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      Plusieurs chemins: how different stakeholders at different scales in Malian society are fragmenting the state

      a , * ,
      Review of African Political Economy
      Review of African Political Economy

            Main article text


            The Republic of Mali, at the start of 2002, held much promise and hope in Africa as well as the international community. The country showed recovery from famines that displaced many families (particularly in the north) in the 1970s and 1980s and a revolt in the 1990s that started over regional disparity but shifted into ethnic violence between neighbouring groups (Claudot-Hawad 1995, Châtaigner and Magro 2007). To heal the country, a new constitution, efforts at decentralising some federal powers, the integration of ex-rebels into the police and the military, and popular elections with presidential term limits were introduced (Baqué 1995, Drisdelle 1997). Malians in 2002 witnessed the first voluntary step down of a national leader after decades of military power and dictatorship. Alpha Konaré, Mali's first democratically elected president, served two terms before passing the office on to Amadou Toumani Touré, or ATT, an advocate of many of the 1990s reforms (Poulton and Youssouf 1998).

            Ten years later, however, Mali is dividing. ATT, who won a second term in 2007, assured Malians and the international community that he would step down this year (Integrated Regional Information Networks [IRIN] 2012a, Keating 2012). Nevertheless, in March 2012 (a month before the presidential election), he was deposed in a bloodless coup. The group responsible for the coup, the Comité national pour le redressement de la démocratie et la restauration de l'état (CNRDRE) led by Amadou Sanogo, hastened ATT's departure because of his handling of a new revolt in the north (IRIN 2012a). Reasons for the revolt are complex but a recent food crisis in October 2011 and the intervention in Libya provided catalysts in which many young men decided to keep their arms from Libya and begin attacking Malian military posts in January (African Research Bulletin (ARB) 2012a, IRIN 2012b). The CNRDRE claims their seizure of power is temporary, a move to restore order in the north before resuming presidential elections in Mali (Melly 2012).

            Sanogo and the CNRDRE's actions may have done more harm than good, however, in the effort to keep Mali intact. The Malian national army either abandons posts or fights in the north with inadequate support against the rebels, many of whom are returning from Libya where they gained combat experience and munitions (Ndjebela 2012, Nossiter 2012). The rebel fighters are Tuareg and Arabs who have for centuries seen themselves as culturally different from African groups to the south of them, but who also experienced alienation in Malian society and witnessed disparities of wealth and development the southern and northern regions for decades (Boilley 1999, Sangaré 2005, Lecocq 2010). Hospitals, schools, roads and markets are more advanced in the southern part of the country, particularly in and around the capital of Bamako.

            The problem of Malian fragmentation does not stop at a simple disparity between north and south, either. In the north, the new authorities are divided in objectives. One fraction called le mouvement national pour la libération d'azaouad, or MNLA, consists mostly of Tuareg. In April some MNLA leaders declared the northern half of Mali the new state of Azaouad although others have hinted towards a rapprochement with Bamako to gain more autonomy for the north (ARB 2012b, Callimachi 2012, IRIN 2012b). The MNLA despite their own heterogeneity came to a consensus in May with another rebel fraction, the Ansar al-Din (a fundamentalist Islamist group) to declare Azaouad a state that practises sharia law (Diarra 2012, Melly 2012). This move, however, appears more an act of survival than one of harmony between the rebel fractions who have failed to receive recognition from the international community (Diarra 2012, Meddeb 2012, Melly 2012). The majority of inhabitants in the north, the Songhaï and Peulh, do not, however, like the idea of a Tuareg-dominated government or Islamist state. Some had already left because of the drought and violence but now many protest in the streets of Timbuktu and Gao regarding the enaction of sharia law with many students leaving for southern Mali where sharia law is not practised in the schools (IRIN 2012c, McGregor 2012).

