Baba Aye discusses the failure of French and German peacekeepers in Mali and the real role they play, after almost one hundred people were killed in a Dogon village and Fulani are blamed for the attack
MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us. The violence in Mali seems to rage stronger and stronger despite the efforts of international peacekeeping forces. Last week, a village called Sobane Da was attacked and 95 people were killed. On the heels of that came another attack earlier where 135 people were killed. Now the villages were part— the first village that we talked about was part of the Dogon people in Mali. The other village was part of the Fulani group, which has itself been targeted by Dogon attacks recently, and vowed revenge. People think that’s the reason behind all this. It’s possible that this attack on Sobane Da was an act of vengeance, or it could be something else. The President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, visited the graves of victims and held this short speech.
MALIAN PRESIDENT IBRAHIM BOUBACAR KEITA There is something very abnormal happening. This Malian society, in the center of Mali, the relations between the communities we are talking about today with a lot of presuppositions, the Dogon and the Peul, have always lived in perfect harmony. And all those who today come out with suspicious theses on the inter-ethnic conflict, need to revise their copy. In any case, they should not throw oil on the fire. There is no inter-ethnic conflict. I say this very clearly. There is an increase of what we saw in the north, and what we continue to live in the north, which is looking to put on a mask, but they won’t surprise us because we know what it is about. And from the moment we know about a problem, the solution is very close.
MARC STEINER So why is Mali breaking down into this violence, then? Is it just another inter- ethnic conflict, or a religious conflict, or are there foreign interests at play here? And what the president said— how does that come into effect with all of this? Well, to discuss all this with us today, is Baba Aye. Baba Aye is Policy Officer for the Health and Social Service of Public Service International, a global trade union federation. He’s also Editor of the Socialist Worker in Nigeria and Contributing Editor of the Review of African Political Economy. And, Baba, welcome. Good to have you with us here on The Real News.
BABA AYE Thank you very much for having me, Marc. Good day.
MARC STEINER Good day. So you heard what the President of Mali said. And so, give us your analysis of what’s going on here and why, as I said to you earlier before we went on the air, in conversation with a Dogon man that we know, saying there was never a historic conflict between the two people— between the Peul and the Dogons. What’s your analysis of what’s going on here?
BABA AYE Thank you very much. I think it’s much more complicated than to see it as an ethnic or religious conflict between the Fulani, or Fula as they call it in that part of West Africa, on one hand and to the Dogon and Bambara people on the other hand. What you have are deeper economic, political, and environmental roots, because the semi-nomadic Fulani have lived in peace to a greater extent with the other ethnic groups for centuries. And we’re not talking only in Mali now. What you have is an institution that is sharpest in Mali and Nigeria, but that you have had sparks of across in Burkina Faso, in Ghana, and so on and so forth because the Fulani, the largest semi-nomadic ethnic group in the world with almost a 40 million population spread across almost all of West Africa— from Senegal, down to Chad, and into Central Africa in the Central African Republic— they have lived in harmony with pastoralist groups and with farmers. They are mainly pastoralists; that’s semi-nomadic. Now, what are the issues at stake in how this led to such a crisis, as we’ve seen, and the sharpening of conflict between these groups?
I’ll start from the environmental equation. That is partly, you see, you’ve had more clashes between pastoralists with the grazing of the animals and the farmers as—I mean, this is to drive home the fact that the climate crisis is real. It’s not a joking matter like in Lake Chad that you have, the lake being less than a tenth of what it was just some 60 years back. So this has contributed to exacerbating the situation, but the sharpening of it also with the politics. In 2012, the rebellion, the separatist politics of Tuareg, moving down from the north southwards down towards Bamako, contributed to what we are having now as a kind of vicious circle, and how is this? It is that the Dogon have been made to see the Fulanis have been supportive of the jihadists. Partly also by a government that surreptitiously does this in not being able to curtail the rampaging of the separatist forces, particularly between 2012 and 2015. So you have the Dogon organizing to fight back against what started, you could see, as the supposed involvement of the Fulani with the jihadists, but this also provided room for recruitment. You know, it’s like what you have in the office of Buhari in Nigeria, where the way and manner the insurgents we are taking on, you know, provided incentives for otherwise-would-not-have-been-interested youth to get recruited.
