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Outlook for July—December 2017
Disclaimer: Although the situation in Mali does not perfectly fit ACAPS’ methodology of risk analysis, we are highlighting it because we can foresee a significant deterioration in the next six months.
Violence increased in 2015 and 2016 in central Mali (Mopti and Segou regions) and accelerated in 2017?. This is largely driven by the historical lack of state presence, and more recent spillover of the 2012 conflict in the north. Violent incidents include banditry, weapons trafficking, frequent clashes between armed herders and farmers, and attacks by Islamist armed groups on the Malian government, the army, and civilians believed to be cooperating Malian and international forces. The state’s presence continues to decline and armed groups’ capacity to perpetrate attacks is increasing. Violence in central regions of Mali is likely to intensify and spread further. With a population of 5.6 million in Mopti and Segou, five times the size of the north, this will have a large humanitarian impact. The border regions of Niger and Burkina Faso are also likely to experience a significant deterioration of the humanitarian situation.
Percentage of conflict events by region in Mali, 2016 and Jan – March 2017
Power vacuum and discontent
Violence in central Mali is driven by the state’s isolation of these regions, which has fueled resentment of the Malian state and encouraged people to join armed groups.
Economic and institutional challenges mean that the Malian state struggles to deliver public services throughout the whole country. It has historically allocated limited resources to northern and central regions of the country, which are economically important but highly vulnerable to frequent adverse weather conditions. Central regions have additionally suffered the consequences of armed opposition activity in other areas of the country notably the north. The Malian state has supported the creation of militia groups in central regions to counter this opposition, such as the Ganda Iso paramilitary group, which was founded in the mid-1990s in Gao, a northern region, but established training camps in Mopti region?. Other militias supporting the underfunded and inefficient Malian army then used these camps to develop their capacity, notably in Sevare in Mopti region?. The development of local militias, encouraged by the Malian state, has contributed to the gradual long-term increase in violence in central Mali?. Despite their involvement in fighting non-state armed groups in the north, communities in central regions said they did not receive compensation and were marginalised from peace processes and negotiations with the Malian state over the distribution of power and economic development, and the reintegration of former fighters??. Resentment of the state and government has grown.
From 2012, this situation worsened, as more resources were dedicated to counter insurgency in the north and implement the peace deal, at the expense of central Mali. Armed groups operating in the north expanded to central regions, exploiting the state’s weakness, and sporadic attacks weakened the state further, as more officials fled?.
The absence of the state created an enabling environment for organised armed groups, as well as less organised criminal activity. The small remaining state presence was resented because of its ineffectiveness and longstanding corruption?. The Malian army spread from the north to central regions in its pursuit of the armed opposition. It conducts operations against communities whom it believes supports armed groups?. Malian forces committed human rights abuses against local communities, notably against the Fulani population, who were heavily represented in the armed group Mouvement pour l'unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest/Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which was operating mainly in the north?.
Most exactions – from both armed forces and other armed actors – are met with impunity?. Local communities developed forms of self-governance and self-defence, and lack of official peaceful conflict resolution mechanisms contributed to an overall increase of levels of violence in the region?.
Islamist armed groups
Since the start of 2015, the number and frequency of attacks against Malian security forces has increased in central Mali. While Islamist armed groups in Mali encompass different organisations with different objectives and capacities, and include local militias, many attacks in central Mali are attributed to the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), which was created in January 2015 and has long collaborated with Islamist armed group Ansar Dine, based in northern Mali??. On 2 March 2017, Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), Al Mourabitoune and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) set up an umbrella organisation, the Group of Support to Muslims and Islam (GSIM)?. Cooperation between these groups bolsters their capacity to attack, and significantly increases the reach of Islamist groups traditionally operating in the north of the country. The inclusion of the Fulani MLF enables access to Mopti and Ségou, and allows the groups to exploit Fulani grievances and attract support for Islamist anti-state ideologies?.
The groups are attempting to exert indirect control by undermining the control of the state on these regions’ institutions, and imposing religious customs. Islamist armed groups target local government representatives and others suspected of supporting the Malian government and security forces?. In the first six months of 2017, Islamist groups were responsible for about 66% of all casualties reported; before June, March was the most violent month in Mali since early 2013, and the increase was largely attributed to the creation of the GSIM??. Between January and April 2017, three local government and village leaders in Mopti were killed. It is unclear who perpetrated the attack, though collaboration between the perpetrators and Islamist armed groups is suspected?.
