The massacre of at least 160 Peul (Fulani) in the village of Ogossagou in the southern Mopti Region in late March constituted the largest single killing in Mali since the French military intervention in 2013 and brought the civilian death toll in Mopti Region to more than 600 since March 2018.
The village was attacked by about 100 armed men who are alleged to be members of Dan Na Ambassagou (a.k.a. Dozos) — an association of traditional Dogon hunters — which was created in December 2016. The massacre was brutal. Some were shot but most were killed with ‘cold steel’ — machetes and knives — with some being burnt alive and even dismembered. Two days later, six inhabitants of two Dogon villages — Ouadou and Kere Kere in the same Bankass district — were killed in a retaliation attack.
The Dozos were originally hunting associations that were responsible for the management of bush spaces around the villages. The current groups have been largely diverted from this primary function to become paramilitary groups. They have acquired sophisticated military equipment including heavy weapons and bulletproof vests whose provenance remains unknown. They have established bases in the region’s towns and villages despite the full knowledge of the Malian authorities. These armed groups say they are mobilising to protect their communities and to fill the gaps of the Malian security forces in the face of the growing jihadist groups.
The Dan Na Ambassagou militia is often accused of responsibility for the attacks against Peul populations in Central Mali. This latest massacre is the culmination of the violence which has led to allegations of ethnic cleansing. In between these killings there have been retaliatory attacks on Dogon communities, albeit usually with a lower number of deaths.
The Dozos have an ambiguous relationship with the Malian security forces. When Dan Na Ambassagou was created in 2016 some of Mali’s regional political and military authorities tolerated and even encouraged its development. The hope was that the militia would help curb the advance of the jihadist groups into central Mali where the State has been, and continues to be, vulnerable.
The political and military authorities were then overwhelmed by the activity of these groups which quickly took advantage of their position to settle inter-communal accounts and establish their influence in local areas.
The withdrawal of the state from much of northern and now central Mali has allowed these community groups and their militias to assert themselves.
This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahel region. Select here to request your sample copy.