Local conflict and the call for justice in Mali

Local conflict and the call for justice. Mali National Report
[ version française ]

Research managers
National report
Isaie DOUGNON, professor of anthropology at the University of Bamako

Field survey
Boukary SANGARÉ, anthropologist and PhD candidate at Leiden University (Netherlands) and the University of Bamako


Study areas
This study collecting perceptions about insecurity and violent extremism has been conducted in three border areas of Mali where insecurity and religious extremism have dramatically increased over the past decade. In Gao region, interviews were conducted in Gao, Ménaka, Andéramboukane, Ansongo, Ouattagouna and Labbezanga. In Mopti region, interviews were conducted in Mopti, Koro, Mondoro, Boulekessi, Boni and Douentza. And finally, in Timbuktu region, interviews were conducted in Timbuktu, Niafunké, Gourma Rharous and Gossi.

The populations of the three regions name starvation, unemployment, livestock theft, the circulation of small arms, poverty, disease, injustice, the crisis of traditional and state authority, corruption, and the continuing degradation of ecosystems as forms of insecurity which drive the young people who live in border regions to violent radicalism.

State and citizenship, religion and identity
All of the people surveyed consider themselves to be Malian citizens and some say they have administrative documents (an identity card, a NINA biometric voting card). Islam is considered a local ‘tradition.’ State laws must reflect the principles of Islam, which is the religion of the majority. It must not defend secularism, which has been imported from outside the country.

Inter-communal and cross-border dynamics
As for inter-communal and cross-border dynamics, the disadvantages highlighted by the respondents in the study are the following: the deterioration of nomad-sedentary, nomad-nomad and nomad- state relationships; the deterioration of relations between people of both sides of the border; and finally the proliferation of self-defense militias, some of whose members turn into bandits. The three regions share similar features with respect to the first three themes listed above, yet their situation differ with respect to radicalization processes. For cultural and historical reasons, Timbuktu faces less problems of radicalization than Gao and Mopti. The city of Timbuktu is seen as a racially and culturally diverse centre where Islamic scholars are well established and still exert significant moral influence on the youth.

Radicalization: clues and process
In analyzing the perceptions of respondents, five drivers of radicalization can be identified: the opportunity to settle old accounts; access to weapons to protect oneself and one’s property; the opportunity to find a job; a strategy for avoiding sharia (Islamic law); and appeal to young talibés (Quranic students) who want to, or have, become fanatics.

The role of women and young people
Young people are seen as both the principal actors in, and victims of, the crisis. They are the most attracted to weapons. According to several testimonies, unemployed youth have been recruited by promises of regaining lost dignity, making easy profits or taking revenge. Some have been forced to join jihadist groups by pressure from their peers. Many have been attracted to the rebellion for money or promises of integration into the civil service as soon as the peace agreement is signed with the government in Bamako. As for women, they are seen as both the victims and the solution to violent extremism. The unrest due to rebellion and violent extremism has had the greatest impact on women. They have been raped, forced into marriages and abused in various ways. However, they are very active in the fight against violent extremism. They aim to bring back security and inter-communal cohesion by advising and raising awareness among youth and extremist religious leaders.

Avenues for reflection
Addressing the immense challenge relating to insecurity in the border areas of Mali requires a new concept of insecurity which focuses on ordinary people; the local population.

For 50 years, security was based on the state and its coercive forces. However, taking into account the popular perceptions collected during this study leads to the following avenues for further relfection:

  • Reinforce the intellectual and religious authority of the Imams and scholars of Timbuktu; o Find a lasting solution to inter-ethnic conflict;
  • Restore equality between groups;
  • Create jobs for young people and women;
  • Empower women as peacemakers; o Bring the courts and traditional law closer together;
  • Bring the security forces closer to the people;
  • Strengthen and energize the process of inclusive decentralization.


1. The political context of insecurity
2. Secular state – or secular society ?
3. On being a citizen of a secure state
4. Islam, foundation of social and political identity

1. The border zones as spaces of human and material mobility
2. Borders as areas of competition and inter-ethnic disputes
Intra-border conflicts between pastoralists and the sedentary
Cross-border conflicts between nomads
3. Internal and external solutions to inter-ethnic conflicts

1. The ‘jihadists of God’
2. The ‘jihadists of money’ and social success
3. Timbuktu’s cultural resistance to Islamic extremism

1. Women as victims and solutions
2. Young people–actors in, and victims of, violent radicalism



[ top ]