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The violence in Mali is getting bloodier, but religion is not necessarily at its root

The massacre of Fulani in central Mali on 23 March marks a grave, new turn in the conflict. How did we get here? NUPI researchers Natasja Rupesinghe and Morten Bøås provide insight into possible reasons.
Foto: NTB/Scanpix
Foto: NTB/Scanpix

(The Broker): At dawn on Saturday 23 March 2019, a massacre occurred in Ogossagou, a Fulani village, in central Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso.

At least 153 people were killed and 73 injured. It is the single most brutal attack that has occurred since the conflict started in 2012, but also the latest in an ongoing deadly cycle of inter-communal violence in Mali that has spiralled downward fast during the past months. One act of violence has led to another, in each case with increased brutality and a higher number of victims. The question is what is behind this and can the violence be stemmed?

Escalating conflict, despite international efforts 

Mali descended into near collapse and violent conflict in 2012 following a Tuareg rebellion, a coup d’état, and the occupation of large parts of the country’s territory by jihadist insurgents.

The French operation Serval intervened in 2013, halting the advance of the jihadists southwards towards Bamako. This paved the way for the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, in 2013 and a peace accord that was signed in 2015 between a coalition of separatist Tuareg rebels, pro-government groups and the Malian state.

However, these efforts, as well as several other large international missions deployed to stabilize the country, have not led to improvements on the ground and security has deteriorated, especially in the central regions of Mali. One important reason for this is that the jihadist insurgents played no part in the peace negotiations, while they have a considerable presence and influence on the conflict.

Jihadist insurgencies spread to the centre

While international attention focused on implementing the fragile peace deal and stabilizing northern Mali, jihadist insurgencies re-grouped in rural areas of central Mali.

Since 2015, a more locally-orientated jihadist group, the Katiba Macina, led by the Fulani preacher Hamadoun Koufa, which is part of the al-Qaeda affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, has gained an increasing foothold in the region. Their ensuing campaign of violence against the state and international forces, and coercion and killing of non-collaborators in this part of Mali, triggered the retreat of the state, facilitating their expansion.

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This is the first paragraphs of an op-ed that was originally published by The Broker in April 2019. Read the entire op-ed (open access) here.


  • Africa
  • Humanitarian issues
  • Conflict
  • Fragile states
  • Migration
  • Insurgencies
  • Governance