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Insurgencies in Northern Mali_A Tentative Assessment on the Current Conflict

Insurgencies in Northern Mali:
A Tentative Assessment on the Current Conflict
Insurgencies in Northern Mali:
A Tentative Assessment on the Current Conflict
Priscyll Anctil Avoine
JEFCAS Working Paper nº 5
Insurgencies in Northern Mali:
A Tentative Assessment on the Current Conflict
Priscyll Anctil Avoine
JEFCAS Working Paper nº6
Published by: John & Elnora Ferguson Centre for African Studies (JEFCAS)
University of Bradford, UK.
For more information visit our website at or our blog at
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Table of Contents
Historical Background: The Socio-political Context of Northern Mali............................................... 5
Present Conflict: A Tentative Assessment ............................................................................................ 7
Geopolitical Puzzle .............................................................................................................................. 9
The Dilemma of Intervention ............................................................................................................. 11
Voices from Victims ........................................................................................................................... 14
Concluding Thoughts ......................................................................................................................... 16
Acronyms ........................................................................................................................................... 17
Bibliography....................................................................................................................................... 18
“I know I’m going to die anyway, so at least I
want it to
be for the sake of God.”
-Ahmed Ag Mohamed Al Ansari, a Tuareg
Mujahideen (Welsh, 2012)
Recently, the Sahelian belt attracted the
attention of international media due to the
phenomenal propaganda of the West
regarding international terrorism and their
links with rebel groups from the Sahel. At
present, it is estimated that about 20 European
nationals are still held in captivity (Alvarado,
2012, p. 7); this picture reinforces the
concerns about the regionalization of the
activities of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
(AQIM). In 20012, the security situation in
the Shael region became even worse with the
emergence of irregular insurgencies in
Northern Mali. On 6 April 2012, the Tuareg
rebels of the Mouvement National de
Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) and some
jihadists from both Ansar Dine and the
Mouvement pour l’unicité et le djihad en
Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) declared the
Northern Mali as an independent state. The
insurgents benefited from both the regional
context of the collapse of the Gadhafi regime
and the military coup that ended what used to
be a stable regime of Amadou Toumani Touré
(ATT) (Alvarado, 2012, p. 1). While the
international community (IC) is facing the
dilemma of intervention, regional countries
are unable to fix the situation that is getting
worse. The security vacuum has favoured the
religious fundamental rebel group to gain
power and capture more territories at the
expense of the Tuareg rebels. In the middle of
those multiple insurgencies, the civilian
population is the habitual and immediate
victims of the conflict. Besides drought which
afflicts the Shael the region this summer and
other war related sufferings, it is estimated
that up to 200, 000 people have been
displaced (AJ, 2012) during the insurgency.
Is Mali the next “Afghanistan of the
Sahel” (Belmadi and Youcef, 2012) as most
of the Western countries seem to think? In this
paper, we attempt to nuance this widespread
belief that Mali is the new safe haven for
terrorism by analysing the root causes of the
present conflict. We thus aim to foster
preliminary answers on the current situation
in Northern Mali and to evaluate the broader
implications of the conflict by looking at the
regional and global trends. Obviously, we do
not pretend to offer an exhaustive
investigation of the conflict since at the time
of writing this article, the situation is still
unpredictable and the regional countries are
literally facing a geopolitical impasse. Also,
we are conscious of the methodological
obstacles because the literature on the subject
is still embryonic and we had to carefully
analyse the newspapers to come up with a
judgment on the current crisis while paying
attention to the ambiguous role played by the
media. An example is the role of Agence
France Press (AFP) regarding the high
tendency to qualify MNLA as part of AQIM
(Alvarado, 2012, p. 7) which shows a
dangerous lack of fairness.
In order to portray the current conflict
in Northern Mali, we will first comment on
the political and social situation that
characterized the region before engaging in
the analysis of the present conflict. Then, we
will try to contextualize this crisis in the
regional and global frameworks in order to
understand the dimensions that are currently
worsening the conflict. In the fourth place, we
will question the dilemma of intervention to
present the various obstacles confronted the
peace process in Mali. Finally, we aim to
study the consequences of this conflict on the
civilian population so to render the reader
conscious of the real impacts of this
geopolitical power game over this Sub-
Saharan country and its neighbours.
