Crisis in Mali

Mali refugees collecting water in Niger, July 2012. Photo by Sean SmithOur new paper, Crisis in Mali, looks at what a peacebuilding approach to the conflict in the country could look like.

While there are several narratives about Mali, the one currently dominating the agenda concerns the capture of Mali’s north by radicals and the perceived ungovernability of that region as a result of the lack of governance and state complicity with criminal groups, which in turn was exploited by well-armed, equipped and trained international terrorist groups.

The counter-terrorism campaign championed by France and its allies is in reaction to the various groups occupying the area, ranging from the jihadist al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to salafist Ansar Dine. The campaign targets these groups as a security threat not only to the local countries and populations, but also to security in Europe. In other words, the crisis in Mali is currently being defined by far too many commentators in terms of security for Western citizens, and realpolitik is dominating the agenda.

However, counter-terrorism by external powers is not obviously consistent with peacebuilding – and, for Mali to recover from the current crisis, solutions must be rooted in peacebuilding, taking into account the historic, political, socio-economic reality of the country. Peacebuilding efforts in Mali should be Malian-led, should build on the Malian tradition for negotiations, and should look beyond quick elections and the completion of a democratic roadmap. A peacebuilding approach would also comprise folding the need for homeland security into a broader framework.

While it is, of course, very difficult to square the Western nations’ need for homeland security with the needs of human security in Mali and the wider Sahel, this is something the West simply must do. There is a need for a long-term peacebuilding strategy that goes beyond troops, immediate stabilisation needs, security sector reform, counter-terrorism and quick-fix development projects. This angle is currently missing from many international narratives about intervening in Mali.

Read more on this topic in Crisis in Mali: A peacebuilding approach. This paper is the first in our new Peace Focus series, which looks at the latest situations around the world from a peacebuilding perspective.

Photo © Sean Smith. Mali refugees collecting water in Niger, July 2012.