“The police told me: ‘If it’s a thief, then it’s okay”
François (not his real name) lives in Hippodrome, a suburb of Bamako. He witnessed the lynching.
I was driving to a restaurant with my wife when I came across this scene. He was beaten, then doused in petrol and set alight. There were at least 200 people gathered. They were enraged. They chanted: “Thief! Kill him! We’re going to burn him!” We couldn’t do anything without risking being set upon ourselves. For a Malian, a Jakarta is his life. If it’s stolen, everyone knows he will seek revenge.
At the next red light, I called over the traffic police. I told them that someone has just been set alight around the corner. They told me: ‘If it’s a Jakarta thief, then it’s okay’.
“If someone shouts ‘thief’ and points at someone, everyone runs after him”
There have been more and more lynchings ever since the coup d’état in 2012. There is less work to be had, hence the rise in robberies. But Malians will not put up with this. So when someone shouts: ‘thief’ and points at someone, everyone runs after him.
What happened last Thursday night is extremely commonplace in Mali. It’s also the case across the whole continent. This time, it hits a nerve because it happened on a very busy road, in front of a lot of people.
Indeed, mob justice is not rare in Mali. In August
, a young man was beaten up and burnt to death after stealing a motorbike. Last May
, three people suffered the same fate.
“Article 320 is back”, according to a headline on the news website maliactu.net. There is no need to look up this article, though, because it doesn’t exist in any law book. The practice, put in place after the March 1991 revolution, means taking the law into your own hands, bypassing the legal system and a police force considered inefficient. It is called “320” because at the time, it was the price of a can of petrol and a box of matches.
Forgotten for nearly 20 years, “article 320” has become increasingly popular since the March 2012 coup d’état and the subsequent political and military crises. Bruce Whitehouse, an anthropologist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, wrote on his blog
in April 2012: “The coup and vigilante justice are different expressions of a single logic shaped by the state’s perceived failure to enforce the law. When the government is seen as having abdicated its fundamental responsibilities, by this logic, taking charge through violence becomes legitimate and even salutary.”
“These acts of mob justice are inherent to any exit out of a crisis,” a Malian government official told FRANCE 24. “We condemn it. The president is committed to restoring the state’s authority and the government will work on making sure such acts will never occur again.”
The FRANCE 24 Observers have reported on numerous other cases of vigilante justice. For further reading:
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist François-Damien Bourgery (@FDBourgery