Historical Background: The Socio-political
Context of Northern Mali
Mali has long been considered a good
and stable “democracy” in the Sahel
(Ngachoko, 2012) even if it faced some
particular difficulties to maintain its
sovereignty throughout all of its territory. The
northern part has been particularly marked by
troubles on the part of the minorities,
especially the Tuaregs. They constitute a
nomadic group of approximately 1.3 million
people crossing “southern Algeria, southwest
Libya, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali” (Cline,
2007, p. 891). In this paper, we analyse the
minority of 10% of Tuaregs (Bondersholt and
Gyldenholm, 2012, p. 24) that compose
Northern Mali (NM) but the readers must
keep in mind that other tribes, such as the
Arabs and Peuls populate NM as well. These
tribes neither agree with Bamako nor with the
full idea of full secession (Ngachoko, 2012).
Thus, this article focuses on the complexity of
the Tuareg ethnic population in NM with a
special focus of their struggles dating back to
French colonization in order to fully
comprehend the current crisis. This section is
an attempt to trace these root causes in
The Tuaregs mainly practice a
moderate but conservative Sufi Islam (Cline,
2007, p. 892) and the allegations of Wahhabi
preaching are completely new and far from
being proven. Therefore, the suppositions
regarding the evolving threats of terrorism in
the current crisis need to be nuanced as “past
and current insurgencies of the Tuaregs in
Mali emanate from a number of historical and
current circumstances, some of which date
back to the pre-colonial era” (Zounmenou,
In Mali, the French utilized a “divide-
and-rulestrategy as they organized the state
to function in relations to the Tuaregs which
were the first to be under French rule
(Cissoko, 2011, p. 8). From the early years of
independence, both the Tuaregs and the
central government entered into a conflictual
relationship since the former complained
about lack of infrastructure and the latter
viewed nomadism and pastoralism as
obstacles to national development
(Zounmenou, 2012). Consequently, since
Mali's independence, the Tuaregs opposed the
central government of Bamako by demanding
better integration or autonomy. On the one
hand there were stark regional inequalities
between the North and South Mali wealth
was concentrated in the South while the north
remained in abject poverty (Cissoko, 2011, p.
9). On the other hand, integration of the arid
region of the north with the rest of the coun
try has remained a major challenge for the
country which lacks institutional capacity to
do so. In addition, it is argued that the cultural
differences in the country have always been
an obstacle in the process of national
integration since the Tuaregs are perceived by
the rest of Malians as violent, unpatriotic and
as having a slave mentality (Zounmenou,
2012; Cissoko, 2011, p. 15). This may suggest
that, while marginalized by the central
government, the Tuaregs were also part of
their own marginalization (Ngachoko, 2012)
as a vicious cycle of colonial consequences
and misconceptions about cultural differences
continue to be reinforced.
The first uprising which occurred
between 1962 and 1964 (IRIN, 2012)
mirrored the systemic challenges that were
responsible for polarising the Malian society.
The rebellion reached its climax in 1963
before the government troop completely
crushed it within a year. The Mali government
counter-insurgency which targeted the
Tuaregs communities destroying their sources
of subsistence (IRIN, 2012; Alvarado, 2012,
p. 3) left the poorly armed Tuaregs with abject
poverty and with no social base and power
among the population. Furthermore, the
1970s and 80s were economically difficult
period for the northern rural populations since
extreme drought displaced many and affected
all the pastoral communities like the Tuaregs
(IRIN, 2012).
The second Tuareg uprising began in June
1990 and was “triggered by an attack on a
police post in Menaka ordered by Iyad Ag
Ghali” (Alvarado, 2012, p. 3) who created the
Mouvement populaire de l’Azawad (MPA) in
Libya two years earlier (IRIN, 2012). Unlike
the first insurgency, the second one was
proved more difficult to handle as the rebels
were better armed. The conflict resulted in
significant losses to both sides of the
belligerents and so were the impact on the
number of displaced civilians. On 11 April
1992, a National Pact that ended the conflict
was finally reached under the leadership of
Algeria (IRIN, 2012).
