Conflict drivers, international responses, and the outlook for peace in Mali: A literature review

This literature review aims to reflect relevant empirical and policy analysis together with more up-to-date commentary on the situation in Mali, as of January 2013. The conflict in Mali is highly complex and fluid: the situation with regards to the various groups engaged in conflict is developing on a daily basis, as are the responses from local and international actors.

Previous Tuareg rebellions in the post-colonial period took place in 1963, the 1990s and 2006-2008. The current conflict began with the Tuareg attack in January 2012, and although the situation has since evolved, this renewed instability illustrates that structural problems in Mali have yet to be resolved. Therefore, whilst each new conflict has its own proximate drivers, they are related to unresolved issues spilling over from previous conflicts.

The following recommendations have emerged for preventing further escalation and resolving the conflict:

  • Support efforts to re-establish Malian defence and security forces by strengthening their unity, discipline and efficiency: This involves depoliticising the security forces to guarantee democracy and a respect for transnational institutions. Furthermore, the reconstruction of a coherent chain of command is a priority, both to promote political stabilisation in the south and help resolve the crisis in the north.
  • Ensure that executive power represents a broad consensus: Only a functioning state can address the long-term grievances that have prompted the northern rebellion. Consequently, Mali needs to make progress towards effective leadership and transition back to constitutional order.
  • Promote efforts towards dialogue that ensure Malian ownership of the process: It is preferable to facilitate dialogue between Malians in Mali rather than entrust mediation efforts to regional powers, such as that led by ECOWAS, who could be biased in their approach. A sustainable basis for constructive dialogue is required, rather than the external sponsoring of accords such as has happened previously.
  • Contribute to Mali’s economic resilience by resuming foreign aid and supporting development and livelihoods: Economic marginalisation has only deepened with the onset of the current crisis. Communities in northern Mali would welcome the prospect of stable administration, regular salaries and development projects.
  • Weaken criminal networks incrementally: Related to the previous point, until there are viable economic alternatives, clamping down on smuggling could further alienate local communities in northern Mali.
  • Prevent further deterioration of the human rights situation in Mali: Security forces have been implicated in numerous abuses including torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary executions of Tuareg and Arab men. If not addressed, these abuses could interfere with the organising of national elections and therefore damage the chances of a durable solution.
  • Address rising ethnic tensions: The resurgence of armed conflict has been accompanied by an increase in ethnic tensions. Pro-government militias and ethnically allied youth groups, such as the Ganda Koy and Ganda Izo, have prepared lists of people in northern Mali to be targeted for reprisal once government forces retake control. Furthermore, ethnic tensions are being fuelled by the political manipulation of ethnicity by some political and military leaders. If these tensions remain unaddressed, they could further provoke collective punishment and ethnic violence. Future negotiations need to ensure that the opinions and grievances of all northern communities, not just those who have taken up arms, are heard.

Suggested citation

Bakrania, S.(2013). Conflict Drivers, International Responses, and the Outlook for Peace in Mali (GSDRC Literature Review). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.