MARC STEINER So, I’m kind of going to look at the context of what you were saying here, I mean, you know, when you think of this conflict. In many ways, it was in 2013 when Francois Hollande, who was then the leader of France, [inaudible] and sent troops in 2013-2014. Thousands of troops went in and then German troops went in and joined these operations. And so, you know, so over the years of European deployment in Mali, and you had this, kind of, coupled with the attacks in Sobane Da and coupled with what you were describing as the environmental disaster that’s taking place throughout West Africa right now, which is exacerbating conditions. People are desperate, so how do these things feed into each other? What is it? Why do you think the Europeans are sending in so many troops to this point to West Africa, and these portions of West Africa like Mali, and what do you think is really going on here?
BABA AYE You see, I was commenting today. You see, the coming in particularly of France— we treated France’s Africa policy as one of the brashest frameworks of neocolonial relations with its ex-colonies— is simply for the resources of Mali, particularly uranium, which you have large reserves of in Mali and in Asia. And don’t forget— the electricity in France is some 70 percent true nuclear energy—
MARC STEINER And Mali has lots of uranium.
BABA AYE Exactly. You know, and so that’s why you have France playing such a role, but this has only exacerbated the situation there in so many ways because it has rather contributed to helping to fill the ranks of the insurgents with young men that feel that the French are coming in, as they’ve always been, to despoil the land, to take all their resources, and so on and so forth. So you have a vicious circle there. And the Fula, geographically, in terms of where those of them in villages in Mali are closer to, you know, the frontlines of the war between the secessionists and the government in Bamako. And so, all this plays—
MARC STEINER You’re talking about the Tuareg secessionist movement.
BABA AYE The Tuareg. Exactly, exactly. So all this contributes to the perception that then feeds into a sharpening of conflicts between to the Dogon and the Fulani—
MARC STEINER Could you talk a bit about—I’m sorry. I’m sorry about that.
BABA AYE It’s not just an ethnic issue. That is important to stress. It’s not strictly an ethnic conflict.
MARC STEINER So just for a minute, I want to explore two quick things before we have to end. One has to do with the Malian government itself and your analysis of that government, who they are, what they are. They cannot seem to control either the war with the Tuaregs, or the outbursts of violence that are taking place. There have been lots of reports of Malian troops inflicting torture and abusing people, especially among the Fulanis. So I’m just—Talk a bit about what’s the internal dynamic here? What is this Malian government?
BABA AYE Well, first and foremost as I said, the Francafrique politics is very strong. The Malian government, in this sense, sees its allegiance to the mother country as of greater importance than to its citizenry. I mean, it might talk to the contrary, but that is a simple fact of the strength of the umbilical cord it has in terms of being a neo-colony under France. It is also a government that has been inept and that, as you say, knocks knees. That is, unstable. You find this being absolutely demonstrated in April when Prime Minister Maiga and his entire cabinet had to resign because they could find no answers to the spate of continued insurgency. So it’s a weak government that’s has partly arrested militia forces, particularly from the Dogon even though both the government and the Dogon’s In God We Trust militia both deny this, but this is a statement of facts from what you can see on the ground. So each relies on this to try and give some semblance of being in charge, but that semblance of being in charge is at the cost of lives, that bleed, spilled by the militia. And then you have reprisal, and retaliatory attacks, and the cycle goes on and on and on. The government cannot address this, nor can it address the insurgency. It really has no answers to this, but it is just being propped up by the forces of the French and other European governments who have boots on the ground.
MARC STEINER I mean, so to conclude. You mean, what you’re describing here is a situation where the Malian government cannot handle what’s going on inside, for all the complex reasons you put out there. The French and Germans and other European former colonialists are there to, kind of, ensure this to try to keep some stability because they need the mineral wealth inside of West Africa. And then you also, on top of that, have the disaster of climate change and the desertification of much of West Africa. That also feeds into the people fleeing to go to Europe and other places because they can’t survive inside their own nations. Very quickly— where do you see this going? What can be done here?
BABA AYE [Sighs] Very good question. It’s—It’s a worrisome situation.
MARC STEINER Yeah.
BABA AYE But Mali has a rich working-class history and I think that this is a major challenge for the trade unions and the labor movement as a whole to provide the alternative as much as they can because failure to have this done could result into a descent into the abyss of an institution akin to Somalia, so to speak. And the fact of the matter is that, I mean, so long as uranium would keep being mined, imperialist forces really care less. You know, it’s the extent to which an implosion could affect the economic interest that could lead them to try to find some sort of Bonapartist solution to this, but which would not still be in the interest of the poor, working the masses of Mali.
MARC STEINER Well, Baba, I thank you for your work and thank you for joining us today. I look forward to your continuing commentary with us on what’s happening in Africa, especially West Africa.
BABA AYE Thank you very much.
MARC STEINER Thank you so much for your work and being with us today.
BABA AYE It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Marc. Cheers.
MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.