The 1992 peace agreements were
never entirely implemented and both parties
never really respected their full engagement.
Although the National Pact provided some
level of autonomy to NM, Bamako never
became deeply involved in executing its main
clauses and the Tuareg movement was thus
broken apart in multiples organizations based
on plenty of cleavages (Alvarado, 2012, p. 3).
The various initiatives to stabilize and
develop NM became infructuous and tensions
flared between communities once again. The
signing of the Accords d’Alger in 2006 was
aimed at fostering security and economic
growth in Kidal but violence never ceased. As
tensions continued to grow from 2011 to
2012, well-armed leaders and insurgent
returnees from Libya following the fall of
Muammar Gaddafi regime (IRIN, 2012;
Alvarado, 2012) contributed to the complex
security dilemma of northern Mali.
Al-Jazeera provides a detailed account
on how the people of NM endured hardships
prior to the latest conflict (Welsh, 2012).
Thus, the conflict in NM did not seemingly
emerge from nowhere as Laurent Bigot
asserts in his video presentation that the
Western countries just decided to close their
eyes on the structural and recurrent corruption
behind a façade democracy (Bigot, 2012).
Moreover, even if some of the Tuaregs were
part of armed rebellions and certainly
committed crimes, they suffered a lot from
the brutality of the Malian army during their
engagement in diverse rebellions since
independence. The Tuaregs suffered from
“severe government security force operations,
including destruction of their villages and
reported massacres” (Cline, 2007, p. 891). In
addition, the integration of the Tuaregs
remained largely weak since they always
lacked connections with Bamako,
infrastructure and economic development
opportunities (Cissoko, 2011, p. 50 & 57).
While this section attempted to present the
historical root causes of the conflict, the
section which follows will try to draw the
principal lines of the current crisis in NM by
showing how it is much more complex than
just alleged terrorist threat.
Present Conflict: A Tentative Assessment
As mentioned above, the
contemporary insurgency is not the first
rebellion in NM based on Tuareg identity.
However, what differentiates the present
conflict from the previous is the fact that, with
their association with armed religious groups,
the Tuaregs succeeded in defeating the Malian
army and proclaimed independence. The
dynamics of the present crisis are various and
complex and very much related to the
geopolitical situation in the Sahel. This paper
is written in the middle of this crisis, so the
principal objective of this section is to have
an overview on the latest events of this year
(2012) as well as to understand the major
components of the conflict.
The present conflict has been
nourished by political dissatisfaction from the
northern peoples of Mali, but has also been
sustained by the geopolitical evolution in
North Africa and particularly in Libya. The
fall of the Gadhafi regime provoked a
regional destabilization and some of the
Tuaregs who fought for this regime returned
from Libya around August 2011 (IRIN, 2012).
They arrived in Mali with arms and logistical
support and the government of Bamako didn’t
do anything to assimilate them into the
regular army: president Amadou Toumani
Toure (ATT) completely failed to reintegrate
them into Malian society (Keenan, 2012). The
radicalization of certain parts of the Tuareg
movement was then more than obvious in
October 2011 (IRIN, 2012). In January 2012,
the National Movement for the Liberation of
Azawa (MNLA) was ready to engage in the
rebellion (D’Almeida, 2012) that began as a
quest for independence and ended up in
multiple insurgencies since the MNLA made
temporary alliances with the Islamists groups
as Movement for Unity and Jihad in West
Africa (MUJAO) and AD. In February, it
began to be clear that ethnicities were being
instrumentalized by the different armed
groups and it became possible to establish
links between those groups and AQMI
regarding logistical support (IRIN, 2012).
However, it was the coup d’État, on 21 March
2012, that facilitated the process through
which the insurgencies won against the
Malian army in merely two months
(Alvarado, 2012, p. 4). This culminated in the
independence of Azawad, in NM, on the 6th of
April 2012.
