Mali: Tackle land conflict to stop spread of violence - report

A Peul youth herds cattle © Nicolas Réméné


The crisis in northern and central Mali and neighbouring countries could spill over into southern Mali if conflicts over land are not addressed, International Alert has said in a new report.

The report, Maintaining peace and stability in Mali’s Sikasso Region: Strategies to contain land-related conflicts, looks at land conflicts in the Sikasso Region in southern Mali and the way they are addressed by traditional authorities and the state. While the region is relatively stable at present, pressures such as climate change, population movement and the presence of extremist groups in neighbouring regions are raising concerns.

Sikasso also borders with Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which means the spread of violence could compound regional instability.

Camille Marquette, Peacebuilding Adviser on Natural Resources at International Alert, author of the report, said:

“In Mali, deep-seated conflicts over land have been playing out for decades. Such conflicts could be exploited by extremist or criminal groups to exacerbate the picture of violence we see today in northern and central Mali. Managing land issues and preventing their escalation into violence must be at the forefront of peacebuilding efforts in the region.”

The insurgency in Mali began in 2012, when jihadists co-opted a Tuareg rebellion to over run the north of the country. Despite a subsequent peace deal signed between the rebels and the Malian government, violence has been on the rise again since 2015, especially in central Mali.

Grievances over access to land and other natural resources, including clashes between farmers and pastoralists, have been at the heart of the violence. Combined with other social, economic and political factors, such tensions have been exploited over time by armed groups.

While the Sikasso Region in southern Mali is relatively stable compared to northern and central parts of the country, there have been frequent incidents of violence over land use over the past two years. The conflicts have been mostly between farmers and pastoralists, as well as between farmers themselves, and between state agencies working on forest protection and local communities needing to access wood.

The failure by state authorities to address these conflicts and implement land governance laws have led to localised protests, an early warning sign of possible violence in the future. Meanwhile, traditional land governance is discriminatory by nature, in particular against women but also migrants to the region. While traditional leaders remain the go-to interlocutor in land governance in Sikasso region, their efficacy could be eroding due to changing economic behaviours or the aspirations of youth.

The report concludes with recommendations for the Malian government and international partners to reduce the spread of violence in Mali and across international borders.

In the short to medium-term, this includes supporting community leaders and interest groups to contribute to existing dispute resolution mechanisms that could prevent violence.

And in the long-term, it means finding an enduring solution to land-related conflict. This includes implementing legal frameworks; building resilience to environmental degradation and climate change; and advancing planning around population movements.

The report comes as the UK prepares to deploy 250 troops to Mali – its largest military deployment since the mission to Helmand province in Afghanistan ended five years ago. It will join the UN peacekeeping mission (Minusma) in Mali. Meanwhile, France plans to boost its presence in the region with 600 additional troops.

Camille Marquette concluded:

“Delivering on security in Mali means going beyond military presence. It also means investing in addressing the root causes of conflict that allow violent extremism to flourish in the first place. Acting on land issues and other grievances today will help avoid the high cost of remedial action in the future.”

Download the report here.


Notes to editors

Spokespeople available for interviews:

  • Camille Marquette, Peacebuilding Adviser on Natural Resources at International Alert (London)
  • Ahmed Maïga, Country Director for International Alert Mali (Bamako)

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

The production of this report was supported by UK aid from the UK government as part of the Peace Research Partnership programme.