Instability and fragility in Mali

International Alert’s new policy brief highlights how political and economic fragility, as well as the deteriorated security situation, is closely linked to organised crime in Mali. The findings are based on unique research in Kidal, Kayes, Timbuktu and Gao.

The corruption, cronyism and inequality that have deeply penetrated Malian society over the years are at the same time causes and consequences of the expansion of illicit trafficking and organised crime.

Although widespread, organised crime in Mali is difficult to pin down, as affiliation is often opportunistic, where the members are generally free to leave without sanction, and the Malian legislation does not provide for a specific offence to sanction it.

Furthermore, the trade of all kinds, and of licit goods in particular (such as fuel, subsidised foodstuff and cigarettes), has been an integral part of the economic and livelihood structure of the local populations for a long time. It often represents a rare source of revenue in a region characterised by geographical enclosure, endemic conflict, entrenched poverty and the ravaging impact of the environmental crises.

Illicit conduct is thus closely embedded in the informal economy and represents more a resilience strategy than a criminal offence in itself.

Yet over the years, cross-border trafficking has been progressively criminalised by the expansion of the trade in illicit goods, such as narcotics and arms, which are substantially more profitable.

The profits stemming from this trade has provided not only great financial gain, but also advantages in terms of employment, social mobility and political relations. These profits are also partly redistributed locally to build the traffickers’ legitimacy and buy the compliance of local strongmen.

Following the signature of the ‘Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali emanating from the Algiers Process’, local observers have claimed that no armed actor is free of some degree of involvement in trafficking and that links between the movements and criminal networks appear to be established.

Yet, the destabilising potential of organised crime has been overlooked. This is in part because of the assumption that its prevalence may exert a stabilising effect in the short term, and the assumption that Mali cannot deal with too many enemies at once.

To date, there is little indication that policy strategies put forward by the Malian government, as well as by their international partners, are changing direction and that there is a political will to recognise the issue of organised crime as a threat to peace and security in the country.

Our new policy brief aims to help address this gap. Understanding how crime impacts on the achievement of peace, on conflict risks, and on mounting fragility and safety threats is indeed crucial for building long-lasting and sustainable peace in Mali.

Read the policy brief here.

Photo: Children walk during a sand storm in Gao, Mali, 2013 © UN Photo/Marco Dormino