            Southern Mali, too, is experiencing trouble. Aside from the challenges of managing the latest food crisis and the civil unrest in the north, the military junta are under scrutiny from human rights groups and the international community for the ransacking of civilians' homes and arrest of politicians (Lerougetel 2012, Melly 2012). With all these various actors in the north and south surfacing and threatening Mali's future, the question remains as to whether foreign powers, Mali's national leaders, and local groups are able and willing to reconcile and keep Mali as one state, or whether they will allow it to fragment. For far too long different stakeholders, in pursuing and defending their own interests, pulled apart the ties that united communities to the republic of Mali, from north to south. It will take more than promises and ‘proposed actions’ to reunify the Malian state.

            Foreign powers and Mali

            Foreign influence in the modern state of Mali certainly predates recent events. Even as a French colony, then called Soudan Français, it witnessed the partition of a southern part which became the colony Haute Volta (what is today Burkina Faso) and a large concession of western territory going to Mauritania in the 1930s (Jus 2003). After independence from France in 1960, Malian leadership invited Soviet advisers and aid into the country as part of Keita's ‘rural socialism,’ although Soviet commitments to Mali were miniscule compared to other parts of the world (Kort 2010, Igho Natufe 2011). Criticism of the central government and Keita's path of development, particularly among military officers, led to a coup d'état in 1968. This brought both a regime change and a shift of new foreign investors.

            Starting in the 1970s, the Malian government welcomed in the international lending agencies the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Loans and projects started at this point and still continue today (Corker et al. 2007, Sangaré 2011). Success is, however, limited to a handful of projects at best. Throughout the four decades, mismanagement, corruption, the impracticality of the projects to the Malian environment, and loan rates that are difficult to pay back have kept Mali locked into IMF/World Bank tutelage (Togola and Gerber 2007, Cabello et al. 2008). Mali's urban populations are aware of this and have protested against IMF/World Bank policies from time to time. Living conditions, the devaluation of Mali's currency, the high costs of education, health, and utilities have brought interest groups into the streets with grievances against the central government's relationship with international lenders (Smith 1997). Decisions on development and resource allocation in Mali, at least on the national level, have been influenced by IMF and World Bank policymakers and regulations for the past 40 years.

            The IMF and World Bank are not, however, the only foreign actors on the Malian stage. In the past 10 years the European Union (EU), China, and the United States (US) government have also gained greater importance. Before the EU, France kept close ties with Mali (Martin 1995, Hugon 2006). As a key player in the EU, however, France has brokered larger investment in Malian infrastructure, opened Malian markets to more European exports, and, what is contributing to hostilities in the north, secured substantial exploratory rights for European mining corporations (Renou 2002, Hugon 2006, Traoré and Arnal 2008). What minerals exist in northern Mali are either isolated on small tracts of land or are unknown. Given the presence of iron ore in Mauritania, petroleum in Algeria and uranium in Niger, however, Mali is seen as a lucrative frontier for mining interests (Simanowitz 2009, Drackenburg 2010).

            China is a recent competitor with other foreign powers in Africa (Alden, Khalfa and Park 2010, Dent 2011). Before the turn of the millennium, the Chinese were certainly dropping their inexpensive manufactured wares onto African markets (Suzuki 2011, Wissenbach 2011), but competition over energy as well as other precious minerals compels China to take a more active role in African development. For instance, they seek larger shares of Niger's uranium reserves, a commodity that has been dominated by the large French multinational Areva for 40 years (Martin 1989, Alden and Alves 2010). To Afrıcan states, their aid practices are often more lucrative as there are few or no conditıons attached to grant and loan money and aid is delivered faster (Guérin 2008). In Mali's case, Chinese-owned enterprises have appeared in Bamako and Chinese businesses supplied management, engineers and labour for the construction of roads and bridges throughout Mali (Bourdarias 2009). Their presence, in the cities and in the government bureaus of Bamako, is evidence of China's drive to secure a fair share of Mali's natural resources.

