Mali: The Need for Determined and Coordinated International Action
Africa Briefing N°90
24 Sep 2012
In the absence of rapid, firm and coherent decisions at the regional (Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS), continental (African Union, AU) and international (UN) levels by the end of September, the political, security, economic and social situation in Mali will deteriorate. All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and further social unrest in the capital, which threaten to undermine the transitional institutions and create a power vacuum that could allow religious extremism and terrorist violence to spread in Mali and beyond. None of the three actors sharing power – namely interim President Dioncounda Traoré, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, and the ex-junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo – has sufficient popular legitimacy or the ability to prevent the aggravation of the crisis. The country urgently needs to mobilise the best Malian expertise irrespective of political allegiance rather than engaging in power plays that will lead the country to the verge of collapse.
Almost six months after President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) was overthrown by a coup and the Malian army relinquished control of the three northern administrative regions to armed groups – including the Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist fighters of Ansar Dine (Ançar Eddine), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – none of the pillars of the Malian state has been able to give a clear direction to the political transition and formulate a precise and coherent demand for assistance to the international community to regain control of the north, which makes up more than two thirds of the territory. The next six months are crucial for the stability of Mali, the Sahel and the entire West African region, with risks running high and decision-making at all levels lacking leadership.
The messages from Crisis Group’s July 2012 report on Mali are still relevant. The principle of a military action in the north is not to be ruled out. Indeed, the use of force will most likely be necessary to restore Mali’s territorial integrity and neutralise transnational armed groups that indulge in terrorism, jihadism and drug and arms trafficking. But the use of force must be preceded by a political and diplomatic effort aiming at separating two different sets of issues: those related to communal antagonisms within Malian society, political and economic governance of the north and religious diversity management; and those related to collective security in the Sahel-Sahara region. Forces of the Malian army and ECOWAS are not capable of tackling the influx of arms and combatants between Libya and northern Mali through southern Algeria and/or northern Niger. Minimal and sustainable security in northern Mali cannot be reestablished without the clear involvement of Algerian political and military authorities.
Following the 26 September high-level meeting on the Sahel, expected to take place on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, Malian actors, their African and non-African partners and the UN will have to specify their course of action and clarify minimal objectives to be attained by March 2013.
The president and the prime minister should:
- form immediately a small informal group aimed at helping the government define a global strategy to resolve the crisis and including Malian personalities who are preferably retired from the political scene and have specific skills and significant experience in the areas of internal security, governance and public administration, organisation of elections, decentralisation, intercommunal mediation and international relations, and more specifically in the area of regional diplomacy.
ECOWAS leaders should:
- recognise the limitations of the organisation in mediating the crisis and planning a military mission in Mali, and thus work closely with the AU and the UN, which are better equipped to respond to challenges posed by a crisis threatening international peace and security.
The UN Security Council and member states represented at the high-level meeting on the Sahel should provide support to the Secretary-General to:
- appoint a special representative of the Secretary-General for the Sahel and provide him with the necessary means to achieve his mission, which must focus on reconciling the positions of ECOWAS member states, regional players (Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Mali) and Western countries;
- boost the UN presence in Mali to help the transitional government withstand the economic and social crisis, produce a credible roadmap for the restoration of territorial integrity and the organisation of transparent elections as soon as possible, and uphold the rule of law by gathering detailed information on human rights violations committed in the south (in particular in Bamako and Kati) as well as in the north;
- implement, together with the AU and ECOWAS, a mission to facilitate reconciliation within the Malian army to prevent another military coup with unpredictable consequences.
Mali’s foreign partners, in particular the European Union and the U.S., should:
- support efforts to reestablish Malian defence and security forces by enhancing their unity, discipline and efficiency so that they can ensure security in the south, represent a credible threat to armed groups in the north and participate in operations against terrorist groups;
- help stabilise the Malian economy and employment through a rapid resumption of foreign aid so as to prevent social unrest, which would only deepen the political and humanitarian crisis;
- respond favourably to the request for urgent humanitarian assistance to civilian populations affected by the crisis in Mali and the entire Sahel region, in accordance with what the UN has been advocating for several months without generating the adequate response the situation requires.
Dakar/Brussels, 24 September 2012