It’s Wednesday morning and that means only one thing: it is time for a song from Mali. Today we are delighted to introduce our first musician of Tuareg heritage to feature on the Track of the Week: Omara “Bombino” Moctar. The Tuareg or Kel Tamasheq, as they refer to themselves, have their own deep musical, political, and religious history that is well worth exploring. Andy Morgan has recently published a book that goes a long way in explaining this history and perhaps can begin to help one understand how the Tuareg often struggle in modern Malian life, including with the issue of their independence and their involvement in the country’s current armed conflict.
Bombino himself has an incredible life story which can be read in great detail here. He was born on the first day of 1980 in an encampment of Nomadic Tuaregs in Niger and his life can in many ways relate to the issues outlined above. After the droughts of the mid-80s and during the conflict on the early 90s Bombino – through chance – found himself in possession of a guitar. The guitar had recently been adopted by the Tuareg as a way of projecting their teachings and values through song. At an age not much older than 10 he began to teach himself and after a while Bombino found himself incorporating his music into political rallies and other cultural crafts – including cinema. He even managed to land a role as an extra in a French film that explains the origin of the title of this song of the week.
We have found this delightful live rendition of his and his band’s song “Imuhar” in the link below. Like most music from Mali and the Sahel it takes on an ever-greater energy and purpose when performed live. Bombino is performing live in London on the 25th October. We’ll probably see you there.
We are entering a significant transition period for the nature of the emergency in Mali. The blue helmets and fresh Presidential elections are on the way. For months, the supposed ‘fractured’ remnants of the Islamist rebels have been terribly busy recruiting and recalibrating for a new period of the conflict. The landmine is now a heavily prevalent feature of the Islamist arsenal showing that their confidence in frontier combat has dissipated, yet their presence in the country and region is still daunting.
With great sadness this guardian report describes how Timbuktu’s “social fabric” – so important to its resilience – has been virtually “destroyed” by the conflict and the grand economic and humanitarian exodus of the past year. So the crisis of Timbuktu and northern Mali is not only one of materials but also one encapsulated by an ebbing sense of hope.
The resilience of Mali that has been described in previoussegments is under threat. What can be done? In this final instalment we look at the factors that are undermining typical Malian resilience which is embedded in the social networks between families, unique religious institutions and elders. In particular, what can TheElders of international conflict resolution do to help?
For a full explanation of what or – more accurately – who “The Elders” are then who better to ask than themselves? Their goals, attitude and membership are laid out quite broadly in this two and a half minute video. The Elders are a unique organisation quite simply because there is only one Nelson Mandela, Martti Ahtisaari, Ela Bhatt or Graça Machel in the world. The Red Cross, Save the Children, Action Aid, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all have overlapping competences, expertise, resources, aims, areas of operation and members. These Elders are the only ones, a majestic club, which can only realistically intervene in a select number of issues. Here lies their power and potential. As President Carter explains:
“Where we feel a vacuum in the world, where there’s a need that can be filled by us uniquely, that’s when we decide to take on an issue.”
When The Elders “take on an issue” they are in it for the long term. The crises on the Korean Peninsula, in the Sudan, in Sri Lanka or the Cote D’Ivoire rarely make the headlines but The Elders are there plugging away. The continued work and focus of their small London-based team keeps the names of these humanitarian crises echoing around the halls and corridors of power and have done for years. From engaging the world’s youth and tackling unemployment to working towards equality and justice for the world’s women and girls.
In a way, focus is the key word here. The Elders appear to be an all or nothing organization. When they get involved they drill their support and really encourage debate and cooperation. This is the organization’s real strength. The Elders are not here to photo-bomb international conferences before jetting off to the field to chat with some peacekeepers. They maintain a continued presence and tackle issues at the root for as long as they need.
This can have limitations of course. There are those unfortunate enough not to have had their issue “taken on”. A quick use of the search engine on The Elder’s website can reveal plenty. Equally, Mali is not currently listed under the Elder’s page entitled ‘Our Work’. This of course does not mean individual Elders are not working tirelessly to help bring peace to Mali. It is merely a result of the Elders acting strategically; only lending their independent, door-opening, campaign focusing, and connective work when they feel that there is a unique advantage.
Does Mali have a unique need for this style of support? How does the work of The Elders fit into what we have already learnt about Mali’s resilience?
An interesting place to start to answer these questions is with comments made by MSF emergency coordinator Henry Gray. Speaking on the refugee situation in MSF’s magazine Dispatches he clearly identifies a limitation to his own work. MSF are doing a fantastic job in trying to feed and shelter the thousands of Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, but “until there’s a political solution and they feel safe, they won’t go home”. These refugees are the same valuable, yet vulnerable, members of Malian society that fled from northern Mali leaving civil life in ruins. The material aspect of Mali’s problems is not the key to resolution in this conflict. On this point, The Elders are not equipped with the logistical and humanitarian resources of say the United Nations or the European Union, nor need they be. Indeed, their views usually receive audience in both these organizations and can no doubt have sway on the allocation of resources. But the most important contribution The Elders can make is galvanizing political reconciliation. In Mali, honesty can only be fostered by independent bodies, but preferably from non-governmental outsiders too to avoid colonial connotations. What is rare about The Elders is that its membership is a microcosm of the globe. As the rhetoric of ‘the war on terror’ creeps ever further into the Mali conflict resolution lexicon, it would be useful to have an organization that cannot easily be aligned to a ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’ perspective present somewhere along the road to recovery. As discussed in the previous segment, the success of post-conflict reconciliation strategies strongly depend on the perceived legitimacy of those carrying it out. The Elders, so cherished globally, are possibly the best placed individuals to ensure that this legitimacy is realized and keep whatever processes that are initiated in check.
