A digital war is unfolding in Mali alongside a jihadist conflict that has claimed thousands of lives: the battle to sway young minds is being waged on the mobile phone.
“Jihadists today are recruiting on WhatsApp. We have to stop the bloodshed,” said Hama Cisse, a moderate imam.
He says fiery sermons relayed through the mobile phone application by jihadist leader Amadou Koufa are luring young men from the Fulani ethnic community to join his ranks.
“Our children are leaving and getting themselves killed with Koufa, and there’s more and more of them every day,” Cisse said.
In the 1980s, then a Quranic student, Koufa was a roving storyteller — a deep-rooted oral tradition in Mali — reciting love poems in exchange for a few coins.
Much later, after completing his religious education abroad, Koufa re-invented himself as radical, preaching a hardline form of Islam.
Using his honed oratorical skills and stirring ancient resentments against elites, his message went straight to the heart of many young Fulani, also called Peuls, whose herding community has long battled poverty and stigma.
His means for channelling this message have kept in lockstep with technology.
Sermons that were once broadcast on the radio and then distributed by audiocassette are now transmitted by WhatsApp — the messaging app of choice in a country that currently boasts 150 cell phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, but little internet coverage.
Many in the Fulani community have direct knowledge of a young man drawn into the ranks of the Katiba Macina, the biggest of the militias wreaking carnage in central Mali and stirring up fighting between ethnic groups.
In addition to the mounting death toll, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and hundreds of schools have closed as teachers flee the jihadists.
In other communities, many point the finger of blame at the Fulani people as a whole, for there are longstanding frictions between this herder group and sedentary farmers. Today, tit-for-tat violence has become a tragic, near-daily act.
The jihadists’ strategy of division and provocation is timeless — but the tactics are relentlessly modern.
Digital technology is being used as a recruiting sergeant. Pictures of butchered corpses or torched villages or footage of clashes with the army are the weapons, aimed at both enraging and persuading.
Moderates fight back –
But the radicals are not the only voice.
Moderates, too, are taking their message of Islamic tolerance to young Fulani, seeking to counter distortion and propaganda.
One of them is Cisse, who said he “closely knew” Koufa in the 1980s when he too was a religious student.
Cisse, 55, regularly makes radio broadcasts from the capital Bamako, on the Fulani radio station Tabital Pulaaku, which are immediately retransmitted via WhatsApp.
In one notable intervention this year, during Ramadan, Cisse directly targeted Koufa and those who “lap up his words”.
“He said that before he came, the Macina (a region in central Mali) wasn’t Islamic, that before he came along, it was dark. I told him he didn’t bring Islam to the Macina, he brought the Wahhabis, and it’s not the same,” Cisse said, referring to the Saudi-inspired puritanical strand of Islam.
“A few days later, Koufa gave a nasty reply — he was angry.”
Cisse is from the Mopti region, but he has been unable to go back since he started receiving death threats in 2016.
Others who have joined the fight do not claim to have a religious rank, but simply wish to end a taboo of silence that swelled as the jihadists ascended.
One of them is Ousmane Bocoum, 36, who sells cloth skirts at a market in Mopti.
The flamboyantly dressed trader spends his spare moments combing the internet for sermons that distort Islam, and pointing them out to his contacts who then counter the propaganda on their WhatsApp and Facebook groups.
“I explain what the Quran really says,” Bocoum said.
“Every person is in at least a dozen different WhatsApp groups, people forward the messages and usually I have a reaction within half an hour.”
Many of those reactions are insults or threats, but there are often useful exchanges.
“It’s my faith which prompted me to act,” said Bocoum, who met with US lawmakers during a visit to Washington in July.
“I don’t fight them, I simply want to bring them back to reason.”
Last year, he said, he set up a “debate” with Koufa’s men in Mopti.
“They accepted but then at the last moment, Koufa issued a message forbidding them to come. He was worried about their safety.”
That failure illustrates one of the problems of finding common ground through dialogue — an approach espoused in June by the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank but rejected by the government in Bamako.
Back to the plough? –
Bocoum is also exploring an innovative path aimed at “deconstructing” the rhetoric of the jihadists to make it less alluring to the young.
In March, he set up a group in Mopti called the Association of Preachers for the Preservation of Unity and Social Peace.
The goal is to draw on traditional doctors or teachers in villages who are not tempted by the idea of collaborating with Koufa and are willing to give children an enlightened Quranic education.
In exchange, the association would provide agricultural help for the poor and for Quranic schools — each participating village would set aside five hectares (12 acres) of land for this purpose.
This way, families living in rural areas that have been abandoned de facto by the state would regain trust in their future, and a vicious circle would become a virtuous one, Bocoum hopes.
Thanks to word of mouth, recruits to the jihad would return home.
