Recently, Mali has become quite the hotspot for terrorist activity. In late February, two attacks were carried out against the European mission’s base in Kuolikoro. In April, attackers killed 12 Malian soldiers, and recently in May, another wave of attacks killed 18 people.
This increase in terrorism over the last few years is the main reason international organizations continue to have a presence in the country.
The following uses the Global Terrorism Database for reference and analyzes all terrorist activity in the country over the last ten years, as well as the country’s security issues.
Mali is located in West Africa and has a total population of eighteen million people. It is the third major gold producer worldwide and has significant deposits of uranium, diamonds and other gemstones, according to WorldAtlas. Also, 80% of their exports are dependent on cotton and gold.
In January 2012, militias joined the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and rose against the government. As the name suggests, the group seeks the independence of the Azawad region (central and northern Mali).
The MNLA took control of central and northern Mali and in the same year the country experienced a coup d’etat by Cpt. Sanogo.
The conflict caused massive displacements. In 2013, the government requested international assistance, leading to France deploying soldiers into the country.
As a consequence of the political instability and the central location, Mali has become a transit hub for different types of trafficking, such as weapons or drugs, which later flows into Europe.
As seen in the map below, the trafficking routes start from the western African coast, go through Mali into Algeria or Morocco and lastly into Europe. Trafficking consists mainly of drugs, but also includes weapons.
Due to security issues and violence in the last few years, migration and human trafficking have increased in the area.
Over 12,000 migrants arrived into Europe from West Africa solely in 2017. The main reasons to migrate are due to economic opportunities and/or security issues. The routes are dangerous and migrants face not only natural adversities but also armed groups and human trafficking.
If starting from the western African coast, the migration route crosses a large portion of Mali into Niger, then into Libya to finally navigate the Mediterranean towards Europe.
There are two main international missions in Mali: 1) the EUTM Mali by the European Union, and 2) Minusma by the United Nations.
European Union Training Mission Mali (EUTM Mali)
EUTM Mali started in 2013 in order to train Malian forces. This comes after a series of violent incidents and revolts throughout the country since 2012. France was the first country to send troops to Mali under Operation Serval.
Since then, twenty-five European countries have maintained a presence in Mali, training their soldiers and performing patrols.
“The mission was born in 2013 to respond to the need to strengthen the capabilities of the Malian Armed Forces, with the ultimate result being self-sustaining armed forces capable of contributing to the defense of their population and territory.”EUTM Mali Mission
The mission’s main objectives are:
- To improve Mali’s Armed Forces;
- Contribute to political stabilization;
- Support the restoration of state control and rule of law in Mali;
- Support the G5 Sahel to strengthen regional cooperation, and combat terrorism and illegal trafficking of any kind.
Minusma by the United Nations
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, also known as Minusma, is the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country. The mission was established in 2013 and its main objectives are to “support political processes in that country and carry out a number of security tasks.”
Currently, over 13 000 soldiers deployed in Mali from the organization as of this year. Some activities include policing and protecting civilians. Soldiers can also be called upon to monitor a disputed area, provide security across a conflict zone and oversee the implementation of peace agreements.
Analysis on Terrorism
Who is the Main Terrorist Group in Mali?
The main terrorist organization in Mali is called Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (“Group to Support Islam and Muslims”), also known as JNIM. This group was founded in 2017 as a merger between four terrorist organizations that pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.
Their ideology is Salafi-Jihadist oriented, and their objective is to establish a Salafi-Islamist state in the region. Moreover, they mainly operate in Mali but also have a presence in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, and other surrounding countries.
Global Terrorism Database 2018
Mali experienced a rise in terrorist attacks in 2011. Each year since then, the number of attacks per year increased rapidly, peaking in 2015, and slightly falling in 2016.
Nevertheless, in 2017 the attacks rose again, reaching over 140 attacks. So far, 2017 has been the most violent year for Mali since 2011.
In addition, compared to neighboring countries, Mali’s situation is drastically worsening. Burkina Faso is also seeing a rise of terrorism, yet not at the scale of Mali.
Still, this does not mean that Mali is doing very bad regionally speaking. Nigeria is by far the country that experienced the most terrorist attacks in West Africa, counting over 700 entries in the database.
As seen in the map below, the attacks are concentrated in central and northern Mali. It also shows the dispersion of attacks throughout the years. The rise of terrorist attacks coincides with the beginning of the armed unrest in 2012.
Furthermore, the merger and creation of JNIM in 2017 created a wave of violence. This is crucial as the four groups that merged seem to operate in a more organized manner, which can explain the increase of attacks in many parts of Mali.
Additionally, the concentration of attacks at the center of the country concurs with the borders of the Azawad region, which comprises Tombouctou, Gao, and Kidal. As a side note, the Azawad region is rich in resources.
Attack and Target Types
The most common attacks in the span of ten years were bombings/explosions, armed assaults, and kidnappings.
The most attacked targets are military assets/personnel, government/diplomatic buildings and staff, and private property.
We have to keep in mind that a successful terrorist attack should attract local/international mass media, hence the targets.
The conflict in Mali of 2012 left fertile ground for militias and terrorist organizations to grow in the region. The instability gave them enough space and time to gain ground, and even merge into a big single organization.
The predominant group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, meaning that ISIL (Daesh) will have a hard time re-surging in the area. Nonetheless, this does not mean that it cannot happen. Daesh has a filial in the region, the ISGS, and there are several actors that also seek to establish an Islamic state.
Furthermore, Mali still does not have the levels of terrorism that we see in Nigeria, yet it is on the rise. The presence of the international community certainly helps to reduce the number of attacks.
According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), Mali ranks 22nd when measuring the impact of terrorism; as a comparison, the US ranks 20th.
Alongside the inner conflict, terrorism in Mali seems to be increasing each year. It is going to take a great effort from the Malian government and the international community to stabilize the country and ultimately reduce terrorism.