|[Published: Sunday April 14 2013]
Dakar/Brussels - For the population of northern Mali, the feeling of being “liberated” by the French military intervention launched on 11 January 2013 is real. The sudden, but clearly well-prepared intervention, which received widespread support in Mali, West Africa and beyond, ended the offensive by jihadi groups that the Malian army had been unable to repel. France also took the opportunity to try and destroy al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) forces. Although Mali is in a better place than a few months back, sporadic fighting in the north continues and formidable threats to security, stability and the coexistence of the country’s various communities remain. The authorities in Bamako, regional organisations and the UN, which is preparing to deploy a stabilisation mission, must quickly agree on a strategy for the resolution of the crisis that provides security, protects civilians, promotes an inclusive inter-Malian dialogue, reestablishes state authority in the north and sees peaceful, credible elections.
Mali descended into turmoil at the beginning of 2012 when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) chased the Malian army out of the north and demanded independence for this vast part of the country. With its roots in the Algerian civil war , AQIM has established itself in northern Mali over the last decade, building local alliances that allowed it to significantly weaken both the state and the MNLA and resulted in armed jihadi groups – Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) – taking control of the north in June 2012. This and the coup in Bamako on 21 March 2012 brought the country to its knees. A laboriously prepared Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) plan to deploy an African force was finally, though reluctantly, endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2085 on 20 December 2012.
The sudden jihadi offensive towards the centre of the country in January 2013 proved suicidal. The jihadi groups did not anticipate France’s strong military response, following a request from interim President Dioncounda Traoré. The Malian army itself did nothing more than accompany the French forces that took the three most important towns in the north, Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. French and Chadian troops entered the northern-most Kidal region without the Malians, less to reconquer it for the Malian state than to pursue AQIM combatants into their sanctuaries, destroy stocks of arms, ammunition, fuel and food supplies, and “finish the job” in the context of a declared war against terrorism. Whether or at what point it will be possible to declare the capacities of jihadi groups sufficiently reduced to avoid exposing the civilian population and the forces of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) to terrorist reprisal attacks is unclear.
Now as much as before the French intervention, a solution to the crisis will only be sustainable if it combines political and military measures. The north remains very insecure and the state is absent from the Kidal region, where the MNLA claims control. Mali’s army is fragmented and incapable of preventing its soldiers from committing atrocities against civilians, notably Tuaregs and Arabs who are indiscriminately accused of collusion with the enemy. The military action in the north has strengthened the president's authority, but the ex-junta retains influence and civilian political actors look incapable of mobilising citizens to take the country’s destiny into their hands. The government has announced that presidential election will be held in July, although conditions – technical, political, security and psychological – for a genuine vote look unlikely to be met.
Even if French troops remain and AFISMA is rehatted as a UN stabilisation mission – which currently appear probable -- the interim authorities, political actors and civil society face an immense political challenge. Political dialogue in Bamako, zero tolerance for atrocities by members of security forces, intercommunal dialogue and the redeployment of the state in the north are essential. Elections must be held soon, but not at any cost. The work of reconciliation should begin immediately. So too should the provision of basic social and economic services in the north, so as to facilitate the gradual return of thousands of internally displaced and refugees. The radicalisation of public opinion is a major risk, especially during the election campaign, and firm action by Malian leaders and institutions should aim to prevent people lumping together rebels, terrorists and drug traffickers with all Tuaregs and Arabs.
A focus on terrorism alone also risks distracting from the north’s real problems. The roots of the crisis lie much more in corruption and bad governance than they do in the terrorist threat, the Tuareg issue or even the north-south divide. The international community must insist that Malian leaders assume responsibility for tackling these problems. The most reasonable and realistic way for the state to regain its presence across Mali and maintain lasting security is to find a compromise between the representatives of all communities, ensure even the most isolated populations feel included, and take into account the vulnerability of vast border areas to the flow of weapons and armed groups.
The most important and immediate challenge for regional organisations and the UN is to align their positions on the political process. First, they must convince the MNLA that its interests are best served by renouncing its armed struggle and discussing how its representatives and supporters can participate in a dialogue on the north’s real problems. Secondly, they should persuade Bamako that it should not impose so many pre-conditions on talks – such as, for instance, requiring the MNLA to immediately disarm – that it closes the door to dialogue, or even discrete contacts, with MNLA representatives. ECOWAS, the African Union (AU), the UN Security Council, Mauritania, Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and France must all send the same message to the authorities in Bamako and the leaders of those armed groups in the north. Even this would not resolve everything, however. Without new regional security mechanisms involving all the countries of North and West Africa, any victory over terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking in Mali will only be temporary.
To launch a political process to promote reconciliation and peace
To the government of Mali:
1. Give a firm and clear indication of its willingness to promote a policy of national reconciliation and peace and break with the political and administrative practices responsible for the current crisis by:
a) promoting inclusive dialogue at the national, regional and local levels, without monopolising such initiatives;
b) reestablishing state control of the north as soon as possible, prioritising public services and economic recovery in addition to reconstruction of the police forces and the gendarmerie;
c) preparing a special emergency plan for the north, making an explicit break with the past, notably by guaranteeing transparency in the use of funds and by consulting the population, whose relationship with the state has changed after several months of the state’s complete absence; and
d) supporting the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission (CDR) so that it can prepare as soon as possible a work plan aimed at promoting intercommunal reconciliation before the elections.