“Fathers would speak to their sons, uncles would speak to their nephews, persuading them to come home and cultivate their fields,” he said.
Absa Kenya signs almost 5 million customers on virtual platform
Kenya’s Absa Bank , a part of South Africa’s Absa Group, has signed almost 5 million customers on its virtual banking platform, which it sees as a major driver for future growth, chief executive, Jeremy Awori announced yesterday.
When the bank first launched its virtual savings and loan app known as “Timiza” — Kiswahili for “Achieve” — in March 2018, it attracted 300,000 customers. By the end of the year it had 3 million users, with lending standing at 10 billion Kenyan shillings ($98.91 million).
The bank, formerly known as Barclays Kenya, also has a separate mobile-based banking service to process normal customer transactions such as deposits and withdrawals.
Absa Kenya, posted a pretax profit of 8.18 billion shillings in the first nine months of 2019, compared with 7.72 billion shillings in year-earlier period.
Kenyan lenders have in recent years , turned to technology as they try to counter competition from mobile phone-based financial services such as from telecoms operator Safaricom’s M-Pesa platform, which had 23.6 million users as of last September.
Absa’s virtual banking app’s competitors include those run by KCB Group’s, NCBA Group and Equity Group.
Pressure to use mobile banking services increased further when the government imposed a cap on commercial lending rates in 2016 that ate into bank profit margins forcing banks to search for new ways to grow their businesses. The cap was scrapped at the end of last year.
Angola’s Former Leader Ordered $500 million Funds transfer
In a statement that may help the defense of one of his sons who is standing trial for money laundering, Angolan President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos has disclosed that he ordered a $500-million transfer from the central bank to an overseas account before stepping down.
The former president’s two most high-profile children are under increased scrutiny from prosecutors probing how they amassed their wealth during their father’s 38-year rule.
While the 77-year-old former leader is immune from prosecution until 2022, his daughter, Isabel was named last month as a suspect in an investigation over alleged mismanagement at state oil company, Sonangol.
In 2018, his son Jose Filomeno, alongside former central bank Governor, Filipe da Silva and two others, were accused of crimes including participation in unlawful business, money laundering, embezzlement and fraud for the money transfer to a U.K. account in 2017. Their trial began in December last year.
According to Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the transfer was needed to set up a strategic investment fund and finance Angola’s ailing economy.
Former head of Angola’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund, Jose Filomeno says the trial is politically motivated while the country’s former central bank governor, Filipe da Silva has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was just following presidential orders.
It was meant to be the first of three transfers totaling $1.5 billion.
Gunmen in military uniforms kill 22 in Cameroon, separatists blame army
A UN official said that 14 of the dead were children, some of whom were under five and that at least 600 people fled.
Armed men in military uniforms and masks have killed 22 people in a village at the heart of a separatist insurgency in western Cameroon, shooting women and children and burning others in their homes, the United Nations said on Monday.
Survivors “were extremely shocked and traumatized. People just left their houses and left everything behind,” said James Nunan, an official with the U.N. humanitarian coordination agency OCHA that conducted interviews with witnesses and survivors.
Nunan said that 14 of the dead were children, some of whom were under five. At least 600 people fled, he said.
It was not yet clear who was responsible for Friday’s attack in Ntumbo in the northwest region of Cameroon near the Nigerian border, a Reuters report said.
In a statement, separatists blamed the army. In its own the statement, the army denied wrongdoing.
The type of attack, with people being burned alive and shot, echoes other raids that witnesses told Reuters were committed by the military. The army has denied involvement in those raids.
The government said on Monday that its soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission in Ntumbo when they were attacked. The fighting that followed caused several fuel containers to explode and set nearby houses ablaze, it said, killing five civilians.
“In light of the methodically and professionally cross-checked information, it is simply an accident, collateral damage of the operations to restore security in the region,” the government said in a statement.
The separatists said at least 35 civilians were killed in what they called a “violation of the human rights of the Ambazonian people.”
Cameroon’s army has since 2017 been fighting English-speaking militias seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia amid the cocoa farms and forests of west Cameroon. As fighting has intensified, so have abuses by both sides, witnesses and rights groups say.
The fighting is the gravest threat to stability in the oil- and cocoa-producing country since President Paul Biya took power nearly 40 years ago.
Conflict between Cameroon’s army and English-speaking militias began after the government cracked down violently on peaceful protesters by lawyers and teachers in 2016 complaining of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority.
Violence spiked again in the run-up to parliamentary elections on Feb. 9, rights groups said, including the burning of houses.
Nearly 8,000 Cameroon refugees fled to eastern and southern Nigeria in the first two weeks of February, the United Nations refugee agency said, adding to the more than half a million people who have already left.
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