In the meantime, the Malian army
suffered several defeats by the insurgencies,
was humiliated (Keenan, 2012) and, as will be
argued later on, this is why they are so
reticent to an external intervention since it is
matter of national pride as well. On the one
hand, it first gave power to the MNLA to
impose its domination on the three principal
areas in the north (Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao).
On the other hand, this lasted for a short
amount of time since religion took on a
stronger central role in the crisis, notably due
to the difficulty for northern Malians to accept
the democratic model, which failed to provide
answers to their needs (Bigot, 2012). The
ideological shock between all the groups
involved regarding NM's independence and
the imposition of Shari’a Law is very
important and uneasy to obscure. The MNLA
now lost almost all its territory gained in April
to the hands of the Islamists groups
(Berthemet, 2012) and it has become a
question of who is going to be the privileged
interlocutor with Bamako (Diffalah, 2012).
Currently, it is very difficult to properly
predict the next trajectory of the conflict.
Nevertheless, it became clear in the month of
August that the population does not
appreciate the radical interpretation of Islam
preached by the MUJAO or the AD. Many
demonstrations have since taken place which
show that the general population resent the
violent means of punishments imposed by the
Shari’a Law (Idoumou, 2012a) that the
insurgents have been implementing. Thus, the
conflict is quite difficult to evaluate since it is
oscillating between civil war, guerrilla
insurgencies, secession and communal
In conclusion, Bamako did not
succeed in re-establishing their control over
NM due to three important factors: the
Tuaregs formed the MNLA which was much
more well-armed in comparison to previous
insurgencies, the coup d’État permitted them
to declare independence and, finally, because
of the geopolitical situation in the Sahel
(Castillo, 2012). For the same reasons, the
crisis in Mali is a geopolitical problem as will
be demonstrated in the next section.
Geopolitical Puzzle
The analysis of the Malian conflict is a
heavy task since it implies “a clear source of
problem for the neighboring states”
(Alvarado, 2012, p. 6). Beginning from 2001,
the geopolitical situation in the Sahel has been
facing increasing destabilization. Security is
extremely volatile and the UN estimated in
2009 that 21 tons of cocaine worth US$ 900
million transited through West Africa
(Abderrahmane, 2012). The end of the
Gadhafi regime also worsened the
geopolitical panorama of the Sahel, giving
opportunity to criminal groups to obtain arms
more easily. Thus, the conflict in Mali can be
dangerous at the regional level since it can
extend itself to other neighboring countries
(Abderrahmane, 2012) and “the shock wave
[…] could even reach Nigeria” (Alvarado,
2012, p. 7).
The Sahel has always been part of
migration processes and trade routes
(Roussellier, 2011, p. 8; Cline, 2007, p. 889).
It is a “confluence of a complex historical and
human dynamics” with an increase of arms
and drugs trade during the last decade
(Roussellier, 2011, p. 8). The numerous
antiterrorist programs and stabilizing
interventions completely failed to recuperate
the volatile situation in the Sahel (Roussellier,
2011, p. 8) as the Malian crisis risks to
worsen the current situation. In the meantime,
these regional programs also served Bamako
because ATT used them as an excuse to get
economic and military aid from foreign
countries. In fact, at “no time did ATT
seriously take on the Tuareg demands, whose
threat he did not hesitate to exacerbate in
order to obtain aid and additional resources
for the struggle against terrorism” (Alvarado,
2012, p. 6).
On the one hand, it seems like Mali
insurgency is now taking the route of a
nationalist conflict that is transforming itself
into an ethno-religious crisis, similar to those
in Somalia or Algeria. On the other hand, if
the threat is considered real, the governments
in the Sahel are also instrumentalizing and
amplifying the terrorist threat of AQMI in
order to respond to their interests and grab
attention and funds from the West (Cline,
2007, p. 891). This is why it is crucial to
situate the Malian crisis in a wider context
since it also plays a part in the general
geopolitical imperative.
