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Building Peace and Security in Mali

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*Njoki Wamai [2012] is doing a PhD in Politics and International Studies. Photo: Jerome Starkey and Creative Commons.

Since Mali adopted a new constitution in 1992, the country has been considered democratic and subsequent elections were lauded free and fair as President Alpha Oumar Konare served his term and retired graciously after 2002. His successor President Amadou Tuomani Toure (ATT) was on the verge of retirement after his two-year term when he was arrested by the military led by Captain Sanogo in March 2012, making Mali the main concern for the African Union's peace and security agenda in the continent.

The junta justified the coup as necessary when the state failed to deal with the longstanding rebellion in Northern Mali. The Malian president ATT was accused of complacency. He was accused of failing to stop the Tuareg rebel group National Movement for Liberation (MNLA), which declared the independence of 'Azawaad', the 'new' self declared country of northern Mali, after seizing three of the largest northern towns Gao, Kidal and the famous Timbuktu, the ancient intellectual centre for learning in Africa. In response, the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) placed sanctions on Mali, urging the coup leaders to relinquish power, which they did by handing over power to appointed civilian leaders.

Tuareg rebellion

The origins of the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali can be traced to French colonisation. The French governed southern and northern Mali as one country who comprised people of different identities with little affiliation for each other as one country. Hence when the French left in 1960, the Nomadic Tuareg in the North rebelled from the South, seeking greater autonomy.

These rebellions were quashed by the military, some leaders imprisoned and the leaders retreated to the mountains in Kidal and Goa, but their grievances remained which inspired other groups in the north to rebel in 1990, 2000, 2006 and 2009. The southern post-independence governments always negotiated with the rebels by including them in government, but after the 2009 rebellion, most Toureg rebels went to Libya and joined Gaddafi's forces and the National Transitional Council as mercenaries. After the collapse of Gaddafi's regime, they returned with sophisticated artillery to stage a proper rebellion.

Main actors in Mali

Similar to the Libyan conflict, the multiple actors in Mali complicate the prospects for peace and security due to the different public and private motives the different actors have. Internally, there are different rebel groups with different priorities which the Bamako government should consider for any meaningful peace prospects.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawaad (MNLA) is the most popular secular nationalist group, comprised of Toureg rebels who disappeared into the desert leaving the vacuum in northern Mali for the other Islamist groups which France is mainly fighting. There are five main Islamist groups which include the Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred (AQIM), Signed in Blood Battalion, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa ( Mujao), the Islamic of Movement for Azawaad (IMA).

France, at the invitation of the Malian government, came to assist Mali, mainly to fight jihadists and promises to stay till July 2013 when the situation is stable. The US is also supporting the French in stopping the advancement of the jihadists who are seen as advancing terrorism in the region.

Professor Horace Campbell at Syracuse University argues that the United States of America (USA) is partly to blame for financing and training the same jihadists for the last 10 years under the Pan Sahel Initiative and the Africa Command to overthrow Gaddafi during the Libyan crisis. Media reports by Walter Pincus, a Washington DC journalist who studied the amount of money spent by the US in Mali, show more than half a billion dollars have been spent in Mali since 2002 .

The African Union and ECOWAS have performed below expectations according to the same scholar by failing to take up their responsibilities in the Libyan case and now in Mali due to capacity and political challenges which have led to them constantly being sidelined by Western interveners. As of February 282013 ECOWAS had planned to deploy 8,000 troops in Mali to support the 1,200 French and 800 Chad troops.

Way forward

The next few months will determine the trajectory of the conflict and define prospects for peace and reconciliation in Libya. External actors should focus on supporting moderate social movements and progressive dialogues outside the main warring factions. These moderate social movements support the idea of ensuring the integration of women in the peace process , something which is lacking among other civil society movements. There is a need to ensure that reconciliation remains the core to the process by ensuring peace negotiations will be as inclusive as possible. Liberal peace processes, such as divisive elections, should be avoided in the short term as Malians work towards reconciliation.

There is a concern among critical scholars and African scholars that the French and US hunt for terrorists may overshadow legitimate reforms in favour of a political settlement and ultimate stability in Mali. There is a need to consider supporting AU- and ECOWAS-led interventions, especially logistically and technically so that Africa to take charge of the emerging crisis and ensure ownership, peace and stability in the continent.