Building peace on solid ground

After two years of turmoil in the country, Mali’s new president is putting peace at the top of his agenda. “I want peace, nothing but peace in all regions of Mali”, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (known locally as IBK) said in his New Year’s address to the nation.

IBK, who was elected in September last year, is tasked with not just restoring constitutional order in Mali but also tackling the long list of structural challenges the country faces. Among these is the critical issue of trafficking – one of the key drivers of fragility and conflict in the country. Without tackling the causes and understanding the consequences of criminal activity, and addressing their disruptive impact on communities’ resilience to conflict, any peacebuilding efforts will be in vain.

With the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) being granted a wide mandate for Mali’s reconstruction, in October 2013 International Alert took this issue to the UN in New York. UN officials and other experts were invited to join our Advisory Group meeting to discuss operational responses to the illicit economy. The meeting, co-organised with the International Peace Institute, highlighted the need for long-term solutions which are based on addressing governance and development issues. Current discussions too often centre around security and law enforcement responses, but without a more holistic approach, peace is likely to remain out of reach. These challenges were reaffirmed during our field missions to Mali late last year.

Illicit activity can be a very sensitive issue to discuss and respond to – especially given the complicity of parts of law-enforcement, military and political bodies – but the new government and international community should not shy away from trying to understand it and eventually address it. In doing so they should collaborate with civil society and those communities directly affected by crime-generated conflict. Many Malians have experienced first-hand the disruptive potential of illicit activities, and concern over youth criminalisation is rising in many communities. Those affected desperately want greater stability and security, and should be at the forefront of any mitigation strategies. A better understanding of the push/pull factors and incentives for people engaging in illegal activities will help the government to address development and peacebuilding in a more conflict-sensitive and targeted way.

We plan to undertake further discussions this year in order to better understand perceptions of, and incentives for, involvement in illicit activities in Mali. We will also be looking at local sources of resilience that could help to mitigate the pull towards criminal networks.

Find out more about our work on crime, violence and instability here.

Photo: International Alert/Zahed Yousuf