Interpeace-IMRAP Report - 2016
Local Analysis of Dynamics and Resilience in the Koro-Bankass Zone
More than the inevitable pressure on resources, it is the inability to guarantee fair arbitration of access to these resources that really appears to be at the heart of the situation of conflict in the Mopti zone.
Analysts’ conclusions differ over the cause of these conflicts. While the Centre for Human Dialogue highlights the stigmatisation of the Fulani community and "the existence of a clearly thought out and coherent Jihadist plan in central Mali [which] is being implemented and consolidated over time", International Crisis Group (ICG) and the Groupe d’information et de recherche sur la paix et la sécurité (GRIP – the Peace and Security Information and Research Group) view many of the violent acts as "a settling of scores", which are "the actions of mere predators without a coherent political agenda, sometimes making use of a religious argument" although with a deeper motivation, "that of rendering justice".
What is not in doubt is that socio-demographic and climatic change has heightened the pressure and the competition for these resources. However, even more than the scarcity of such resources, it is the perceived lack of even-handedness in the arbitration and governance of access to them and the feelings of injustice that stem from this which appear to fuel the situation of conflict the most. This feeling of injustice and the perceived absence of any means of recourse is generally stronger among the herder communities, which believe that the system favours the settled communities, to their disadvantage. The underlying core element thus appears to be the question of who is the traditional land chief or authority over other resources (water, forestry, etc.).
The driving force behind the conflicts is believed to be less about the possibility for the various parties to conduct their respective affairs in peace and more to do with their ability to make the rules of the game and the judicial decisions work in their favour. There is a group that is historically dominant and those that are more "recent" arrivals feel that they are being excluded and have very little recourse. These power structures are therefore crucial to understanding the local dynamics determining competition for resources and the relationships between different villages, groups and/or communities.
To take the view that the problem is the absence of State authority and of the Defence and Security Forces (FDS), leaving the people to their own devices and to the mercy of Jihadist groups and bandits, is too simplistic. The presence of the FDS is often seen by part of the population as being a cause for concern rather than a guarantee of safety. The communities have made accusations of arrests viewed as arbitrary and humiliating.
While the restoration of State involvement – and notably that of the security services – is indeed something the people wish for, many of them have set up vigilante squads to guarantee their own security, while others have direct recourse to or give their support to self-defence groups or even armed groups. While most of these vigilante groups have been set up for people to protect themselves in a situation of conflict with another village or community, people’s recourse to armed groups in the zone may also have the goal of protecting themselves from and/or taking revenge on the FDS.
In the opinion of most observers, the increase in tensions, the scarcity of economic opportunities and the proliferation of arms in the Mopti area are all reasons likely to encourage young people to opt for models of success based on violence and trafficking. Most of the political and media discourse, along with many analyses of conflicts in the Mopti region view these armed youths as terrorist groups operating according to a Jihadist plan. The local people themselves frequently employ the term "Jihadist", appearing to confirm these conclusions. This terrorist argument does not necessarily reflect the true situation in the Koro-Bankass area however.
In-depth discussion with the people concerned has helped to clarify the fact that the term "Jihadist" is used almost synonymously with that of "bandits", the distinction between these two descriptions being concerned not with any ideological aspect, but more with a geographic element. In fact, the term "bandit" refers to armed individuals, usually from the local area, carrying out various crimes, while the "Jihadists" involved in the same types of offences are generally viewed as being outsiders. So, the description "Jihadist" could be translated as "bandit from far away". This realisation highlights a considerable divide between analyses, leading theories and reality as experienced by inhabitants on the ground.