Otherwise, if the indications of the
links between AQMI and AD are still weak, it
appears that the US is increasingly present in
the Sahel, taking a more extensive role in the
region (Cline, 2007, p. 893). Is Mali falling in
the eternal vicious cycle of the dichotomy
US-terrorism (Cline, 2007, p. 896)? It is
difficult to know for the moment, but what is
sure, is that the terrorism threat in Mali might
have been too exaggerated. Those links still
must be proven since the rebellion is still
limited to NM (Alvarado, 2012, p. 6). For the
moment, the Tuaregs are forming tactical
alliances with AQMI and enjoying their
trafficking networks (Zounmenou, 2012;
Roussellier, 2011, p. 8) but we cannot talk
about “terrorism” yet.
Finally, we need to ask ourselves
about the role of Algeria, France or the US in
this crisis. In the case of the latter, Mali is
believed to be a future site of oil exploitation
even if this is not confirmed (Cline, 2007, p.
896). Equally, France has never been an
impartial actor in Mali and the US is not well
perceived since the increase of its military
presence in the region. Natural resources such
as uranium and oil that are found in Niger and
Mali are mostly in the areas of Tuaregs. This
raises yet another question regarding whether
the huge militarization of the Sahel is driven
by natural resource motives. One must thus be
very careful with the power balance in the
Sahel, which is way more complex than it is
thought to be. Concerning Algeria, it is even
more complicated to understand its position.
A new state in the region, the Azawad, is a
direct threat to the Algerians (Alvarado, 2012,
p. 6). Its reluctance to engage in intervention
is surprising because it would have been
thought that Algeria would be afraid of a
more important terrorist threat in the region
since there are already seven Algerian
diplomats that are captives of the MUJAO
(Belmadi and Youcef, 2012). Also, it was
believed that Algeria would have tried to
affirm its leadership after the fall of Gadhafi
regime in order to appear as the only regional
power (Alvarado, 2012, p. 6). Is this crisis in
Mali an answer to some long-term interests of
Algeria (Keenan, 2008, p. 459)? This
geopolitical puzzle is thus far from being
The Dilemma of Intervention
The now recurrent question regarding
the crisis in Mali is: does it warrant an
external intervention? If yes, who should be
in-charge of the intervention: an African
regional force, such as an AU force or an
international one? Who should decide? Is the
Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which
authorizes the supranational entity to send
blue helmets to re-establish constitutional
order, applicable in the Mali case (Gonin and
Pérousse de Montclos, 2012)? It seems as
though the answer is not so obvious since the
Sahel is posing a number of logistical
problems that are difficult to manage.
Moreover, the IC faces a multitude of
intervention problems. While the Somali and
Afghan cases are still uneasy to manage, the
Congo is in complete ebullition and Syria is
facing a tragic and unprecedented bloodshed
while Russia is vetoing intervention.
Moreover, the intervention in Libya has been
criticized for its numerous civilian casualties
while the “responsibility to protect” provoked
even more victims under the auspice of
NATO. The intervention dilemma is now
reaching a climax point in international
debates and Mali finds itself at the very heart
of it.
The question of intervening in Mali
poses numerous problems. It is argued that
the military branch, Cédéao, of ECOWAS is
better placed to intervene in Mali's internal
security that continues to threaten the entire
Sahel region. The regional countries, mostly
Nigeria, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, have
been contemplating sending a stabilizing
force of approximately 3,000 to 3,300 men in
an attempt to consolidate the transitional
institutions in Bamako and re-establish the
territorial integrity of Mali (Alvarado, 2012,
p. 2; Gueye, 2012a). However, some heads of
state, such as Niger, view military
intervention as the only possible solution to
the conflict (Gueye, 2012a; Idoumou and
Oumar, 2012). It the military mission is to be
deployed, it would mostly comprise of
Senegalese and Nigerian troops (MICEMA)
(Gueye, 2012b). However, even if it would be
an African solution to an African problem, the
mission raises a number of important issues.
