Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Le Front de Libération de Macina ?

 Mali is abuzz with a new concept:  The Macina Liberation Front,  purportedly a new terrorist organisation, referred to in a recent document published by Human Rights Watch who holds them responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in central Mali: the regions of Mopti and Segou. Malian press as well as RFI (Radio France Inter) has picked up on this, and the spin is in full spin as it were… The Independent (the Malian one, not the UK version) has the lurid headline: ‘Mopti,  the Venise of the North, in  a state of psychosis, last weekend’. (This may be slightly exaggerated, since I just spoke to a Mopti friend of mine who said she had never heard of it).
Nevertheless:  the hotel was nearly fully booked for the annual ‘crepissage’ of the Mosque this coming weekend, but one by one the reservations have been cancelled and now there are only two rooms left.  Most of the people that were supposed to come are diplomats, and they have all been reading various think tank reports  on these terrorist attacks which are supposed to be perpetuated by this new  extremist group ‘Le Front de Libération de Macina’, and embassies are issuing new prohibitions for travel to these regions.
Of course I, as a hotel owner in the region,  have every reason to play down something like this and I am aware that my opinion is unlikely  to be taken seriously . Nevertheless, I will add my little dissenting voice to the overwhelming clamour of the MINUSMA specialists and the Human Rights Watch people, who write their reports mostly from the safety and comfort of Bamako.

The facts are the following: reports of violence in the area of central Mali since January 2015 have increased in the region of Mopti and Segou, and localities such as Nampala, Tenenkou, Boulkessi, Dogofri and  Morha have been repeatedly attacked.

Ban Ki Moon has said in a recent statement: « an  intensification of  extremist activity has been signalled in the previously spared regions of Segou and Mopti.”

But his statement , those of RFI and of  all other commentators make the fundamental mistake of not pointing out - either by ignorance or by expedience- that the regions of Mopti and Segou have the geographical dividing line of the river Niger running through them:  all the large cities and administration centres are situated to the east of the river Niger and they  follow the main road leading to the north  i.e. Segou, San, Bla, Mopti, Djenné, Sevaré, Mopti. The eastern regions also include  the entire Dogon country. These are the regions that have 'been spared' and  they still are.
ALL of these attacks have been perpetuated to the west  of the river Niger.The western  parts of the regions of Segou a.d Mopti – that part which lies  towards the Mauritanian border have continued to be the target of attacks either by bandits or by elements that have fled from the northern extremist groups since the French dislodged them in 2013. This glaring fact has not been pointed out by any one of the commentators.  I would like to draw attention to my blogs of March 29 and 30 and April 1st 2013; ,(‘Murky Waters’, Attack on Mourha’)   amongst others which highlights this very problem. It is therefore not a new phenomenon, and it is misleading to describe it as such. Some of the commentators   are here on six  month contracts.   I boast the advantage of having observed, over the last years, from a position of central Mali, the events that unfold in close proximity to me.

Certain commentators have indicated that the local administration in these localities have fled and one source even mentioned that some prefects have withdrawn to  Djenné.  The truth is  that the Sou- Prefect of Morha (west of the Niger) did ‘withdraw’  to Djenné in order to report on the situation and on the recent violence in Morha to the Prefect here. He then returned to his post. The regions to the west of the Niger have had less of an administration  presence since colonial times. Certain of these localities such as Morha rely on the gendarmerie and the higher ranks of administration of larger localities on the eastern side of the river Niger to resolve many incidents (see blog 'Attack on Morha' 1st April 2013).

All this does not mean that there has not been an increase in violence: this part is unfortunately true. But please do label things properly! Please make the fundamental  distinction between  the east and west side of the river Niger: the river itself exercises a geographical barrier that is extremely important: the extremist groups are not waterborn- or have not been so far. No incidents have happened in the areas east of the river- this is because the terrorist elements are in the main not  local: they come from their hiding places towards the border of Mauritania, they do their destructive raids and then they disappear again into the wilderness- on the east side they would have nowhere to go.

And what about this mysterious ‘Front of the Liberation of Macina?’ Sekou Amadou Barry was the religious reformer whose  Fulani Empire of Macina  was established the region in the middle of the 19th century   with a religious fervor which can be described as the fore runner of today’s  extremist Islam . An iconoclast, he is responsible for the destruction of the Great Mosque of Djenné which  had stood here since the 14th century, but which was too ornate for his liking so he built another simpler one on a nearby site.  The present mosque was built on the ruins of the old and completed in 1907.

Think tank reports are seeing a connection between  a charismatic preacher, Hamadou Koufa, whose DAWA sect of Wahabi persuasion has links with Iyad Ag Ghali’s (above) Ançar Dine. They are suspected  to be the masterminds behind this ‘Front de Liberation de Macina’ which is  supposed to be made up of Fulani who hank for the return of the glory days of the 19th century when the Empire of Macina ruled their world. Is this true? ‘It is a compelling narrative,’ as a clever young diplomat friend in Bamako so trendily expressed it to me  the other day. Indeed, and it is possibly a scheme masterminded by the likes of Iyad ag Ghali as a means of whipping up support amongst a poor and disgruntled population.   And  there is apparently a small group of Fulani who have been recruited. But the present threat of this organisation is hugely exaggerated, and  whatever is going on right now it  is a stepping up of violence on the WESTERN shores of the Niger.
UPDATE 23 September 2015:
Since it seems that this blog post is still getting some readership, I feel it has to be edited. Although I still believe I was correct in my theory of the relative safety of the Eastern shores of the Niger at the time of the writing, this is of course  now sadly no longer true, and groups of bandits, sometimes claiming to be members of the Macina group,  are attacking civilians and military personnel in random locations in central Mali. 
There was also the destruction of Sekou Amadou Barry's mausoleum  at Hamdallay, a destructive act which was claimed by the Macina group: this at the time seemed contradictory: why should adherents to the group that reveres his memory destroy the  grave of their hero? But of course Sekou Amadou himself would have been against the buildings of mausoleums to revere the dead, but  he had no control over what happened to his own body once he died.

 As far as Djenné is concerned, it is still untouched by any violence, and this has been so since the beginning of the crisis. This does not prevent all the foreign office warning sites to place it well out of bounds for travel. UN personnel and the French Barkhane forces as well as all diplomats are forbidden to travel to Djenné although they are in Sevaré (site of the recent hotel siege) and in Mopti in great numbers. This remains a great mystery to everyone in Djenné and a great sadness to those in the tourism industry which is now non-existent for many years in Djenné, while many in the hotel and restaurant industry in places like Bamako, Sevaré and even Timbuktu are not only surviving but making an excellent living particularly from the affluent UN contingent.


Blogger David said...

Complex, yes. On a different note, I see that the BBC had a reporter and a photographer at this year's crepissage - good photos, but yours may be even better...

1:54 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

yes, David, Alex Duval-Smith was here, AND she also wrote an article about yours truly - Hotel and Malimali! Hopefully soon to come out in a new weekend edition of NEWSWEEK.C ya soooon!xxxS

3:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

Still want your report and pics.

9:05 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

OK David, here goes... new blog coming up. Sitting in Casablanca a1ll alone, so what better to do?

7:59 PM  
Blogger lucy said...

Any thoughts on the recent attack in the east, near Bankass? People are speculating that it was the Macina group. I'd be interested to hear what you think about this. Could this be the first of many more attacks in the east?

11:54 AM  

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