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Fighting for power in Mali: 'Land resources are crucial'

In the Malian Dogon region, various militias have been fighting for power since 2015. Land resources play a major role in this, doctoral student Ibrahima Poudiougou discovered. 'Power in the area is intrinsically linked to control over land and its resources.’

The Dogon area is located in the Sahel region, which, due to climate change, has been experiencing persistent drought for several years. 'This heat means you need more and more land to make ends meet. Land is therefore such a great asset that it is being actively fought over,' Poudiougou says. 'This is a conflict of two sides: you have the religious jihadists and the non-religious "self-defence" groups. Both try to gain control over the peasant land to secure their political position in the country, and this certainly does not exclude violence or the threat of violence.’

'Both groups see their own violence as a form of protection against the other group's violence,' Poudiougou explains. 'However, this protection costs money, and farmers find themselves forced to pay for it. If you don't, you can almost bet that your land will be taken from you. This narrative of protection is used by the two groups to legitimise their political power in the region. After all, if they were not there, the poor farmers would be left to the whims of the other side.'

Drought and hunger

Another reason why these groups can go on this rampage in the Dogon area is that in Mali, only the government is seen as the rightful owner of the land. Farmers actually are perceived as customary users. Local land use practices are in place since the land is declared of public interest and rent seeking behavior from local and national elites tends to insecure access for marginalized groups such late comers, herders and women. 'This indifference spurs various forms of violence, the most recent escalation being physical confrontations.'

Rural migration also plays a role in the conflict. 'Farmers move from one village to another in order to obtain more or better land,' Poudiougou explains. 'This is how they try to combat the hunger and drought that prevail in their regions of origin. Because of this migration, however, the farmers have to temporarily abandon the land they have already acquired. In the current violent context, the militias claim to offer protection of the land and oppose dispossessions. to do so, they often seek ask payment which opens the door for the armed groups to once again extort the small farmers. Either they pay a large sum of money to have the land protected, or the militias put the land under embargo until the claimed amount is paid.'

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