Victims of Mali Violence Seek Closure At National Reckoning

Channels Television  
Updated June 16, 2022
The Malian flag is hoisted during the handover ceremony of the Barkhane military base from the French to the Malian army in Timbuktu, on December 14, 2021. FLORENT VERGNES / AFP



In a darkened hall in the capital Bamako, people are telling their own, personal horror stories from Mali’s long-running conflict, even as the country weathers a renewed wave of unrest.

Mali’s truth and reconciliation process is helping nearly 30,000 victims of violence to share their testimony and seek closure.

Last week a woman shrouded in a veil to conceal her identity took to the stage to recount her ordeal to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

“I was raped by seven people, in front of my 15-year-old child,” she said.

The attack happened in 2012 in the northern city of Gao, the first major northern city to fall into the hands of pro-independence rebels and jihadists who had united to seize the territory.

Ten years on, Gao has been recaptured by government forces but Mali is still in turmoil.

Her disclosures, broadcast live on national television and social media, shocked many in the room, which was silenced by her testimony.

Abdoulaye Toure, a 32-year-old member of a local NGO, said he “did not know what to say in the face of such horrors”.

“I cried a lot, I was in pain,” said Fabiola Wizeye Ngeruka, an expert in the issue of gender-based violence with the UN.

“I was in pain when I heard these housewives who have nothing, who have lived through 10 years of suffering, and it’s only today that we can listen to their voices.

“All the victims said ‘we want a peaceful Mali’, that’s really all we can ask: peace in Mali,” she said.

– Violence spreading –
The commission was set up in 2015 when pro-independence insurgents in the north signed peace accords with the government they had fought against.

It is one of a number of mechanisms meant to help reconcile Malians.

But the jihadists have continued their expansion and the violence has spread further south and into neighbouring countries.

In public hearings over the past two years, the commission has heard from victims of a litany crimes committed since independence in 1960.

Mali’s modern history has been marred by coups, military dictatorships, Tuareg rebellions and since 2012 a spiral of violence in which jihadists affiliated to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group have created chaos.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the unrest with a recent UN report raising the alarm that recent months were the deadliest in years for ordinary Malians.

The commission’s investigators, who are scattered across the country, collected testimony from 28,877 victims.

“At each, before we started, we asked if they were ready for forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Ousmane Oumarou Sidibe, the commission’s head.

“We were surprised, everyone said yes. But the question remains about the conditions of this forgiveness.

– The ‘conditions of forgiveness’ –
“The process of catharsis is long-term work that should not be carried by the commission alone,” said Sidibe.

The most important thing, he added, was “that everyone finds their place in the country”.

The commission will serve as a basis for further efforts.

The idea of financial reparations is being studied, Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga has said.

The question of justice for perpetrators of crimes is ever-present, as it was at similar commissions elsewhere in Africa with its head stressing it “is not a court”.

The commission is “a formidable tool that has done important work,” said Ibrahim Maiga, a Sahel researcher at the International Crisis Group.

“We have to see how to capitalise on this work, what role the structure that will take over from (it) could play,” he said.

And some of those involved in the process believe that peace is impossible without engaging the jihadists themselves.