Insecurity reduces humanitarian space, and this is compounded by regulations on motorcycle circulation from dawn to dusk in Mopti and Ségou, which restrict access to remote areas and the affected population’s access to services??. While attacks on peacekeepers by Islamist armed groups almost exclusively took place in northern Mali in 2015, more organised, frequent, and deadly attacks on peacekeepers were reported in the Mopti region in 2016.
Porous borders enable Islamist armed groups from Mali to operate in neighbouring countries. In northern Burkina Faso, the security situation has rapidly deteriorated since January 2017. Attacks range from targeted killings and village and school incursions, to more complex attacks against army or police positions. As in Mali, these are driven by both ideological and opportunistic motives, although the Ansarul Islam group, which has links Ansar Dine, is suspected to be behind most of the recent attacks. The increase in threats and attacks led to the temporary closure of over 600 schools in Oudalan and Soum provinces. Eleven schools remained closed in Soum province as of end June?. Insecurity is also impacting access to other social services such as health, food security, and protection.
Western Niger has been the target of attacks attributed to Islamist groups from Mali. Since March, seven departments bordering Mali, and within Tillabéri and Tahoua regions, have been under a state of emergency because of insecurity??.
Mopti is the economic pulse of central Mali, although prolonged droughts since the 1970s and escalating insecurity in the north since 2010 have severely impacted the town’s economy?. Traditional livelihood activities such as fisheries have been disrupted and pastoral areas deteriorated. The increasing scarcity of resources for livelihoods has created competition between farmers and herders, which fuels inter-communal tensions. Tensions over land and lack of livelihood opportunities between farmers and cattle herders, and between cattle herders – most of whom are from the Fulani community, sometimes result in violent clashes?. Without any state institutions to resolve conflict peacefully, communities have created local self-defence groups to resolve these disputes, a dynamic that accelerated in 2012, increasing insecurity?. The increased presence of Islamist armed groups has also aggravated tensions between Fulani, Bambara, and Dogon communities?. Islamist armed groups and local armed groups capitalise on feelings of marginalisation to recruit fighters, notably from within Fulani communities??.
Data suggest an increasing trend in inter-communal violence: according to ACLED, there were 104 casualties from clashes between specific communities in Mopti and Segou in the first seven months of 2017, up from 19 in the whole of 2016?. In February 2017, violence between Bambara and Fulani communities escalated in Ségou and Mopti – a cycle of reprisals, intensified by competition over resources??. Between 16 and 20 June 2017, intercommunal clashes in Mopti region between Fulani and Dogon in Dioungani killed around 30 people?.
Violence is likely to escalate and spread in central regions of Mali over the next six months. The Malian state is likely to keep retreating, and grievances among local communities will deepen.
Islamist armed groups are likely to increase their capacity to attack by intensifying recruitment among marginalised communities, carrying out extortion, and controlling trade routes. This will likely enable them to expand their geographical scope of operations, slowly moving from rural areas to urban centres. With increased capacity, these groups may be able to maintain control of urban centres. Attacks on state bodies and peacekeepers (they openly call for their withdrawal) will intensify. The further withdrawal of the government’s political and administrative capacities is likely.
Increased insecurity and state withdrawal is likely to boost local self-defence groups. More youths are likely to join these groups, and strategic alliances are likely to form between communities. Local armed groups are likely to turn to stronger Islamist armed groups for protection. This is likely to reinforce an enabling environment for more generalised banditry, looting, and violence.
Malian security forces and international forces such as the MINUSMA are likely to step up their presence, which will result in more intense fighting with armed groups. An indiscriminate response by Malian security forces is likely to increase tensions and contribute to the spiral of violence. These dynamics are likely to continue to spill over to northern Burkina Faso and western Niger, as herders cross borders and Islamist armed groups expand.
Central regions (Mopti and Segou) are home to 5.6 million people, compared to 1.7 million people in northern regions. Should violence levels significantly rise, this is likely to lead to large-scale displacement. People are likely to be displaced to neighbouring regions within Mali – this was the case during the major spike in violence in February 2017, when 10,000 people fled the Macina circle (cercle) in Ségou region to neighbouring circles?. It is also likely that people will move south, and to neighbouring countries such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso or Niger.
Protection issues such as execution, torture, and gender-based violence are likely to increase. Indiscriminate targeting of communities suspected of supporting armed groups, such as Fulani communities, is likely?. Mines and IEDs on roads are commonly used by Islamist armed groups, affecting the civilian population, and the number is likely to rise.
A growing number of health centres are likely to close due to insecurity, restricting access to health services for affected population.
