More Military for the Sahel (II)

German Bundestag decides today on Mali troop deployment expansion. Experts criticize continued militarization of Sahel conflicts.

BERLIN/BAMAKO/OUAGADOUGOU (Own report) - With today's decision to extend and expand the Bundeswehr's deployment in Mali, Berlin is once again boosting the region's militarization. The attempt to defeat Sahel insurgents and jihadis by force has been a failure since troops from Germany and other European countries began their mission in Mali in 2013. Since then, the war has been spreading because of socio-economic conflicts - first in Central Mali, then in Burkina Faso at Mali's southeastern border. Instead of taking preventive action with resolute economic support, Germany and other EU powers have continued to militarize the conflict. This has simply made matters worse, and only helped push the region closer to the brink of the abyss, experts note in view of developments leading to a growing number of ethnically motivated massacres in several Sahel countries. It was a European war, in the first place, that lit the spark to armed conflict in Mali.

Europe Facilitates the War

European powers facilitated the outset of war in the Sahel. When in January 2012 Tuareg militiamen launched an uprising in northern Mali, the conflict situation was not really new: the region had experienced tensions and revolts already in earlier years. However, this time, experienced Tuareg militias, who had previously been employed in Libyan units, were among the insurgents. They had lost their jobs and returned to northern Mali because of the War against Libya launched in 2011 primarily by France and Great Britain, with the participation of German soldiers on NATO's staffs.[1] Before their return, they were able to plunder the huge arsenals, which, following the war-induced collapse of the Libyan state, were no longer under any control. This time, the Tuareg could resort to more powerful and better armed combatants than previously. They quickly succeeded in establishing their rule over large sectors of northern Mali, which aided jihadis to take control of other parts of this vast region. If European powers would not have attacked and destroyed Libya, creating thereby a new potential for violence, war possibly could have been avoided in Mali - as throughout the years before - or at least be limited to local uprisings.

Europe Militarizes the Sahel

European troops have been deployed in Mali since early 2013, when jihadis threatened to take over the entire country. Since then they have been expanding the Sahel's militarization - through armed counterinsurgency, as practiced particularly by French armed forces, but also through the training of local soldiers with help of the Bundeswehr. It soon became evident that the militarization of the conflict had only led to its escalation. And after little more than two years MINUSMA, the UN mission in northern Mali, had become the UN Blue Helmets' most dangerous deployment ever. By October 2015, MINUSMA counted 56 casualties, the number of internally displaced persons within Mali had clearly exceeded 100,000, while more than 130,000 inhabitants had fled across the border to neighboring countries.[2] MINUSMA had also become the target of fierce popular protests. Its troops were being attacked with stones and incendiary devices; and demonstrators had tried to storm a UN military base on several occasions.[3]

Socio-Economic Causes of the Conflict (I)

While European powers and the EU continued to militarize the situation in Mali, by 2015, at the latest, the next conflict was crystallizing in the center of the country. That conflict was social and could possibly have been avoided, had the Europeans not had a military focus on the Sahel. In Central Mali - due to global climate change - the drought was perceptibly spreading with the available arable and grazing areas shrinking. In the region around the central Malian city of Mopti, Aid organizations report that around half of the villages have been affected by the shrinkage of the farming and grazing areas.[4] This gives rise to the traditional farmers vs. herders rivalry escalating into violence. The primarily economic conflict could have possibly been mitigated with resolute support programs at the outset. In the meantime, however, due to the fact that the herdsmen are mainly from the Fulani linguistic group, this rivalry is developing into an ethnic conflict with recurring massacres. In one of the bloodiest, 160 Fulani were slaughtered on March 23, 2019 in Ogossagou, which lies southeast of the central Malian city, Mopti. ( reported.[5])

Socio-Economic Causes of the Conflict (II)

The war's rapid spread, since 2015, to Mali's southeastern neighbor, Burkina Faso, also has socio-economic causes. A decade ago, the Islamist preacher Malam Dicko, with his sharp criticism of the country's petrified hegemonic structures, was able to rally a large following, particularly among the country's poor. The International Crisis Group, a western dominated think tank, described in an analysis his development to jihadism and the radicalization of some of its followers. Armed attacks and raids carried out by this spectrum have been multiplying since late 2016. (Dicko died in May 2017.) Also in Burkina Faso, the conflict is beginning to acquire an ethnic component, due to the fact that Dicko's followers are mostly from the Fulani group.[6] Their services have long since been recruited by jihadis from other ethnic groups. Between April 2019 and the beginning of January 2020, Human Rights Watch has documented more than 200 jihadi killings in Burkina Faso.[7] Retaliatory violence is also escalating. In the Sahel, Burkina Faso's Yirgou Massacre, where Mossi-speaking militias killed a minimum of 49 and up to 210 Fulani in early January 2019, is about as notorious as Mali's Ogossagou Massacre.[8]

"War Merely Exacerbates the Misery"

In Burkina Faso, like in Mali, European powers have also neglected to apply resolute economic aid programs to prevent the escalation of the conflict. They have instead systematically been boosting the militarization of Mali's neighbor - initially through attempts to create a "G5 Sahel" intervention force ( reported [9]), seeking to incorporate Burkina Faso's military forces, and by establishing a transnational area of operations. The rebellions and massacres in Burkina Faso are mainly in the border regions to Mali and Niger. That has only escalated the conflict. The number of civilian casualties resulting from terrorism and counterinsurgency in Burkina Faso increased from 173 in 2018 to 1,295 in 2019.[10] "The counter-insurgency campaign risks exacerbating the very factors that plunged the country into this predicament" warns the International Crisis Group - the poverty and misery in the rural regions bordering Mali and Niger.[11]

Europe Militarizes Even More

The warnings have fallen on deaf ears. At the beginning of this year, Burkina Faso’s parliament voted to provide funding and training to local vigilantes in response to the growing firepower of insurgents and jihadi groups.[12] Experts warn that this could incite more ethnic massacres. At the same time, the German government decided not only to enlarge the German contingent within the EUTM Mali framework, but also to extend its deployment - ultimately to Burkina Faso. Berlin is thus again relying on a further militarization of the conflagration in the Sahel. Based on previous experience not only in that region, the futility of this move is predictable. Today, the Bundestag formally decides on the expansion of the Bundeswehr deployment in the Sahel.


[1] See also The Three-Stage Berlin Process.

[2] See also Ins nächste Kriegsgebiet.

[3] Mali: quatre manifestants tués lors de manifestations contre la MINUSMA à Gao. 28.01.2015.

[4] Central and Northern Mali Emergency Response. Situation Report. October 2019. 31.10.2019. See also Deutschlands Interventionsbilanz (II).

[5] See also Ethnic Massacres in the Sahel.

[6] International Crisis Group: The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso's North. Africa Report No. 254. Brussels, 12 October 2017.

[7] Burkina Faso: Armed Islamist Atrocities Surge. 06.01.2020.

[8] Lamine Traoré: Au moins 210 morts lors du massacre du 1er janvier, selon un collectif. 04.02.2019.

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

[10] In the news: Burkina Faso shows almost 650% increase in civilian conflict deaths. 27.02.2020.

[11] International Crisis Group: Burkina Faso: Safeguarding Elections amid Crisis. Commentary. 28 January 2020.

[12] Burkina Faso approves state backing for vigilantes fighting jihadists. 22.01.2020.

[13] See also Mehr Militär für den Sahel (I).