Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Youtube
Mali: The Need for Determined and Coordinated International Action
Mali: The Need for Determined and Coordinated International Action
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Mali’s Elections Are an Opportunity to Reboot the Peace Process
Mali’s Elections Are an Opportunity to Reboot the Peace Process
Briefing 90 / Africa

Mali: The Need for Determined and Coordinated International Action

Concerted effort by national, regional and international actors at a special Sahel meeting on 26 September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, is urgently needed to stop Mali from descending further into chaos.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

I. Overview

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

Commentary / Africa

Mali’s Elections Are an Opportunity to Reboot the Peace Process

Inter-communal violence along the Niger-Mali border and a scattered jihadist presence have left large swathes of Mali insecure. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges Mali’s next president to reinvigorate the Bamako peace agreement and embark on long-term structural reform.

Only days before Mali’s presidential election, large parts of the country remain wracked by violence. Jihadist insurgencies plague rural areas in the centre and north east. Predation by ethnic militias, often mobilised by local politicians and community leaders to fight jihadists and in some cases tacitly backed by the Malian authorities and the French military mission, Operation Barkhane, fuel animosity among communities. Clashes along the Niger-Mali border have claimed dozens of lives over the past few months.

Amid such volatility, the 29 July vote could reinvigorate efforts to quell violence in central and northern Mali, including by breathing new life in the June 2015 Bamako peace agreement that aimed to stabilise northern Mali after a 2012-2013 crisis that saw jihadists hold northern towns for almost a year. But if it provokes political turmoil in Bamako or aggravates insurgencies in rural areas in Mali’s centre or north, the election could not only provoke intensified violence but also spell the end of that accord.   

The European Union (EU) and its member states can take several steps to improve prospects for peace. Ahead of the elections, they should encourage the main contenders to pledge to pursue disputes peacefully and through the courts. To reinvigorate implementation of the peace deal, notably its provisions related to decentralisation in the north, they will have to press the next Malian president and the armed groups that signed the deal to set clear timelines for elections to regional assemblies. In central Mali, they should press Malian authorities to halt security forces’ abuses of the local population and hold accountable those responsible. They also should promote a shift from the Malian state’s overwhelmingly military-focused approach in the centre to one that includes efforts to address the political disputes underpinning unrest and reinforces policing and the provision of other basic services.

Improving Prospects for a Peaceful Election

For the most part, the government and main opposition parties have maintained a peaceful dialogue about preparations for the forthcoming presidential vote. But clashes between police and opposition protesters on 2 June in the capital Bamako show that tensions persist and could degenerate into violence.

Twenty-four candidates – including only one woman – will contest the presidency. In reality, however, the vote will pit President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta against opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, in a repeat of the 2013 presidential election. Other candidates, including former prime ministers and ministers, have little chance of winning. But in the event of a run-off, their support to either of the two main contenders could prove decisive.

The inability of people to vote due to insecurity could throw into question the election’s legitimacy and credibility.

The immediate problem is the security of the vote itself. Several districts in Mali’s north and centre, where state authorities are unable to deploy, might be too unsafe for balloting. In the north, armed groups that signed the 2015 peace deal are still negotiating the conditions under which they will facilitate the vote in areas under their control. This is especially true of the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA) coalition, which controls the northernmost town of Kidal and surrounding areas. Central Mali suffers general insecurity, with control over terrain murkier. The authorities have announced that voting would proceed regardless. But the inability of people to vote due to insecurity could throw into question the election’s legitimacy and credibility, especially given that one of Cissé’s supposed strongholds is in central Mali.

In this light, the EU and its members should:

  • Urge the main candidates to sign a pact committing to accept the outcome of a fair election or, if they wish to challenge results, to do so peacefully and through the court system; and
     
  • Encourage whoever wins the presidency to focus on addressing grievances common to much of Malian society, especially the lack of job opportunities, the poor functioning of the state services and rising concerns about intercommunal violence in the countryside; without this, it is likely that an increasing number of Malians will start to believe that violent protests rather than elections can deliver change.