First of all, the NM region offers a
hostile condition for intervention due to its
desert climate, arid terrain and vastness. An
ECOWAS operation is largely destined to fail
in this context without counting on any
support from the Malian army. In addition,
ECOWAS logistical means for
operationalizing the mission are largely
insufficient (Alvarado, 2012, p. 2). In the
meantime, the Sahelian region continues to
experience serious security problems and so
are countries bordering Mali with “other
significant internal security issues” to deal
with (Cline, 2007, p. 891). Therefore, the
ECOWAS security framework fails to offer a
safe and solid base for a strong consortium to
intervene. The other problem with the
regional tactical force is that it still has not
received the authorization and legitimation of
Bamako. No formal demand has been given
from Mali for them to engage in a military
operation (Abderrahmane, 2012). This is
partly why all the regional actors are still
prioritizing political dialogue (RFI, 2012)
with the different insurgencies in NM.
However, the situation is more
complicated as it is difficult to understand
which group it is better to talk with. The West
African strategy presents a third logistical
problem: Algeria (Belmadi and Youcef, 2012)
is totally opposed to the military option yet it
is the only regional power with the capacity to
respond to the crisis by force. Without
Algeria, the mission is more likely to fail.
Algeria was opposed to the intervention in
Libya, is more than reticent to a military
operation in Syria, so it appears to be obvious
that the intervention in Mali is not an option
for the Algerians. Even if the USA and France
are hardly pushing Algeria to intervene by
offering logistical support (Belmadi and
Youcef, 2012), Algeria is more likely to
pursue a political solution. This paper thus
concludes that the possibility of a regional
intervention lacks seriousness and has
resulted in severe divisions in strategic foci.
In addition, critics argue that ECOMOGs
previous interventions in Nigeria and Liberia
were marred with sexual violence perpetrated
by the soldiers who were supposed to restore
order (Gonin and Pérousse de Montclos,
The political negotiations to end the
deadlock have also failed to yield solution to
the security dilemma in NM as contested
issues remain complex and barely understood.
While the MNLA lost power, the possibility
of holding further negotiations with the
religious groups seem predictable (MJAO &
AD). However, what is questionable is
whether negotiation is a viable option in
dealing with the insurgents (Le Pays, 2012)?
Although the MNLA may be open to
dialogue, it is adamant to change its decision
on independence of Azawad. The Islamist
groups, too, openly oppose the partition of
Mali yet are determined to unconditionally
apply the Shari’a Law to the region (Oumar,
2012a). Moreover, much as Blaise
Compaorés role as the mediator in the
conflict catapulted him into international fame
and prestige, critics have argued that his
agency has instead worsened the conflict.
While Washington is acting with a lot
of caution (Berthemet, 2012), the AU is trying
to support a military intervention with the
help of the UN. The UN critically examined
the AU military proposals and rejected it
twice on the basis that the text was not precise
enough (Guèye, 2012c). It claimed that the
demand made to the Security Council will
need to be more specific regarding material
and human needs and strategies (Journal du
Mali, 2012). This is a very questionable
option because of the current situation of the
UN, which faces multiple fronts at the global
level. The UN also received a lot of criticisms
regarding the intervention in Libya and its
delegation of the dossier to NATO. The
“responsibility to protect” has been largely
criticized for being a semantic euphemism
(Galy, 2012) to legitimize invasion and killing
of civilians. It is also criticized for supporting
neo-colonial interests of the superpowers
(Galy, 2012). The AU thus proposes a similar
intervention to that in Somalia, which means
that it would receive the financial and
logistical support of the UN but would
assume the development of the mission on the
ground by itself. However, the effectiveness
of AMISOM is another debatable issue.
Moreover, since the intervention in Somalia
in 1992, the UN adopted a regional approach
by disengaging themselves from directly
intervening in Africa in general. The
perspective of an international intervention is
then also improbable.
Additionally, it seems that the Malians
are very reticent to an international
intervention and are looking for recuperating
their national pride. In that sense, they seem
not to be interested in waiting for an
international or regional operation (Sanou,
2012). It is believed that Bamako is trying to
mobilize a special force in order to confront
the crisis in NM (RFI, 2012a). However, this
might also be a failure as they risk their young
recruits to confront something similar to
urban guerrilla.
