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Thinking about land-concerned issues and intercommunity violence beyond the neoliberal approach of the Malian government in Mopti (center of Mali)


From 2014, the conflicts about lands and intercommunity violence are increasing in the centre of Mali, in the region of Mopti in particular. With complex social, historic and economic situations, the centre of Mali is becoming more and more an area of intercommunity violence. Though, these violence have different characteristics, the most advocated ones being those linked to the land issues. Large parts of these conflicts oppose different populations whose economic and social activities are based on the land use. Those activities are mainly agriculture, pastoralism and fishing. Scholars of the early 19th century (such as Marcel Griaule) used to think that different populations in the region were practising differently the aforementioned activities; actually, people still practise the three activities at the same time. This paradigm was not so much criticized in Social Sciences (Mainly in Anthropology) on Malian social and cultural organization systems. The traditional scientific associations between the Bozo social group and fishing, Fulani ethnic group and pastoralism or ethnic groups such as Bambara, Bobo, Dogon and agriculture are insufficient to describe and analyse the conflictual situations due to land issues in the Mopti region.

Albeit conflicts about land have occurred in the region before, the last five years were extremely covered by violent confrontations. These years can be analysed as a kind of violent turn around land issues in the Mopti region, so many conflict having took place which opposed farmers to pastoralists or to other farmers of the same village (or from a different village). In February-March 2012, Koporopen and Dérou, two villages at Koro in the Dogon country were confronting for some hectares of agricultural land; another land conflict was observed near Bandiagara in 2013, opposing two groups at Nigary: Yalkouyé and Kansaye.

But these land related conflicts were marginal during the last five years which were marked profoundly by a socio-political context dominated by the war in the northern part of the country against Tuareg rebellion and the jihadist invasion. However, land conflicts and land related issues have become a real preoccupation in 2015. That started with an armed confrontation near Djenné between Mougna and Kossouma for 69 fields. A conflict that started in 1964 and was not definitely resolved. Therefore, the episode of June 2015 was a “logical consequence”. In February 2016, Tenenkou was the theatre of violent confrontations between a pastoralist and farmers. The last date of this kind of confrontation involving land issues was at Ké-Macina, which opposed farmers to pastoralists about the use of the land for their activities (agriculture or pastoralism).

Why are all these land-concerned conflicts located in the same region? Using the concept of “terroir historique” (Bayart: 1989) as an analytic perspective, we can apprehend this situation in terms of socio-historical constructions in the “durée” (Diagne: 2014). Firstly, these socio-historical constructions allow us to see how the socio-cultural relations between men and land resources was constructed and regulated in the past (during the West African empires ages from the 12th to the 15th centuries). Secondly, it is important to analyse how this construction and regulation was articulated with the Islamic law established during “la Dina” by SekouAmadou (funder of the Empire Peul du Macina during the early 19th century). The third point is how the colonial French law on agricultural lands incorporated these two legislations. Finally, the most important point is to apprehend how the Malian state is governing all these law legacies and still making or inventing (Barrière: 2002) national laws and codes related to land issues with all the international pressures about land titling and (individual) property as “conditions” for land issues resolutions and ways to prevent land-concerned intercommunity violence.

The Malian state’s neoliberal perspectives for land issues resolution

In Mali, as in other African countries, agriculture is considered as one of the main and fastest ways of realising social and economic development by modernising the methods by which the country will optimize cultural results. To reach these objectives, the government and its international partners point to land issues resolving (land property and land titling) as conditions for reducing pressures due to the demographical growth and for providing more access to secured lands to the local populations. These land issues resolutions are interpreted as means by which land property can be secured for rural farmers by formalizing their rights.  Land property fixing and titling can be also seen as a neoliberal process that will include Malian rural farmers in the capitalistic market (Djiré 2007).

The local governance systems in Mali are organised around different figures like customary chiefs, local elected authorities and other local elites (C. Coulibaly: 2016). From the beginning of 1990, the Malian political landscape has been profoundly transformed with the democratization of the state’s political system. The so called “decentralization” is translated in rural contexts with “fangaséguinsô” (the power’s coming back home), referring to a new model of governance that includes a large part of civil societies and shares governance perspectives with local authorities (traditional chiefs, local elected representations and so on). However, this new trajectory of the Malian state was favourable to create a neopatrimonial model of the political scape (Pes: 2016). With “fangaséguinsô” (decentralization), a new type of patron-client relations emerged in Malian rural contexts:  traditional authorities, local youth associations or marginalized social groups integrated into political parties, some in order to maintain privileges and others to break the chain of dependency.