            Since 9/11 the US government concerns itself less with promoting US products sold on Sahelian markets and exploiting the region's natural resources than with their commitment on the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The EU and its relations with the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) are also part of this fight, but the US government is the forerunner and largest contributor to the GWOT (Glickman 2003, Keenan 2009). Since 2003 US foreign policymakers have kept a watchful eye on an extremist Islamic group calling themselves al-Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) whose origins likely come from the 1990s Algerian Civil War or possibly the intrigues of the Algerian Ministry of Interior (Ousmane 2004, Keenan 2012). In either case, AQIM, over the past nine years, have their share of successes, although their popularity among local populations in North and West Africa is contested (Lecocq and Schrijver 2007, Graham IV 2011, Cunningham 2012). AQIM raided military installations around West Africa to gain arms and munitions, they kidnapped or obtained hostages from other groups, received ransoms, and killed hostages. AQIM videotaped their execution of one man, a British cook named Edwin Dyer; claimed to have killed another, Michel Germaneau (a French aid worker), in retaliation for a failed rescue attempt by French–Mauritanian forces; and were possibly responsible for the death of an American, Christopher Leggett, during an attempted kidnapping in Nouakchott, Mauritania (Christiani and Fabiani 2010, Göita 2011).

            The US government provided substantial military training and aid to Mali to secure its borders and fight terrorist organisations such as AQIM (Gutelius 2007, Thurston 2010). The recent political instability in northern Mali, however, has undone the US efforts at the GWOT. Since the fighting broke out between rebels and the Malian army, AQIM claims to have kidnapped more tourists and aid workers (ARB 2012a, South African Press Agency 2012). The MNLA denies ties with AQIM but the presence and successes of the Ansar al-Din has the US State Department concerned over the possible participation of extremists in the insurgency (Cunningham 2012, Oris and Arenas-Garcia 2012). If AQIM is gaining recruits and influence in northern Mali it is likely at some point the US government will be pushed to support Amadou Sanogo and the CNRDRE, overtly or covertly, to restore Bamako's jurisdiction over the north (Washington Post Editorial Board 2012).

            As influential as foreign stakeholders can be in Mali regarding foreign aid, economic cooperation and sharing in Malian development, they are still dependent on another stakeholder, the Malian national government, to let them into local communities for labour, clients or raw goods. This is a practice that began in colonial times and was handed down to postcolonial regimes that throughout different periods of rule assert their role as gatekeeper to Malian society and its natural resources. The Malian national government too has a hand in fracturing Malian society.

            Malian national politics

            Mali's borders are, at least for its northern half, arbitrary: a delineation of the French colonial administration was finalised by the 1930s. The northern borders do not represent any natural break in physical geography or break between different ethnic groups. The northern half of Mali is home to Songhaï, Peulh, Tuareg, Arab and Moor peoples. Representation of these groups in the colonial service was, however, poor at best. Instead the French recruited mostly from the Bambara (an ethnic group living in and around the Bamako region) but also other southern groups like the Malinké and Sarakolé. Most in the south, however, remained in their own region, coerced to grow groundnuts, cotton and rice while French authorities developed the infrastructure necessary to transport these goods to France and other European markets (Roberts 1997, Coulibaly and Bélières 2004). When independence came in 1960, Malian leadership faced the difficult task of preserving a vast territory diverse in population and with different levels of development. The ideologies of Malian leaders along with geopolitical trends that they adopted shaped the heterogeneity that is pulling Mali apart.

            Modibo Keita and his administration (1960–1968) mismanaged the Malian economy through pursuing development projects that were frequently impractical, but also through increasing the size of government (Harsch 1993, Igho Natufe 2011). The latter fuelled a conflict between some Tuareg clans in the north, and Bamako, especially over the management of natural resources (Bourgeot 1989, Diallo 1996). The revolt, called Alfellagha, more resembled a sporadic guerrilla fight than conventional warfare, and started in 1963 and lasted until 1964 (Bourgeot 1989, Bernus 1992). The rebels were well organised and clear in their goal of separating from Bamako but lacked the numbers, munitions and outside support needed to achieve their desired break from Mali. The Malian army, reflective of previous French favouritism in terms of recruiting individuals from the south, consisted of southern Malian officers and soldiers who conducted a ‘scorched earth’ policy in northern Mali and later extended this into southern Algeria in order to defeat the rebels. They destroyed livestock and property, poisoned wells, tortured and killed those suspected of links with the rebels (Boilley 1999, Lecocq 2010). The atrocities committed in this era remained in the memories of many Tuareg and certainly played in to the motivation for later revolts.