2. Indicate a willingness to include in the dialogue the representatives or supporters of any groups that commit to renounce their armed struggle, notably the MNLA, by remaining open to external facilitation and including the representatives of northern communities in any such process.
3. Ensure that the electoral process takes place in an atmosphere of trust and that it is completed, including legislative elections, by the end of 2013 and that all sectors of the Malian population can take part by:
a) ensuring security so that all voters as well as internally displaced people and refugees can vote;
b) seeking a political solution that will allow citizens in the Kidal region to participate;
c) asking candidates in the presidential election to make a solemn promise to accept the results or to contest them exclusively through legal means, to conduct an electoral campaign compatible with the objective of national reconciliation, to introduce policies seeking reconciliation if they win and organise legislative elections as soon as possible and, in any event, before the end of 2013.
To Malian political forces and civil society organisations:
4. Play an active role in the intercommunal reconciliation and peace process by participating in the organisation of inclusive dialogue at the local, regional and national levels and combating feelings of mistrust and attempts to settle scores.
5. Seek full involvement in the electoral process so it at least offers the possibility of a genuine change in governance and, with this in mind, use the media to publicise information about candidates, parties, programs and the origins of their financial resources.
6. Encourage the authorities to avoid adopting a uniquely security and repressive approach towards Malian citizens who, in 2012, joined certain armed Islamist groups; to understand the economic, social and cultural exclusion that led to Islamist radicalisation; and to initiate a public debate on the role of religion in society and the lessons that can be learned from the current crisis.
To the UN Security Council:
7. Provide the UN mission with a strong mandate to support the political process, in its dual dimensions of promoting dialogue and preparing elections, by:
a) requesting the future special representative of the UN Secretary-General to Mali to use their good offices to facilitate dialogue between Malian political actors and the transitional authorities to contribute towards a peaceful electoral campaign;
b) providing the mission with a precise mandate to support the electoral process by using UN assistance operations and deploying experts throughout the territory before the elections; and
c) authorising the mission to be ready to provide technical support to the CDR.
8. Provide the mission with a large “civilian affairs” component able to assist the state in reestablishing administrative control in the north by paying special attention to the restoration of judicial institutions and the prison service and rapidly assessing the requirements for strengthening the capacities of the judicial apparatus.
To regional and international actors involved in Mali, especially the AU special envoy, the ECOWAS mediator and the authorities of Mauritania, Algeria, Niger and France:
Adopt a clear joint position to facilitate inclusion of the MNLA in the inter-Malian dialogue provided it renounces its armed struggle.
To ensure security across the territory and protect the population
To the government of Mali and its defence and security forces:
9. Ensure the security of the civilian population, especially the communities that might be persecuted because of their alleged association with armed groups, by:
a) giving a public and firm indication that the protection of all sectors of the Malian population is a central concern;
b) strengthening the presence of the gendarmerie and police forces in the liberated territories;
c) showing extreme firmness towards violent acts including those committed by the Malian armed forces.
10. Cooperate fully with the European Military Training Mission (EUTM Mali) and overhaul the security sector, including the police forces.
To the French authorities:
11. Maintain a rapid reaction capacity on Malian territory after the gradual withdrawal of its troops and clarify the relationship between these forces and the future UN stabilisation mission.
12. Support the Malian authorities and AFISMA to protect the civilian population until the deployment of the UN mission.
To the AFISMA, countries contributing troops and donors who have promised funding:
13. Provide, as quickly as possible, the AFISMA with the financial resources, logistics and intelligence support necessary to reach its target numbers and capacity, without waiting for the arrival of the UN mission, allow the deployment of all its components in accordance with the revised concept of operations devised jointly by the AFISMA and Malian forces.
To the UN Security Council:
14. Authorise a UN stabilisation mission to Mali with a mandate and format adapted to the country’s specific conditions and avoid standard responses, by;
a) maintaining a clear distinction between on the one hand the UN-mandated mission to stabilise the political and security situation, and on the other the “parallel force” responsible for offensive operations, and clarify the legal basis and geographical extent of the latter’s mandate;
b) equipping the mission with specific means to collect and analyse information and allowing it to benefit from assistance from third countries, notably France and the U.S.;
c) including in the mission a strong civilian component dedicated to monitoring the human rights situation, especially the behaviour of Malian and foreign forces towards the population; and
d) providing the mission with a mandate to help mobilise and coordinate resources allocated to reform the defence and security forces.
To the AU Commission, the states of the Sahel, West Africa and North Africa, the UN special envoy to the Sahel and the European Union (EU) special envoy to the Sahel:
15. Start a frank discussion on preserving regional security interests, by:
a) formulating new regional security mechanisms based on control of the transnational flow of people, arms and illegal products; or restructure existing mechanisms; and
b) seeking to boost the economy of the Sahel-Sahara region by implementing transnational development projects.
International Crisis Group, Dakar/Brussels,Africa Report N°201, 11 April 2013