These new political connexions are hugely based, in practice, on informal pacts consisting in national elites managing rural populations via the control of political dependencies and villages economic resources. State’s responsibilities and realizations are politically manipulated and presented as gifts from the mayor of the commune or its representative in the village. The main resource in the Malian rural areas is the land and all the household organization depends on its cultivation. Therefore, to control and maintain the political dependencies in Malian rural contexts, national elites and their local representatives need to have a complete access to the agricultural lands. The paradox of this situation is that the land policies consider that lands are property of the state but recognize traditional populations’ rights and regulations (« la terre appartient à l’Etat mais le droit coutumier demeure » Code domanial du Mali, 201).

At the same moment, from the beginning of the political process of “fangaséguinsô” to now, social hierarchies and economic dependencies of Malian rural contexts are in mutation. A new form of domination is still developing in most of the local areas. These “political pacts” in process are not in complete rupture with the former ones, they are elaborated by imbrications and by conservative modernization (Bayart: 1989). This paradigm can help to analyse different situations in rural area in Mali where local domination figures and national political elites have interconnections that make them able to rule and control political and social relations by reinforcing economic dependencies.

In this context, it can be merely difficult to identify the discreet inclusion of the rural societies in the neoliberal perspectives. That is why my aim is to focus on the land titling as a bureaucratic mechanism to fix land property. I consider the political narratives concerning land property fixations as rural land secureness policies, and the idea that they could be a way to preserve local populations’ rights to exclusive property of the land as a local resonance of global neoliberal policies.

In the Malian context, as elsewhere in Africa, the land titling policies are encouraged by international organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF, which promoted, since 1980s, the accountability of the land. The neoliberal process that started during this period is still being accomplished now. That is why many scholars pointed land titling as a route for the privatization, which encourage land-grabbing practices in rural contexts. Some agricultural practices such as cotton cultivation or the introduction of rice monocultures can be interpreted as forms of this neoliberalism that focus more on the production for the market than local food needs or textile transformation. The Office du Niger of Segou in the center of Mali provides an excellent example of land titling linked to the monoculture practices mainly for the global market (even if Mali produces an important quantity of rice at Office du Niger, still rice is one of the main importations of the country).

As I mentioned before, the aim of the scholars nowadays can consist of the description of the different social and historical contexts that characterize Malian different historical “terroirs” (Bayart: 1989). This fieldwork must describe social relations, historical perspectives and social groups identity building practices (memories, narratives of the foundation, myths and other forms of the autochthon expressions).  This description has to challenge contemporary ambitions as land laws making processes (without neglecting customary laws and Islamic laws in some cases) and neoliberalism as a dominant paradigm that can lead to land grabbing and the production of extreme inequalities.



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BARRIERE, Olivier and Catherine, Un droit à inventer. Foncier et environnement dans le delta intérieur du Niger (Mali), IRD Editions, Institut de recherche pour le développement, collection À travers champs, Paris, 2002.

BAYART (Jean-François), L’Etat en Afrique. La politique du ventre, Paris, Fayard (“L’espace du politique”), 1989.

COULIBALYChéibane, Problématique foncière et gestion des conflits en Afrique noire. Tome 1 : Des indépendances à la faillite des dictatures, 1960-1990, Editions Le Cauri d’Or, BP 3041, Bamako (Mali), 2016.

DIAGNE (Souleymane Bachir), Bergson postcolonial. L’élan vital dans la pensée de Léopold Sédar Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal. Paris : éditions du CNRS, coll. Biblis, 2014.

DJIRE Moussa, Les paysans maliens exclus de lapropriété foncière ?Les avatars de l’appropriation par le titre foncier, IIED, dossier 144, Juillet 2007.

MORIN Edgar, Introduction à la pensée complexe, Paris, E.S.F., 1990.

PES Luca, Building political relations, Cooperaion, segmentation and government in Bancoumana (Mali), “Orizonti” 37, TangramEdizioniScientifiche, Trento, 2016.

Internet links about land-concerned issues in the Mopti region:

Master COSM (Analyse Comparée des Sociétés Méditerranéennes)
Faculty of Governance, Economics and Social Sciences
Department of Culture, Politic and Society,

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