Voices from Victims
“War loves to seek its victims in the young.”
As the insurgencies in NM have
become more complex and radicalized,
civilians suffer from multiple forms of
violence as international organizations face
difficulties in accessing the region. It is not
very clear as to which group perpetrates the
violence, or which group protects the civilians
from the other. It seems that the situation
more closely resembles a civil war rather than
a political declaration of independence. The
civil disorder and multiple radical
organizations in the region make an explosive
cocktail for the population that is already
confronted with a number of structural
problems. This section explores the different
ways in which the population has become the
victim of the events that have taken place
since the beginning of the year.
In the introduction of the present
work, we mentioned that it is estimated that
200,000 people needed to escape from their
homes due to the growing violence between
the different groups. In Gao alone, 35,000
people have fled since January 2012, which
totals half of the population (Libération,
2012). The people that are still in the region
of NM continue to face harsh reality. Men,
women and children are the victims of what
can be perceived as a mixture of religious and
nationalist demands that are less clear each
day as the violence is, on the contrary, getting
While the civilian men cannot do
anything against the violence because the
groups are well armed, women and children
are the primary victims of the conflict.
Human Rights Watch and UNICEF denounce
the various violations perpetrated by the
different factions in NM. Whereas
organizations such as UNICEF cannot access
the region due to the volatile security situation
of NM (UN, 2012), they have been
conducting diverse investigations in
partnership with local organizations in order
to document the abuse. On the one hand, it is
reported that women are victims of sexual
abuse. These sexual crimes are committed by
both the Islamists groups and the separatists
even if data are still missing to determine
exactly how many cases are attributed to each
group (RNU, 2012). The instances of sexual
abuses are not isolated and are increasing
throughout the northern region. Young
women are also abducted and raped
repeatedly. In Gao alone, 17 cases of violent
sexual aggression have been reported and
there is thought to be many more
undocumented. The abuses seemed to have
been perpetrated more so by the MNLA in
this region, however, this has not been
officially proven (Marièke, 2012).
On the other hand, UNICEF, Human
Rights Watch and the UN cited the
recruitment of children in the militias of the
Islamists groups and the MNLA factions (UN,
2012; RNU, 2012). It is still difficult at the
moment to determine the number of children
that have been recruited in the various groups,
but UNICEF claimed that at least 175 of them
already part of the armed group ranks and are
estimated to be aged between 8 and 12 years
old (UNICEF, 2012). The fact that most of the
schools are closed also worsens child
recruitment since the children are more
vulnerable when they do not have a
productive activity that retains their attention.
It is estimated that the basic education of over
300,000 students might be in danger and this
also increases the chance that they will fall
victims of armed resistance (UNICEF, 2012).
Moreover, the situation in NM is increasingly
volatile and the children are also victims of
the collateral damage. Many of them have
been mutilated or killed by explosive devices.
In fact, half of the mutilated victims are
children (RNU, 2012).
To all of this, there is the problem
associated with the intention of the Islamist
groups applying a strict Sharia interpretation
to NM. Reported cases of flagellations and
forced ways of dressing (not usual for the
ethnic groups in NM since their traditional
dresses do not conform to the rigid Sharia’s
requirements) have been seriously taken into
account and a number of civilians are fearing
this sudden change in their way of living
(Oumar, 2012).
Finally, it is also difficult to identify
who is perpetrating the violence. It is argued
that both the Islamists of MUJAO and Ansar
Dine, and the nationalists of MNLA are
implicated in violence and acts of terrorism.
However, the military forces and the central
government in Bamako are so weak that they
cannot respond to this juridical problem,
leaving the perpetrators unpunished.
