Violence worsens in Mali, epicenter of jihadism in the Sahel: “They have killed as animals are killed” | International
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The image of a child with his throat cut appears on the mobile screen. “They killed him like animals are killed,” Ahmed tells us as he holds the phone in the gloom of the tent built with adobe and tarps. The boy lies on the ground half covered with a green blanket. The cut part of the neck reveals a black mass with spots of dried blood. He appears to be between eight and ten years old. “They killed many more, including babies,” adds the man, “that’s why we left Mopti,” a city about 600 kilometers northeast of Bamako. He tells the story of himself in the displaced persons camp, where more than 1,000 people live, one of 12 around the Malian capital. Victims of the conflict that the African country has suffered for more than ten years continue to arrive at these settlements.
The largest of these fields, about 14 kilometers from the center of Bamako, stands on a garbage dump. This welcomes more than 3,700 people, 650 families, but this number is increasing. “A few days ago, two more families arrived fleeing the violence,” explains the local coordinator chosen by the displaced, who goes by his first name, Bakar. Around them, hundreds of shacks, made of plastic and sticks, are built on the ground itself. It is the rainy season and its inhabitants live and sleep in a mudflat. The paradox is that this place provides these people with what is often their only livelihood: the garbage from the city, which the displaced women collect and sell.
“The vast majority of these displaced people come from the Mopti region, where they are attacked by jihadist groups and by other groups, these ethnically based,” continues Bakar, sitting in the shack that serves as a classroom for the children who live in the dump. Mopti, at the crossroads that divides north and south Mali, was a tourist destination before violence drove away visitors. The Mopti region is today the one that deplores the most terrorist attacks in the country, along with Gao and Menaka.
In 2022, Mali has “recovered its place as the epicenter of the crisis” in the Sahel, according to the NGO ACLED. The scourge of jihadism throughout the region —and particularly in Mali— constitutes one of the main threats to European security. Only between April 1 and June 30, 2022, 317 civilians died in the conflict, according to the United Nations mission in the country (MINUSMA). The main perpetrators of this violence are the terrorist groups associated with the Islamic State in the Sahel or Al Qaeda, but they are not the only ones. Also the various militias and self-defense groups and the clashes between ethnic groups catalyzed by the identification of some of them, such as the Peul, with jihadism, have forced hundreds of thousands of Malians to flee their homes. In April, Mali, with 20 million inhabitants, already had more than 370,000 displaced people, the United Nations warned.
After two successive military coups d’état, in 2020 and 2021, the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group who arrived in the country at the hands of the military junta chaired by Colonel Assimi Goïta have joined this multiplicity of executioners. These paid soldiers have carried out massacres such as the one in Moura, where the Malian and Russian soldiers massacred more than 300 civilians on suspicion that they had collaborated with terrorist groups. The presence in Mali of these mercenaries considered the paramilitary arm of the Kremlin and the closeness of the Malian regime with Moscow have led France and the European Union to withdraw this summer two military missions intended to support the country’s Army: the French Barkhane and the European Takuba.
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“Look at the map. Only Bamako is in the green zone, the rest of the country is in the red zone. You can’t leave,” says Batian, a consultant who works on security issues for various international organizations. And ditch: “If you go to Kayes, change your hotel every day and do not stay more than one or two nights there.”
The trip to the place that deserves this warning, the city of Kayes, is part of a project of the Institute of Human Rights of Catalonia with the collaboration of the School of Culture of Peace, financed by the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation (ACCD) . The arrival by plane — by road it is no longer safe to arrive, says Batian — to the town evidences the context to which the consultant refers. Once you land in the former capital of the country, near the border with Senegal, soldiers armed with Kalashnikov rifles are seen at the runway accesses. The pilot does not stop the engines while the passengers descend. “Good luck and take care of yourselves,” says the airline’s Ukrainian flight staff to the only two targets on the flight. On July 2, two Red Cross workers, one local and the other Dutch, were killed in an attack in the region.
The airport is in the middle of nowhere, exposed to a possible attack like the one that, on July 22, targeted the Kati military base, 15 kilometers from the capital. The Katiba Macina, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, attacked that day with two car bombs the barracks where the president of Mali resides; or that of the 42 Malian soldiers who perished in another attack in Tessit on August 8.
The incidents are constant and getting closer. In Kayes, you can only visit cooperation projects located in the city. The authorities do not allow visitors to leave the city limits. Two of these projects are managed by the NGO Action Against Hunger and their purpose is to fight against malnutrition. This scourge, previously chronic in Mali, has spread under cover of violence.
The NGO’s projects are based in a health center and a wing of the Fousseyni Daou hospital. Both offer the same picture of women with children waiting for health workers to assess whether they are malnourished and treat them. Some have yellowish hair and skin. Dr. Sira, in charge of one of these projects — who also declines to reveal her full name — explains that the cause is malnutrition.
Unicef estimates that 27.1% of children under 5 years of age, 1.2 million, suffer from food insecurity. Of these, 300,000 are seriously malnourished. 34.3% of infant mortality in children under five in Mali is associated with malnutrition, but those who survive face an uncertain future due to the footprint left by poor nutrition in childhood. The first, the delay in growth, not only physical but also cognitive development. If not treated in time, these consequences can be irreversible.
The conflict in Mali has made it much more difficult to combat food shortages and extreme poverty suffered by 42.7% of the country’s population. Malnutrition also has a lot to do with the lack of drinking water, the poor hygienic conditions for preparing children’s food and the high prevalence of diseases whose prognosis is worse in children, such as malaria, diarrhea, measles. and respiratory infections.
“There is an access problem [a los alimentos] and of knowledge; the first, marked by the security situation, the second, by lack of good hygienic habits”, laments Dr. Samud, nutritional manager of the authorities in the region. And he concludes: “the solution is to raise awareness among the population, but for this we must guarantee their safety.”
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