Reviving the Peace Process

The Bamako peace agreement, and notably its main provisions on the devolution of power and economic development in the north, as well as the demobilisation of the armed groups that signed the deal, needs a reboot. Algeria, which negotiated the deal, appears to have lost appetite in pushing forward its implementation. None of the other guarantors, whether the African Union, UN or EU, has stepped up. The Malian signatory parties all dislike the deal and blame each other for its slow implementation.

As a result, the agreement’s impact on the ground remains limited. Joint patrols, comprising the different armed groups that signed the Bamako deal, have started in Kidal and other northern towns, Timbuktu and Gao, which were foreshadowed in the deal. Threats of UN Security Council sanctions appear to have helped push signatory parties to be more conciliatory, including accepting the deployment of joint patrols in Kidal. But the armed groups’ participation remains tenuous; the patrols have yielded little improvement in security; and in Gao tensions among the different groups’ contingents in those patrols resulted in skirmishes.

Overall, international mediators and the signatories have spent too much energy on temporary security arrangements, such as the joint patrols, rather than on structural reform such as devolving power to regional assemblies and the north’s economic development. The Sahel Alliance, a platform to coordinate donor support for the Sahel region launched by France, Germany, the EU and other partners in 2017, could address part of the problem, by advancing the development provided for in the peace agreement. But to do so, the projects envisaged in the Sahel Alliance should be kept separate from Malian or international military operations, to avoid stirring up resistance to them among the north’s inhabitants, exposing aid workers or communities to retribution by jihadists and thus rendering projects less effective.

To help revive the peace process, the EU and its member states should:

  • Encourage the next Malian government, together with other signatories to the Bamako deal, to establish a precise calendar for implementation of its key steps, notably for elections to regional assemblies in the north and elsewhere; and
     
  • Reassess, as part of the Sahel Alliance, the linking of development projects too closely to military operations. In particular, military forces should not be involved in development work.  

Stabilising Central Mali

Perhaps most troubling are insurgencies in central Mali’s Mopti and Segou regions, which are more heavily populated and more integral to the country’s economy than the north. Thus far the government’s response – which it dubs a “special plan” – has been mostly military, attempting to rebuild barracks, redeploy troops and appoint military officials as local administrators. On his 11 February visit to Mopti, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga stressed the need for political solutions and seemed to open the door to dialogue with all armed groups. But his speech has been followed by few concrete results. Repeated reports suggest extrajudicial killings by Malian security forces, fuelling anger at Bamako and the military.

Animosity among communities in central Mali is on the rise. Armed groups of the Dogon and Fulani (two ethnic groups in central Mali) have clashed repeatedly. Many Fulani suspect that Malian officials are backing the Dogon militias to counter jihadists, though such allegations are unproven. Similar dynamics are at play in Menaka region, where Tuaregs and Dossaaks (two of the nomadic tribes living in the region) cooperate with Malian and French counter-terrorism operations, again fuelling both ethnic rivalries and Fulani alienation from the state, as Fulanis tend to bear the brunt of those operations (see Crisis Group’s 12 July 2018 report, The Niger-Mali Border: Subordinating Military Action to a Political Strategy).

Priorities for the EU and its member states are to:

  • Step up immediate diplomatic pressure to stop the abuses of civilians, including killings, by Malian security forces. The EU’s capacity-building mission in Mali (EUCAP), which trains and advises the Malian police and gendarmerie, and the EU military training mission, which trains the Malian military, also should redouble efforts to ensure their counterparts in the Malian security forces end such abuses. Those missions also should support additional civilian oversight of, and accountability for, the security forces, including the establishment of a chain for reporting abuses; and
     
  • Encourage Bamako to strengthen regional authorities in Mopti and Segou by sending trained specialists rather than political advisers; the Malian police and gendarmerie should focus on their traditional functions rather than be diverted to fighting jihadists. The EU also could consider expanding EUCAP’s presence to central Mali to enhance the impact of the mission’s advice and mentoring and help ensure that Malian national security policies and strategies developed in Bamako are implemented beyond the main urban centres in the south.