            Moussa Traoré (1968–1991), a junior military officer from the south, successfully deposed Keita's rule in 1968. Traoré's heritage did not mean favouritism, however, to southern groups. He changed the direction of foreign influence in Mali from east to west by approaching the IMF and World Bank (Harsch 1993, Gunther, Marouani and Raffinot 2006), but the size of the state remained unchanged and repression increased. Protests in the south over price hikes in basic commodities, salary reductions to civil service workers and the displacement of people and/or the destruction of their livelihoods because of large-scale development projects were met with severe force (Smith 1997, Siméant 2011). Human rights abuses were common against anyone critical of his regime (Drisdelle 1997, Poulton and Youssouf 1998). It took the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, the famines that followed the droughts, the return of violence in the north, a large student protest, and a new generation of young military officers to push Traoré out of power in 1991.

            Despite the difficulties and challenges, opportunity came. Alpha Konaré (1992–2002), also a southerner like Keita and Traoré, was politically savvy enough to address the grievances of Malians, both north and south. He used the collective bargaining table to diffuse various crises (Baqué 1995, Cissoko and Touré 2005). The revolt in the north, now called Aljebha, was by far the largest crisis because as soon as one or a few rebel groups agreed to peace, new ones or splinter groups continued to fight (Seely 2001, Simanowitz 2009). A generic explanation for this can be found in Tuareg society itself. The Tuareg are a loose confederation that allow clans, families and even individuals to take a different course even if many agree to a specific course of action (Bourgeot 1989, Bernus 1992). The transition to peace was further complicated by southern populations protesting against the longevity of the revolt. Protests, although diverse and reflective of different interest groups in the 1990s, at times were organised against the government's rapprochement with the northern rebels. Crowds wanted the government to take stronger action against rebels and not to squander limited government revenues to pay off rebel leaders for peace (Smith 1997, Siméant 2011). Impatience and animositıes towards the rebels also led to the Songhaï and Peulh organising local militias called the Ganda Köy. At first this was done to protect themselves but it later shifted to the offensive in attacking anyone resembling Tuareg or Arab (Claudot-Hawad 1995, Châtaigner and Magro 2007). Konaré integrated ex-rebels from the north into the police and military, promised decentralisation programmes, new projects and revenues to both northern and southern communities, and offered amnesty to all those who stopped fighting to bring peace back to Mali in 1996 (Cissoko and Touré 2005, Demante 2005).

            Amadou Toumani Touré and his presidency (2002–2012) represented the era in which Konaré's agreements could be implemented. ATT himself, unlike his predecessors, is from the central Malian town of Mopti – his father was a Songhaï, his mother a Peulh. His experience in the Konaré administration brought him into contact with various Tuareg leaders, which was later significant in quelling another uprising in the Kidal region in 2005 (Abdalla 2009, European Parliament 2010). To his disadvantage, however, he came to power in a country that was heavily in debt, dependent on foreign aid, prone to corruption at all levels of government, and with a central government that was difficult to restructure in order to implement the decentralisation reforms and new projects from the 1990s (Harsch 1993, Nielsen et al. 2011). During his tenure, criticism grew regarding ATT's inability to regulate Mali's borders and clandestine trade in the north, and his handling of Tuareg rebel leaders when new uprisings occurred (Abdalla 2009). These obstacles undermined ATT's efforts to keep Mali together.

            ATT approached international assistance much like his predecessors in order to keep Mali together. He welcomed Chinese and European Union leaders and assistance (Suzuki 2011, Wissenbach 2011). He actively sought GWOT assistance from the US government, including antiterrorism training from the US military, procuring military aid, and sending Malian officers to the United States for training (Keenan 2009, Thurston 2010). Amadou Sanogo was one of the officers sent to the United States in 2006–2007 (Keating 2012). His relationship with Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, not a harmonious one but certainly effective, aided in deflating Tuareg grievances as Qaddafi provided financial incentives to bring peace (Simanowitz 2009). The global recession of 2008, however, undermined ATT's gains. New and old channels of aid and development were reduced or cut off. Protests re-emerged in urban areas while the remote north witnessed another insurgency (Abdalla 2009, Siméant 2011). In regards to the civil unrest in the north, ATT refused this time to negotiate with the rebels. He used GWOT assistance his government received in previous years to crush the uprising (Keenan 2009). Mali remained, however, vulnerable. The calamities of poor rains, failing harvests, forced migration, and disenchanted young Tuareg men fighting in Libya and returning to Mali with their arms after the Qaddafi regime fell meant only a rekindling of the grievances the Tuareg had with Bamako from previous years.

