The security situation in Mali has continued to deteriorate over the last few months. An increase in violence is affecting the entire population, given the prevention by jihadists of harvesting rice fields—burning the fields and attacking farmers as they attempt to harvest them.
According to information given to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), by local sources (which ACN cannot reveal for reasons of safety), the terrorists are using hunger as a weapon to force the country’s people to either join their ranks or abandon their land to be occupied by extremists. Those who have already harvested their rice fields are prevented from moving the harvest, and those who refuse to obey extremists’ orders are watching their fields burn and are at risk of murder.
The situation is particularly unstable in the Ségou region of central Mali, with fighting between the local community militia and self-defence group of the Donso hunters, on the one side, and the invading jihadist terrorists on the other. In addition, local sources speak of the existence of a third group of armed bandits, difficult to identify but not belonging either to the jihadists or to the Donso hunters.
A Threatened Christian Population
Although the terrorism is affecting the entire population, the situation affecting Christians who live scattered throughout the various towns and villages of the region, is particularly worrying.
“There are villages where it is impossible to go and celebrate Holy Mass. The Christian faithful have to be very careful about how they practise their faith. Even where they are not the direct target of physical attacks, the verbal attacks launched against them during the preaching of some of the imams, who share the jihadist ideology, are incessant. And there are also frequent direct personal threats, for example anonymous threatening telephone calls. All this is creating a psychosis within the Christian communities,” a source in direct contact with the faithful told ACN.
Not surprisingly, the pastoral work of the Church is also being affected by the violence and jihadist attacks. “The freedom of movement is very limited. Previously the priests were able to spend the night in the villages; but today that is no longer possible,” the same source confirmed.
Jihadists Attempting to Impose Sharia Law
“The jihadists are acting in the name of religion. Everything that does not conform to their own ideology suffers as a result. That is why there are so many refugees,” ACN’s contact explained. Even though the conflict is not a purely religious one, “It is impossible to deny that it is about religion,” given that “the desire to impose Islamic Sharia law is proof that the Jihadists, especially those of the Katiba Macina, are working for the expansion of a radical Islam of a kind that many other Muslims do not share,” the source continued.
The jihadist Katiba Macina group is linked to other extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and is active in central Mali.
A Refugee Crisis
According to the latest figures from the UNHCR, by late September, the number of internally displaced Malians had already exceeded 400,000. In the first half of the year alone, almost 90,000 people had been forced to flee their homes. Refugees include both Muslim and Christian, though the number of Muslims far exceeds that of Christians, given that almost 90% (88.7%) of Mali’s population is Muslim.
The Catholic Church, although frequently impotent in the face of the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis and its own lack of resources, is striving to assist all those in need—whether Christian, Muslim or followers of ancient African religions.
Thanks to the help of ACN International, the local Church has begun an aid project, providing food and medical aid to the refugees and the most vulnerable families in 12 different centres in the Segou region of central Mali.