More schools are likely to be closed, as school closure is a recurrent consequence of violence in central Mali. Islamist armed groups have threatened teachers and burned down schools that do not represent their values, most recently in Mopti in June 2017?.
Increasing access constraints are likely. The Malian government is likely to tighten movement restrictions and impose new ones, including checkpoints. This would limit movement also for humanitarian organisations, and access to remote areas could become nearly impossible as a result. Aid organisations are likely to suspend their operations in these regions??.
Agricultural fields are likely to be burned during inter-communal clashes, reducing harvest and food availability. Insecurity will further disrupt movement and farming activities, which will affect crop production. This is particularly concerning as Segou is a very large grain production area, and its produce and market are essential to both the regional and national economy.
Increased clashes will put an additional strain on livelihoods. Livelihood opportunities are likely to be further restricted and income is likely to fall. Travel and transportation will be hampered by the increase in crime and armed group activity, driving up food prices. Neighbouring countries are likely to increase border controls; imports are likely to decrease, and transhumance will be disrupted, affecting herders’ livelihoods. Theft of cattle is likely to increase.
Food insecurity is likely to escalate among the newly displaced population who will likely have lost their livelihoods and will not be able to engage in farming activities.
Inter-communal clashes in central Mali are likely to result in burning down houses. Protracted and temporary IDPs in central Mali are likely to find refuge in sites, makeshift shelters, or host communities. Overcrowding is likely to be an issue. The lack of mosquito nets is likely to lead to spread of diseases such as malaria.
Displaced populations are likely to have limited access to drinking water, making the spread of waterborne diseases more likely. The limited presence of operational water pumps in Ségou is likely to be aggravated by the concentration of people in secure areas, which will result in people using alternative, less safe, sources of water?.
Northern Burkina Faso
Health centres are likely to temporarily close. In March, health centres temporarily shut down in Soum and Séno province, affecting the provision of health services to almost 40,000 people?. Displaced people are likely to be have reduced access to healthcare.
More schools are likely to close as Islamist armed groups target teachers and education facilities. Eleven schools remained closed in Soum province as of end June?. Access to education is likely to be more difficult for the displaced.
Internal displacement is likely to increase as a result of violence. 1,400 people are currently internally displaced in Burkina Faso, mainly in host communities?.
Food insecurity is likely to escalate, particularly among poor households who are market dependent. Trade disruptions are likely to affect livestock prices and reduce income opportunities. Access to food on markets is likely to be limited.
WASH concerns are likely to arise due to already existing poor WASH facilities. WASH projects in schools, villages or health centres in the region have been disrupted in Soum province due to insecurity?.
Health provision is likely to be increasingly disrupted and health centres are likely to close. As of June, 11 health centres remain closed in Tahoua and Tillabéri?. Access to healthcare is likely to be further limited by the restrictions of movement on roads.
Cross-border trade with Mali is likely to be interrupted, limiting food supplies on markets and driving food prices up. Food availability is impacted by the recent closure of 16 markets in Tahoua and Tillabéri?. Income-generating activities on the border with Mali are likely to further decline. Pockets of Crisis (IPC 3) food security outcomes are already reported in these regions?.
The state is likely to strengthen measures relating to the state of emergency, limiting humanitarian operations. Car and motorbike movement is currently banned from dawn to dusk in Tillia and Tassara in Tahoua, and at all times in six departments of Tillabéri?. Humanitarian organisations are likely to suspend activities due to insecurity; in June, for instance, health services were temporarily suspended in several areas of Tillabéri?.
Schools are likely to be at risk of closure, driven by teacher absenteeism and parents’ reluctance to send their children to school.
The maintenance of water pumps is likely to be severely affected by the traffic ban related to the state of emergency. Access to safe water in Tillabéri and Tahoua is already limited?
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Outlook for September 2016 - February 2017
Predominantly Tuareg tribes in northern Mali began a battle for independence for the region they call Azawad (Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu) in 2012. A peace agreement was signed in Algiers in June 2015.?
The peace agreement was signed by the pro-separatist alliance the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (AMC), ‘The Platform’, a coalition of northern armed groups (mainly Tuareg) who oppose separatism, and the government. The agreement focuses on establishing interim authorities in the north, the integration of former combatants into the Malian armed forces (FAMA), as well as disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programmes.? Other armed actors in northern Mali include jihadist groups, who took control of the north from the Tuareg; French troops, deployed to combat jihadist groups; and MINUSMA peacekeepers.? The very fragile peace among signatories, slow implementation, and the non-participation of important stakeholders, including armed Islamist groups and non-Tuareg ethnic groups in the north, all threaten the success of the agreement.?