            Amadou Sanogo (2012– ) justified the coup d'état against ATT by pointing to the protests that occurred in Bamako over ATT's handling of the latest revolt in the north. Western media, however, questions whether Sanogo will step down if the north is brought back to Bamako's jurisdiction, comparing his manoeuvres to Moussa Dadis Camara in Guinea during 2008 in a move to take power for an indefinite period of time (Lerougetel 2012, Melly 2012). Although it is difficult to judge whether he will consolidate his power or abdicate when the goals of the CNRDRE are met, he has made one point clear: no negotiations with rebel factions from the north, a stand that must win appeal from many of the protesters in Bamako months earlier (BBC News 2012, County and Peterson 2012). He has not, however, convinced Western powers to assist him in regaining the north. France has cut off all aid and assistance, the US suspended its assistance and even Mali's West African neighbours have ceased trade and closed their borders (Bowie 2012, Leroutegel 2012). Sanogo, however, is playing upon the fear of northern Mali becoming both a rogue and radical Islamist state by calling the rebels friends of AQIM and drug traffickers (IRIN 2012a, Keating 2012). This is a tactic that Mohammdou Tandia used in order to attract GWOT assistance for his government's fight against le mouvement des nigériens pour la justice and le front des forces de redressement (MNJ and FFR respectively) in northern Niger during 2007–2009 (Alzouma 2009, Graham IV 2010). Western powers, however, without strong evidence of growing terrorist activity in northern Mali, are currently reluctant to commit arms and munitions to Bamako given how support to anti-Qadaffi forces in Libya generated the current problems in Mali (Ndjebela 2012). Niger and Chad, who are also affected by the latest drought and food crisis, also have deep divisions among ethnic groups in their northern and southern regions. To drop more arms and munitions into the region may spark more unrest throughout the Sahel.

            While international stakeholders may hold the purse strings and the Malian national government guards the entrance to Mali's resources, it is local stakeholders who have expressed, sometimes passively, sometimes overtly, dissatisfaction with development practices in Mali during the past 50 years. The exclusion of these groups in development have resulted from time to time in violence, whether it is university students in the streets of Bamako rioting or Tuareg men attacking military posts with arms from Libya. The actions of these actors too are unravelling the fabric of Malian society.

            Ethnic rivalries within Mali

            First, some clarity must be made between racial and ethnic differences in Mali. The media, and some academics, mistakenly generalise the Tuaregs and Arabs in the current crisis of 2012, as well as during Aljebha, and the insurgencies of 2005 and 2008, as ‘lighter-skinned’ than the southern ‘black’ African groups like the Bambara, Malinké or Sarakolé (Tarhule 2003, Abdalla 2009, ARB 2012a). It is true that some Malian Tuareg and Arabs are different in appearance, having physical features that are more North African than sub-Saharan, particularly among the spokesmen for the MNLA and Ansar al-Din (Callimachi 2012, IRIN 2012b). This effort at racial distinction, however, is misleading and omits the complexities of Tuareg and Arab history in the Sahara and Sahel. For centuries these two groups absorbed black Africans into their societies through slave raiding, the adoption of vassals and intermarriage (Boyer 2005, Simanowitz 2009). Among the MNLA and Ansar al-Din are numerous officers and soldiers who resemble black Africans to the south of them but speak Kel Tamasheq or Arabic and identify with either Tuareg or Arab society. Thus, the divisions between northern and southern Malians are more geographical and ethnic than racial.

