Ethnic Massacres in the Sahel

BERLIN/OUAGADOUGOU/BAMAKO (Own report) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced the expansion of German military activities in the Sahel. During her trip to the region - which began Wednesday in Burkina Faso and following her visit to the troops in Gao, northern Mali, will end today in Niger - Merkel declared that the Bundeswehr will dispatch another advisory group to Burkina Faso, boosting its presence in the Sahel. The EU should intensify its support of the "G5 Sahel" intervention force. Berlin - which participates with 850 soldiers in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) - is also discussing the possibility of changing MINUSMA's mandate from northern to central Mali, because the previously calm security situation has dramatically deteriorated. Massacres of members of the Peul language community have been reported, some of which were carried out with the involvement of Malian soldiers. The massacres are now spreading to Burkina Faso and experts warn that the clashes could escalate into a full-fledged ethnic war.

Deployment in Northern Mali

Six years after the arrival of the Bundeswehr, the situation in Mali is deteriorating. The UN MINUSMA force, mainly deployed in thed northern part of country to monitor the cease-fire between the civil war parties has grown to almost 15,500 soldiers and police officers. The nearly 850 Bundeswehr soldiers are deployed mainly in GAO, at the eastern Niger bend. MINUSMA is known as the UN's far most dangerous mission, with nearly 200 casualties, almost half of all UN blue helmets ever killed in combat. As the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) recently confirmed, among the population, MINUSMA blue helmets are quite unpopular also due to their "passivity," because they "place their own security above that of civilians." In fact, around 80 per cent of MINUSMA's military resources are devoted to "securing its own infrastructure and the convoys on which the mission depends to supply its bases."[1]

Clashes in Central Mali

For some time, the security situation has been deteriorating, particularly in the center of the country, which had been spared from armed conflicts, when the Bundeswehr was first deployed in 2013. The region of Mopti in central Mali is particularly destabilized through an increase of massacres motivated by the traditional competition between peasants and herders over the scarce farmland and pastures. Over the past few years, these have escalated due to the increasing drought. The herders are mainly members of the Peul (also Fulani/Fulbe) speaking community - a minority in Mali, which is occasionally the object of government discrimination. It has been noted, that since 2015, jihadis have been able to recruit individual Peuls. Other language groups, who have accused the entire Peul minority of collaborating with jihadis, are forming militias and attack Peul groups and villages. Frequently, Mali's armed forces side with those fighting the Peuls in this escalating conflict.[2]


At the same time, ethnic-motivated massacres are increasing - also at the hands of Mali's military, which had been also trained by German soldiers, within the framework of EUTM Mali. Within the framework of the EUTM mission, nearly 170 Bundeswehr personnel are currently stationed in Mali. In June 2018, Malian troops carried out a raid in the vicinity of Mopti, arrested specifically members of the Peul linguistic group, and abducted. All 25 were later found shot-to-death in three mass graves. ( reported.[3]) Over the past few months, the number of murders by arson in the area surrounding Mopte has further increased. In Koulogon, to the southeast of Mopti, at least 37 Peul were massacred on January 1 by a militia from a another linguistic group. Another militia murdered at least 160 Peul, including numerous children, in Ogossagou, also southeast of Mopte and burned down the buildings of the village.[4] According to the United Nations, last year, altogether, around 600 people were killed in the region, where the government authorities are continuing their withdrawal. Only 30 - 40 percent of the territorial administration is still operating. Observers are warning that this could become a full-blown ethnic war.

Across the Border

The fighting has long since spread across the border from Mali to Burkina Faso and Niger. For example, it is reported that in northern Burkina Faso, close to Mali's border, the Peuls are suffering "mortal stigmatization." Also here, the stigmatization is based on the false allegation that the Peuls are jihadi collaborators. As in Mali, militias of other linguistic groups are forming to attack Peul communities, murdering large numbers of their residents. It was reported, for example, that militias slaughtered dozens, possibly 200 Peul, in January 2019 in the Yirgou community in northern Burkina Faso.[5] Following an assumed jihadi attack killing 14, in February, Burkinabe militaries report to have "neutralized" 146 "terrorists," in the vicinity of the community of Kain, near the Malian border. Investigations by the "Mouvement burkinabe des droits de l'Homme et des peuples" (MBDHP) human rights organization, found that 60 of those "neutralized" had merely been residents of various communities of the area, who had been arbitrarily executed. Based on their names, the MBDHP could identify a large number of the people the military had killed, as being from the Peul community.[6] The MBDHP now warns that this could lead to an uncontrolled escalation of ethnic slaughter.

Change the Mandate

In light of the catastrophic development, a change of mission priorities is now being discussed in Berlin. It would "make sense [for MINUSMA] to reduce its military footprint in the northern sector in favour of increased engagement in the Mopti region," proposes, for example the SWP - after all, "the UN military force has hardly been present in central Mali."[7] However, the SWP openly admits that MINUSMA is "able to slow rather than stop the universally acknowledged deterioration of the security situation, much less redress it."

Germany's Military Presence

In spite of this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that Germany and the EU's military presence will be expanded. For example, at their meeting with their "G5 Sahel" counterparts (from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) the Union's foreign and defense ministers will decide new measures of support for the "G5 Sahel" intervention force.[8] Berlin is earmarking €10 million for equipping Burkina Faso's police and gendarmerie. The Bundeswehr will also send a group of advisors to train the Burkinabe military.[9] With its participation in MINUSMA and EUTM Mali, the Bundeswehr already has a base at the airport of the Nigerien capital Niamey, where 70 German soldiers are stationed. This base serves primarily as a transshipment point for the MINUSMA mission in northern Mali. The Bundeswehr is also participating in the non-military EUCAP Sahel Mali and the EUCAP Sahel Niger, which are basically training missions for the police and gendarmerie. As combat escalates, the concentration of the presence of German police and military in the Sahel has been steadily increasing.


[1] Denis M. Tull: VN-Peacekeeping in Mali. Anpassungsbedarf für das neue Minusma-Mandat. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 23. Berlin, April 2019.

[2], [3] See also The Human Rights Teachers.

[4] Jean-Hervé Jezequel: Centre du Mali: enrayer le nettoyage ethnique. 25.03.2019.

[5] Sophie Douce: Au Burkina Faso, les Peuls victimes d'une stigmatisation meurtrière. 04.02.2019.

[6] Burkina: Le MBDHP Dénonce Des Exécutions Sommaires À Kain. 14.03.2019.

[7] Denis M. Tull: VN-Peacekeeping in Mali. Anpassungsbedarf für das neue Minusma-Mandat. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 23. Berlin, April 2019.

[8] See also Die Militarisierung des Sahel and Die Militarisierung des Sahel (III).

[9] Helene Bubrowski: Auf der Suche nach einem besseren Leben. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.05.2019.