Despite the insurgency coming to an end, no single actor has secured control of the north, and crime, armed attacks, and sporadic fighting continue. From July until August over 70 people died due to various violent incidents in the northern regions, including armed attacks, clashes between armed groups, kidnapping, or attacks by bandits.?? Clashes between AMC and Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et alliés (GATIA), a member of The Platform, killed at least 50 people and wounded 82 from 21–22 July. Further clashes between them occurred in Kidal on 9 August. Talks for a ceasefire between the two groups reportedly failed on 14 August. Jihadists continue to carry out attacks, notably against FAMA, French forces, and MINUSMA, often using improvised explosive devices. In response, the mandates of both MINUSMA and French forces have enabled more robust action against these groups.?
Although the 2012 insurgency was mainly Tuareg, many other militias were involved. For example, youth from Gao formed self-defense militias to protect the population from jihadist groups and assumed police duties to govern the population. After they put down their weapons, the militias that helped govern the north were expected to be reintegrated into civil service or the army. However, the DDR programs were only aimed at incorporating former insurgents and did not take any other groups into account. Only the signatories to the peace agreement were granted the opportunity to be incorporated into interim authorities in the north.?
Popular protests have taken place against central government and foreign intervention in the north in 2016. In mid-July, there were protests against the installation of interim authorities. A violent crackdown by government forces killed four people and wounded around 30. On 18 November, elections for local councilors will take place nationwide, but are sparking concern due to the fragile situation in the north.
Fighting between peace agreement signatories is likely to continue
Security in the north will deteriorate. Fighting is likely to increase due to frustration over the slow implementation of the agreement: clashes between GATIA and the AMC are likely to continue and other signatories to the peace agreement are likely to take up arms again if conflict over governing Kidal remains unresolved. The growing tensions make it unlikely that opposition armed groups will be integrated into state security forces, as stipulated by the peace agreement. ?
Popular protests are likely to increase
It is unlikely that the parties to the peace agreement will address popular dissatisfaction with the agreement and its implementation.?? The focus on reintegrating the signatories to the peace agreement isolates many others who have previously taken up arms within northern Mali. Local elections on 18 November are very likely to spur more protests, which in turn are likely to be violently dispersed. Pro-separatist groups are likely to use popular dissatisfaction as further grounds for violating the peace agreement.
Jihadist attacks will increasingly take place in northern and central regions
Jihadists are likely to take the opportunity of increased violence from all parties to increase their attacks, in order to weaken MINUSMA and state armed forces. They are also likely to move south to central regions, which have become more unstable as national and international actors have largely focused on stabilising the north.? This is likely to force MINUSMA, the French forces, and national armed groups to divide resources between the northern and central regions.
Loss of life is likely to increase amid increased clashes. Violent crackdowns on protesters in the north are very likely. Arbitrary detention and torture by Malian armed forces of members of ethnic groups perceived to be linked to jihadists are likely to increase.
155 schools in Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu remain closed.? School closures are likely to increase as attacks continue; June saw 20 more closed schools than April. A volatile security situation prevents children and teachers from returning.? Parents are likely to withdraw their children for school as a safety measure.?
Insecurity will hamper access to markets and is likely to increase malnutrition. In northern regions, this will add burden to an already high caseload. In Timbuktu, for example, SAM rates are already at 3.9%, which is above the emergency threshold of 2%.?
Increased attacks on vehicles and convoys will limit access in the northern regions. From January–July, 20 access constraints were reported, including violence against personnel, restriction of humanitarian actors’ movement, and looting of humanitarian goods. Instability will spread to major logistical hubs such as Kidal airport, hampering delivery of supplies. Road transport is insecure, particularly on roads in the north due to IEDs, attacks, and armed robberies.??
Displacement numbers are very likely to increase due to increased clashes and attacks. Around 135,000 Malian refugees will be unable to return. Around 39,000 people are still internally displaced – 1,400 have been displaced since late July after clashes in Kidal.?
A lack of active shelter sector actors already complicates the shelter response, which will only worsen with less access. Some 450,000 people are already in need of shelter assistance, and this is likely to increase.?
Insecurity will hinder access to markets and food supplies will be delivered less frequently due to logistical difficulties. An increase in IDPs will put extra strain on host communities’ food stocks. The number of severely food insecure in the northern regions is currently estimated at 156,200.?
A decrease in access will likely result in a deterioration of health services, since over 90% of health structures in the north are supported by humanitarian partners. Outbreaks of diseases such as malaria will spread.?