Most importantly, what of Mali’s torn social fabric? This series will finish by illustrating the role international coordination has to play in rebuilding Mali. As of Wednesday the 15th of May a huge amount of suspended aid was re-engaged and began to flow back into the country. Interestingly, the reinvigoration of donor cash was greeted with a strange mixture of high anticipation and wracked nerves. Any increase in the flow of aid to the troubled areas of the world can generally be regarded as positive news. However, an Oxfam report published straight after called on an increasing amount of aid to be set aside for ‘civil society’ – calling on donors to ‘re-evaluate’ where their support was directed. Though not stated explicitly, Oxfam have raise suspicions about the integrity of the current support for the Malian government and its ability to govern effectively outside of Bamako. Similarly, the report is strikingly restrained, continually calling on aid that ‘does no harm’ indicating that fears remain that the Malian authorities and formal distribution systems remain infiltrated, troubled and ineffective. Ploughing money into them – and nowhere else – could just exacerbate things further. The report points out that for the past decade absolute poverty in Mali has risen, even before the conflict set in. As the title of the report explains, it is time for a ‘new development contract’ in Mali.
Could Mali’s networks of elders and trusted families combined with international co-ordination by the likes of The Elders hold a potentially unrealized asset in the fight to restore peace to Mali? There is every reason to believe so. The factor that will determine the future stability of Mali is if the international community can be brave enough to try and unlock and support Mali’s hidden assets. Oxfam’s concept of a ‘new development contract’ resonates well. However, with all new contracts one must be certain that its signatories are the legitimate representatives of the people it claims to act to the benefit of. At present, there are many reasons to be sceptical of the government to be suitable in this regard, and plenty of reasons to look to Mali’s traditional networks as the alternative.
Yes! A new weekly feature for the Hub will plunge a hand deep into the rich and diverse pool of Malian music and pluck out one song for our enjoyment.
To launch this feature we have a chosen a song that has an extra special significance. Glastonbury Festival 2013 showed excellent solidarity with Malian artists by flooding its line-up with some really big names. We felt we ought to recognise this and thank Glastonbury for highlighting the difficulties that Mali’s music and culture has faced over recent months.
The fantastic Toumani Diabaté was scheduled in to the prestigious job of opening the festival proper by being the first act to grace the Pyramid Stage on the Friday morning. With great sadness, Diabaté was forced to withdraw due to a bout of malaria. We’ve chosen this beauty from him to wish Diabaté to get well soon.
Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week is a weekly feature chosen in advance. If you feel that a particular artist should get special recognition at any time please get in touch with your suggestions.
Mali’s society is equipped with assets that can help it on its road to peace and stability. What will prove difficult is marrying these with the modern, well-resourced, externally controlled conflict resolution techniques being implemented at present without spoiling them forever.
In the last article, it was set out that the local families in Mali’s city of Timbuktu – when organised around traditional values – can be mobilised to perform extraordinary tasks. It is the purpose of this next entry to decipher how this network functions and whether it really harbours any greater potential in creating peace.
Now, it is hard to describe the utility of these systems of mobilization and capacity building in conventional terms. On the whole it feels slightly odd to describe the relationship between Mali’s families, hierarchy, religion and traditions as “systems” in the first place. However, it is equally important not to over-romanticise “traditional” Mali. In any case, describing them should merely be seen as a step in understanding them and their potential role in stabilising Mali.
One way that has become useful in describing these is through the term “African Indigenous Knowledge Systems” or AIKSs for short. These are systems that do not necessarily originate from the formal structures of the state and are usually orientated around institutions and figures of distinctive cultural significance. Professor Fred Ben-Mensah explains that AIKSs can overcome the fact that:
“Modern conflict resolution principles and methods are generally not continuations or adaptations of those of its indigenous populations. There is a perceived gap or “disconnect” between modern and indigenous conflict resolution philosophies and practices.”
Therefore, Ben-Mensah argues that;
“Chances for peaceful resolution of Africa’s conflicts can be enhanced considerably if the region’s indigenous principles, skills, and methods of conflict resolution are understood and harmonized with those of the modern nation-state.”
Mali is no stranger to the successes that can be achieved if the indigenous and modern can be developed simultaneously. AIKSs in Mali have been used to integrate indigenous knowledge into approaches to reversing desertification and in agricultural management. This has produced a world-leading case study. Other areas AIKS have been realised are in child literacy and maternal health. Peter Easton writes in October 2000 of the successes he saw:
“The traditional African social structure, which assigns deliberative roles to the elders, management tasks to the householders and technical ones to the young people in a manner meant to be synergistic and complementary; and from participatory action research, which entails organizing learning around the tasks required to solve a problem.”
