. France 24 and Reuters

Canada debates whether there is any point to a peacekeeping force

Saturday’s attack has once again raised questions about whether there is any point for Western countries or the United Nations to have a peacekeeping force in the midst of warring parties.

This is becoming a major political issue in Canada, where the UN is pressuring Canada to speed up its commitment to MINUSMA.

Canada finally announced in March that it will send two Chinook transport helicopters and four Griffon attack helicopters to the MINUSMA mission in Mali. These helicopters will replace a German fleet of helicopters when Germany ends its commitment to MINUSMA.

The problem is that Germany plans to pull out in June, while Canada plans to send its helicopters to MINUSMA in August. So talks are underway for the UN either to convince Canada to deliver its helicopters in June or to convince Germany to delay its departure until August.

One Ottawa columnist summarized the debate as follows:

Canada’s decision to deploy military personnel there suggests none of the lessons learned from our 13-year war in Afghanistan are remembered. Nor is there memory of Canadian military involvement in the messy, inconclusive wars in Libya and Iraq, or our involvement in the disastrous wars in Somalia, Rwanda and the Congo.

Even a cursory acknowledgement of the history of the country and the region, where “empires” were almost as numerous as the sands of the Sahara, suggests the injection of thousands of foreign troops will do little to settle historical geographic, ethnic and linguistic divides, which have been sharpened by the involvement, or more accurately, accentuation of extreme Islamic theology.

During the colonial period, formalized in 1892, the region was called French Sudan and, at various iterations, was inclusive of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali. In the north, it overlapped with the southern regions of Algeria with easy, uncontrolled connections into Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.

Some will suggest our Afghanistan experience was unique but in doing so we easily forget the beginnings of African peacekeeping in 1960 in the Congo. More are dying today than when the area was the personal fiefdom of the King of the Belgians.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this commentator is correct. The Sahel region is headed for a war, and it makes absolutely no difference at all whether MINUSMA or Barkhane are operating there. The peacekeeping forces are provided for humanitarian reasons, also the reason given by the UK government for supporting last weekend’s missile strike on Syria’s chemical weapons plants. AFP and Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen

Thousands of Mali refugees flee into Burkina Faso to escape ethnic violence

In a completely separate region of Mali, a separate crisis is brewing, with thousands of Malians fleeing to neighboring Burkina Faso to escape a growing ethnic conflict that has killed dozens of people in the last month, destroying homes and other property.

The reasons for the clashes are very familiar since I’ve written about the same issues occurring in country after country.

The two ethnic groups the Dogons, who are farmers, versus the Peuls or Fulani, who are herders. The two ethnic groups may be able to coexist peacefully for years, but as populations grow, the farmers extend the farms, and the herders demand more grazing land and water for their cattle. Since the amount of available land is the same, no matter what the population, clashes result, often leading to war.

Conflicts between herders and farmers are common in many countries, and I have described them in Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, and even America in the 1800s. Athe s population grows, the farmers accuse the herders of letting the cattle eat their crops, while the herders accuse the farmers of planting on land that’s meant for grazing. If the farmers put up fences, then the herders knock them down.

UN officials are becoming alarmed over the growing refugee crisis. In just a few weeks since mid-February, some 3,000 people have already fled across the border into Burkina Faso. The new arrivals add to some 24,000 Malian refugees who have found refuge in Burkina Faso since the start of the Mali conflict in 2012. UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) and Reuters and AFP (20-June-2017)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Mali, Timbuktu, Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission, MINUSMA, France, Operation Barkhane, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, JNIM, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim, Ansaroul Islam, GSIM, Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, Canada, Germany, Burkina Faso, Dogons, Peuls, Fulanis
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