The Peace and Security Quandary in Mali
By Njoki Wamai
Since Mali adopted a new constitution in 1992, the country was considered democratic as 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 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 Amadou Toumani Toure 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, Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) placed sanctions on Mali urging the coup leaders to relinquish power, which they did handing over power to appointed civilian leaders.
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, which 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 militarily, some leaders imprisoned and the leaders retreated to the mountains in Kidal and Goa, but the 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 Tuareg rebels went to Libya and joined Gaddafi’s forces and the National Transitional Council as mercenaries. After the collapse of Gaddaffi’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 different actors have. Internally, there are different rebel groups with different priorities, which the Bamako government should consider for any meaningful peace prospects.
The MNLA is the most popular secular nationalist group comprised of Tuareg 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 Maghreb (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 until 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 US is partly to blame for financing and training the same jihadists for the last ten 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 expectation 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 leading to constantly being side stepped by the Western interveners. As of 28 February2013, ECOWAS had planned to deploy 8000 troops in Mali to support the 1,200 French and 800 Chadian troops.
The next few months will determine the trajectory of the conflict and define prospects for peace and reconciliation in Mali. External actors should focus on supporting moderate social movements and progressive dialogues outside the main warring factions. These moderate social movements include ensuring integration of women in the peace process currently, which is lacking among other civil society movements. There is 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 for a political settlement and ultimate stability of Mali. There is need to consider supporting the African Union and ECOWAS led interventions especially logistically and other forms of technical support, in order for Africa to take charge of emerging crisis, which can ensure ownership, peace and stability in the continent.
This opinion piece was first published by the Gates Cambridge Scholars Blog on 2 March 2013. Njoki Wamai is currently a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge.
7 March 2013
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