            A point must also be made regarding the importance of northern Mali to Tuareg groups, living both inside and outside of Mali. The Tuareg live in other North and West African states: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, and Niger. Northern Mali, however, is considered a sacred place to the Tuareg for two major reasons. One is the large number of religious and social leaders who reside in the Kidal region (Boilley 1999, Lecocq 2010). The other involves a pasture region known as the Tamesna (which Niger also shares a part of). The Tamesna is where, during years of good rains, many Tuareg families converge to allow their camels to graze. During these months the Tuareg subsist on their animals' milk and wild foods (Bernus 1992, Bourgeot 2000). The Tamesna is, for Malian and non-Malian Tuareg alike, the heart of ‘Azaouad’.

            Although unseen at the start of European colonialism, the French set in motion the rivalries that exist between northern and southern peoples in Mali. To begin, the French concentrated more on the southern part of the colony for revenue and resource extraction. This created an unevenness in development throughout the colony (Roberts 1997, Coulibaly and Bélières 2004). This said, the French still needed to collect taxes and maintain communications and security for the northern regions of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao. This brought a handful of French officers and even more clerks and soldiers who were once again recruited from the Bambara, Malinké and Sarakolé southern societies (Massing 1996, Van Den Avenne 2005). These individuals, earning steady incomes through colonial service, started in or moved their families to the north. The dietary preferences of these new Saharan inhabitants along with the limits of Saharan agriculture created a demand for produce from the south, also bringing merchants and transporters to the drier regions (Grégoire and Labazée 1993). The demographic change was gradual, but very apparent to Tuareg, Arab, Songhaï and Peulh communities who had lived here for centuries.

            Despite the intrusions of French and southern Soudan Français society into places such as Aguelhoc, Ménaka and Taoudénni, the pastures remained in the jurisdiction of the Tuareg, Arabs, and Peulh. The pastoral commons was reduced during French rule, first in the 1890s and again after the Tuareg revolts of World War I, but the pastoral Tuareg and Arabs were able to maintain their flocks for several decades (Poulton and Youssouf 1998, Sangaré 2005). Furthermore, illicit trade through the Sahara expanded during this time. The French concern over the illegal trafficking of animals, animal products, textiles and Mausers seems minuscule compared to the present-day commodities of cigarettes, petrol, narcotics, people and Kalashnikovs (Meagher 2003, Walther 2009). It is crucial to acknowledge, however, that the constant effort at enclosing the commons through border controls, concessions to mining interests and the GWOT has pushed Tuareg and Arabs to seek out other income activities when drought, disease, or other catastrophes destroy their flocks (Arditi, Janin and Marie 2011, Graham IV 2011). Taken from this perspective, southern groups in Mali can certainly relate as many of them turn to economic opportunities in Malian cities or overseas when crops are destroyed through drought, flooding or pests (Herry 1999, Apprill and Van Den Avenne 2001).

            The end of French colonialism did not stop southerners migrating to northern Mali to work and live. In fact, more came through replacing French officers and from the growth of the central state. These new authorities and their meddling in flock management and the collection of fuel wood were not appreciated in the Kidal Region. As mentioned earlier, these actions incited Alfellagha although many Tuareg did not participate in the fighting. It did not matter, however, to a Malian army whose ranks were Bambara or other southern ethnicities who knew little of Tuareg society. All Tuaregs were seen as combatants and the atrocities committed against both combatants and non-combatants generated a large diaspora with families fleeing to other countries but also Mali's southern cities.

            Northern peoples continued to migrate southward during the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike their counterparts who migrated to the north during colonial and postcolonial times, there were very few employment opportunities lined up. In fact, they had to compete with other migrants affected by the droughts for jobs and other opportunities (Claudot-Hawad 1995, Kohl 2010). They were often discriminated against and, as the environment shifted from displacement in the 1970s and 1980s to violence in the north during Aljebha, the Tuareg and Arabs living in Bamako and other southern cities were intermittently attacked or suffered damage to their businesses and homes (Claudot-Hawad 1995, Kohl 2010). Such occurrences were more frequent and organised in the north, where the Ganda Köy shifted from defensive to offensive tactics in their fight against rebel groups (Cormier-Salem et al. 2005, Châtaigner and Magro 2007).