Consequently, Bamako is seeking the help of
the International Criminal Court (ICC) in
addressing the problem since severe
violations of International Humanitarian Law
have been perpetrated within the past months
in NM. The ICC has been asked to investigate
the war crimes occurring in the Sahel on the
basis of a number of allegations of human
rights violations denounced by various NGOs
and international organizations (Gueye,
2012a). In addition to the insecurity, an
outbreak of cholera has been reported in Mali:
out of the 34 reported cases, at least 2 known
fatalities have been recorded (RNU, 2012). In
general, the population suffers from the
absence of the state to ensure their most basic
rights. The hospitals lack medical supplies
and most of the furniture they receive from
the International Committee of the Red Cross
is given to the combatants and not the
civilians (Idoumou, 2012). The appalling
sanitary situation coupled with food crisis
aggravated by the worst drought since the
beginning of the insurgencies in January 2012
are affecting about 18 million people in the
Sahel (CARE, 2012). This paints a pretty dark
and uncertain future for the Northern Malians.
Concluding Thoughts
At the time of compiling this paper,
the political crisis in Mali was far from being
resolved. On the 14th and 15th of August 2012,
the Malian government and its army met the
heads of state of the Cédéao in order to
establish a concrete plan that would be
implimented under the auspice of the UN
(Kamguia K., 2012). The outcome of the
meeting was not successful since the Malian
government did not accept one of the three
proposals of the plan. Mali did not accept the
fact that external actors would take charge of
the transitional institutions of Bamako. To the
Malian army and government, this is a war
that nobody can conduct except the Malians
themselves (Kamguia K., 2012). However,
they accepted the logistical support offered by
the Cédéao with the aim of reorganizing the
military forces and reconquering the northern
part of the country that is currently
monopolized by Tuareg Islamists.
The most recent data concerning the
displaced people are even more alarming.
More than 436,000 people fled from their
homes due to the crisis and around 140 cases
of cholera have been documented with 11
deaths (AFP, 2012). A rapid solution is
necessary in order to avoid a degradation of
the situation as was the case with Somalia.
The good news is that, at least, the extremist
groups are not enjoying a lot of credibility
among the Sufi culture that characterizes
Mali's population. In fact, the Islamists are
having trouble in convincing the population
that their ideology can be an alternative to
democracy and are thus trying to reach new
sections of the Malian society in order to gain
support, but in vain (Idoumou, 2012a).
Moreover, the population in NM is now
organizing itself to protect people from the
exaction perpetrated by the insurgents
(Powelton, 2012). The unique preoccupation
would be that the links between AQMI, Al-
Shabaab or Boko Haram become more
pronounced (Griswold, 2012) to the point that
they could be involved in huge criminal
activities such as drug trade to finance their
organisations or through kidnap.
What should be done in Mali? Is an
international or regional intervention
necessary? Is the Malian army giving too
much of a chauvinist connotation to the crisis
by prioritizing the pride over the security of
the civilians? Why is Algeria so reticent
regarding intervention? Why is the Cédéao so
insistent? This paper was an attempt to
portray the actual situation in Mali and to
open up new avenues to understand the crisis.
It is important to specify that the Tuaregs
never formed a united political entity
(Castillo, 2012) and this is why this paper
chose to discuss multiple insurgencies. Mali is
confronting a very fragile and volatile
situation that is geopolitically not easy to
manage. The truth is that, even if a regional
approach might be the best solution, the
Malians still face a huge and unanswered
question regarding democracy.
AFP Agence France Presse
AQIM Al-Qaeda in the Islamic
ATT Amadou Toumani
AU African Union
CÉDÉAO Communauté
économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest
IC International
ICC International Criminal
MNLA Mouvement national de
Libération de l’Azawad
MPA Mouvement populaire
de l’Azawad
MUJAO Mouvement pour
l’unicité et le djihad en Afrique de l’Ouest
NM Northern Mali
UN United Nations
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The GSPC—more recently titled Al Qaeda in the Maghreb—has maintained a small but significant level of terrorist unrest in the countries of the Sahel for a number of years. Although GSPC activities have been rather small-scale, they have added to the host of other security failures plaguing the region. The United State has begun devoting more attention to the regional security gaps and has started to implement an overall strategy in response. The more broadly-based approaches to dealing with security, economic, and political problems show promise, but only if the United States and regional countries maintain their focus on the long term.
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