In Mali, no­madic ji­hadis rise again

To un­der­stand why they’re join­ing the fight, just look at the dried-up land around them.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Anna Bad­khen n the Anna Bad­khen’s book about tran­shu­mance, “Walk­ing With Abel,” comes out in Au­gust.

Iearly 19th cen­tury, a Fu­lani scholar, cleric and trilin­gual poet named Uth­man dan Fo­dio launched one of West Africa’s ear­li­est ji­hads. Hurtling camel­back and horse­back, Dan Fo­dio and his fol­low­ers de­liv­ered Is­lam to the mostly an­i­mist ru­ral sa­vanna on the tips of their spears and broadswords. In the flood plains of the In­ner Niger Delta, in what to­day is cen­tral Mali, one of Dan Fo­dio’s dis­ci­ples, a Fu­lani or­phan named Ah­mad bin Muham­mad Boubou bin Abi Bakr bin Sa’id al Fu­lani Lobbo, led an Is­lamic re­bel­lion and founded the theo­cratic em­pire of Massina. Mod­ern-day Fu­lani re­mem­ber and re­vere him by his nom de guerre, Sekou Amadou — Sheik Mo­hammed. His em­pire stretched from Tim­buktu to Sé­gou and lasted 44 years.

Be­fore es­tab­lish­ing a cap­i­tal in Ham­dal­laye — a Po­dunk town whose name trans­lates as “Thank God” — Sekou Amadou sta­tioned him­self on the out­skirts of Djenné, a trad­ing post and re­li­gious cen­ter, to pu­rify what he saw as his sub­jects’ cor­rupt mores. He banned to­bacco, al­co­hol, mu­sic and danc­ing, es­tab­lished pur­dah, and let crum­ble Djenné’s magnificent 12th- or 13th- cen­tury Great Mosque — the world’s largest clay build­ing — be­cause he found its os­ten­ta­tious­ness im­pi­ous. (Sekou Amadou or­dered that new mosques be mod­est, with­out minarets.)

He also reg­u­lar­ized land use, draw­ing up sea­sonal timeta­bles that dis­trib­uted pas­tures and rivers among Bozo fish­er­men, Song­hai traders, Mandinka and Bam­bara farm­ers, and Fu­lani no­madic herders un­der a pref­er­en­tial feu­dal sys­tem called sim­ply Dina: Is­lamic faith. Sekou Amadou fa­vored the cat­tle­men. And they thrived.

Two years ago, I joined a Fu­lani fam­ily in Mali for a year of mi­gra­tion on the routes that still abide by the sched­ules Sekou Amadou had drawn in 1818. But the land­scape they tra­verse is no longer the same. Mali has been grow­ing pro­gres­sively hot­ter and drier since the 1960s, and cycli­cal dry spells that oc­ca­sion­ally wracked Sekou Amadou’s Sa­hel are now killer droughts. Ex­pand­ing farms are help­ing de­stroy what’s left of pas­turage.

My cow­boy hosts had never heard about cli­mate change, but they could de­scribe with pre­ci­sion its symp­toms. They live them daily. Hot­ter, drier wind and un­pre­dictable rainy sea­sons trans­late into de­graded graz­ing grounds, starv­ing cows, less milk. “The land is chang­ing,” an old, ema­ci­ated Fu­lani cowherd told me. This year, some sci­en­tists pre­dict another dev­as­tat­ing drought.

Mean­while, a mod­ern ji­had is play­ing out in the back­ground, and some Fu­lani are join­ing in. The link be­tween de­ple­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources and mil­i­tant ji­had has been drawn by many — from an­a­lysts at the Cen­ter for Cli­mate and Se­cu­rity to, most re­cently, Pres­i­dent Obama. In Mali, this con­nec­tion is laid bare.

Sekou Amadou long gone, the Fu­lani of to­day find no pro­tec­tion for them­selves or their cat­tle. Like most Sa­he­lian gov­ern­ments, Mali’s fa­vors the seden­tary pop­u­la­tion and mis­trusts no­mads, who stub­bornly con­tinue to push their dwin­dling sla­tribbed herds to­ward des­ic­cated hori­zons. They are out of for­age, out of fa­vor, marginal­ized. Af­ter pal­try din­ners of bland mil­let meal, they flick on their cell­phones through im­ages of Pho­to­shopped cows, fat and ud­der-deep in bright green grass. To un­der­stand why cow­boys would go to war, sim­ply look at the dried-up land around them.

The new gen­er­a­tion of purist ji­hadis stormed north­ern Mali in 2012 in looted pickup trucks full of weapons plun­dered from the aban­doned caches of the top­pled Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Kadafi. They were mostly Tuareg but also Arabs, Ber­bers, Fu­lani.

Un­til a French-led, U.S.aided coali­tion forced them into the desert, they flew black flags of Al Qaeda over Tim­buktu. They axed down an­cient shrines they found idol­a­trous. They flogged, am­pu­tated, jailed, stoned, be­headed, raped. They briefly es­tab­lished an in­de­pen­dent state they called Aza­wad: the Land of Tran­shu­mance. Among them was the Fu­lani preacher Amadou Ko­ufa, who once had gath­ered con­gre­gants in num­bers that not even Djenné’s Great Mosque (re­con­structed in the 19th cen­tury) could ac­com­mo­date, and whose mis­sion, ac­cord­ing to the Malian news agency Mal­iWeb, was “to re­build the Is­lamic Fu­lani king­dom of Massina.” Ko­ufa called upon his no­madic dis­ci­ples to join the ji­had, and many did.

Since the be­gin­ning of 2015, a new ji­hadi or­ga­ni­za­tion that calls it­self the Massina Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment has been men­ac­ing cen­tral Mali. Its mem­bers are re­ported to be Fu­lani. While the Malian govern­ment and some rebel groups in the north lurch to­ward a sem­blance of peace, it launches at­tacks in the In­ner Niger Delta, con­vert­ing tra­di­tional no­madic routes into the new­est front line of the global war on ter­ror.

Hu­man Rights Watch re­ports that the move­ment’s mem­bers have so far sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted at least five men, in­clud­ing a vil­lage chief, be­lieved to have col­lab­o­rated with the Malian army; burned sev­eral govern­ment build­ings; brought down a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tower; and warned civil­ians to keep away from the govern­ment, the U.N. and the French troops.

His­tory does not re­peat it­self; it par­o­dies. One night in early May, in Ham­dal­laye, the ul­ti­mate cap­i­tal of the 19th cen­tury Massina Em­pire, some­one dy­na­mited an aus­tere mud-brick shrine. The ex­plo­sion blew out the door, tore a 3-foot-wide hole through a wall, cracked the struc­ture’s cor­ners. The shrine be­longed to the em­pire’s founder, Sekou Amadou.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.