            The amnesty, repatriation and integration of ex-rebels into the Malian police and military forces in the 1990s was seen as a major step to promoting coexistence between north and south. As practised before, southern recruits to the police and military served in the north but now Tuareg and Arabs served posts in southern Mali. This effort at integration, however, has led to more misunderstandings between cultural groups than acceptance (Demante 2005, Châtaigner and Magro 2007, Arditi, Janin and Marie 2011). For instance, Tuareg and Arab communities in the north complain of the poor representation of Tuareg and Arab among the police and soldiers in their own communities (Florquin and Pézard 2005, Felber, Müller and Djiré 2006). Two droughts affecting northern Mali (2005 and 2011), the limited success of the MNJ/FFR in northern Niger, and the stockpiles of arms and munitions left behind by the Qadaffi regime in Libya gave Malian Tuareg and Arabs the means to express their long-standing animosities with Bamako starting in January 2012.


            Military action could be taken, by the United States, France or NATO, to oust the military junta from Bamako and regain the northern cities from the MNLA and Ansar al-Din (Washington Post Editorial Board 2012). A popular election and the restoration of Mali's constitution could also be imposed, but the damage is done. Mali, for too long, was dependent on foreign investment and aid to keep the country afloat. Its vulnerability to global markets showed months before the recession hit Western countries, as evidenced by the protests of new university graduates over the poor job market in 2008 (Siméant 2011). National leaders have focused more on pleasing international donors than their own constituents, a practice that led to the instability and difficulty in ending the violence in the 1990s. Development in Mali has been weak and slow for all, but regionally it is concentrated in urban zones and the south and scant in the north and rural areas. Finally, ethnic rivalries are a chronic problem in Mali. Violence has been expressed between southern groups (Bambara, Malinké, Sarakolé and others) versus northern groups (Tuareg and Arabs); between neighbouring northern groups (Tuareg/Arabs attacking Songhaï/Peulh and vice versa) and even between Tuareg and Arabs themselves (Seely 2001, Florquin and Pézard 2005). Although the Tuaregs and Arabs are minorities in northern Mali, very few have accepted Bamako as the legitimate authority for their region. Many continue to procure arms and fight for greater autonomy, if not independence. They are not isolated in their struggle either. The presence of the Ansar al-Din and AQIM's possible role call into question what clout international terrorist organisations have with the rebels. The collective actions of all these different actors at different scales are currently fracturing the republic of Mali.

            If Mali is to reunite in the future it will take the participation and patience of the international community, the Malian national government and local actors from both southern and northern Mali. The IMF/World Bank, EU, and US government could play a more reciprocal role than exploitative one by lowering loan rates, focusing investment on social goods in Mali (more so than focusing solely on the GWOT), insisting on regional equity in development projects, and, in regards to China's role as a new foreıgn aid provider, insisting on greater participatory roles of local actors in development. Mali's national government can act as an intermediary brokering not only with international donors but also its southern and northern constituents in the development process. At the same time, the Malian government must continue the long task of diversifying its ranks with both southern and northern groups represented at the local level. Certainly not of least importance, southern groups should end any violence in street protests, and northern groups should put down their weapons to participate in this peace/development process. It is likely too that the MNLA and Ansar al-Din will have to distance themselves from extremist Islam in order to appease US and EU governments. Mali faced such difficulties before in the 1990s and still managed to broker a peace. This time it takes more, however, than promises to bring Mali back together. This time it takes action.

            Note on contributor

            Franklin Charles Graham IV conducted research in the Gao, Kidal and Menaka regions of Mali in 2006–2008. Since the outbreak of violence in January 2012, several of his northern Malian contacts have fled to Burkina Faso or Niger. Most, including the majority of people interviewed, are, however, internally displaced and/or facing food insecurity, health risks and violence.


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            Author and article information

            Review of African Political Economy
            Review of African Political Economy
            September 2012
            : 39
            : 133
            : 512-524
            a Independent scholar
            Author notes
            711078 Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 39, No. 133, September 2012, pp. 512–524

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            Sociology,Economic development,Political science,Labor & Demographic economics,Political economics,Africa


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