In Mali’s hour of need, it is now time to realize the potential of Mali’s elders, religious teaching and family structures in the capacity of conflict resolution, statebuilding, and contributing to the healing of Mali’s battered national consciousness. It is not suggested here that “indigenous” and “modern” are at opposing ends of a spectrum. The point being made here is that there is an over reliance on material, industrialised, and militarised methods of conflict resolution. This approach has been promoted by the world’s most powerful states and organisations in a way that leaves local and domestic potential unrealised.
It is time this was changed. Outlined below are three cases where the skills, methods and principles of Mali’s elders and unique societal ‘systems’ can contribute to stabilisation and peace.
Traditionally, and up to the beginning of the conflict last year, it would have been entirely accurate to describe the Islam of Mali as tolerant and pluralistic. But things changed in the run up to the current instability. In a fantastic report, Reliefweb note that over the last few decades there has been an increase in the construction of new mosques occupied by marabouts – religious teachers – who have been studying in Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries. The Sunni Islam they have learned about in their studies and their comparative wealth to pre-existing religious organisations has not been seen as a problem until now. But during the last 15 months, with increasing Islamist occupation of northern Mali, some of these marabouts suddenly presented themselves as new religious leaders and were even said to have taken part in the fighting.
There has been some response to this showing the pluralism of traditional Malian society. For example, in September 2012 the organising of a conference of ulemas by religious leaders who were members of Mali’s High Council of Islam resulted in the issuing of a clarification document in the form of a “memorandum” calling on Muslims in Mali to follow a tolerant and peaceful Islam anchored in the social values of the country.
Mali’s religious institutions have acted with a sense of national responsibility in the cases above. These must be supported in reclaiming something that is rightfully theirs; their religious tolerance. It is argued here that a measure of peace, security and freedom can be achieved by supporting systems that are already in existence. As a result, Mali can begin to rely less on a War on Terror, Counter-Insurgency or the various other heavy-duty foreign policy techniques.
Adding legitimacy to the reconciliation process
As is the norm for international crises, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been drafted in to investigate allegations of war crimes that have occurred. Its focus on these crimes is encouraging but the ICC has had serious problems in getting its work done in the past. A key issue is legitimacy – can justice be served by any group other than the peoples that the injustices were directed towards? The situation in Mali remains muddled, but from other cases in the ICC’s history points towards the idea that without the involvement of local actors, all sense of legitimacy is lost. The internationalized aspect of Malian conflict has the potential to removes legitimacy from reconciliation processes.
Looking to history, this is exactly what happened in Rwanda and Kosovo. Dominik Zaum compares the administration of transitional justice in Rwanda and Kosovo. In both cases he notes that the international criminal tribunals suffered endemic problems of efficacy and legitimacy compared to their poorly funded local counterparts. His conclusions suggest that the ICC does not learn lessons from one region to the next and therefore:
‘… [it] leaves one sceptical about the claim [that formal justice systems are] a condition for successful peace- and state-building’
In reference to the perception of the Rwandan people in particular he notes that they have:
‘…generally seen international justice as an expensive irrelevance’
What has changed that will prevent the same happening in Mali?
It becomes a quite philosophical problem. What the Western states of the world have to appreciate is that a very specific legalistic approach to justice is a product of how our society has evolved. These methods must be seen to have limitations in contexts outside of the historical circumstances that they were produced by. Restorative justice has to be framed in terms that resonate with the society in hand.
Equally, the type and terms of retribution handed out by the ICC may not be considered sufficient, legitimate, or relevant by the local population. The support that the West can give though is helping to promote successful cases and nurturing a sense of best practice in terms of due-process and upholding human rights. Ben-Mensah highlights that national judicial systems in Africa recognize the existence of traditional conflict resolution systems for their relative competence in matters of local traditions and customs. Some countries have even incorporated them into the national statute. A similar relationship must be nurtured in the way the conflict is handled in Mali, and the network of elder families, their values and history provides a basis to work with.
Restore some distance between the international community and the incumbent regime.
We are now over one year on since the coup d’etat in March 2012. It is important to reflect on how the international community originally responded to the armed struggled for control of Mali’s governance. Comments from prominent regional and international figures went like so:
President of the African Union commission, Jean Ping: “We no longer accept coup d’états”
ECOWAS, (the Economic Community of West African States): “strongly condemns the misguided actions of the mutineers”
Chief of European Union foreign policy Catherine Ashton condemned the “apparent coup” and called for “democratic elections as soon as possible”.
Now, the Malian government has grown into a legitimate partner to the point where a huge amount of suspended aid has begun flowing back in from the developed world and large NGOs. It appears that a certain amount of trust has developed – or the sense of alarm has ebbed – and the government is seen to be an acceptable working partner. The government is operating with an air of “stateliness” despite huge issues that remain concerning the intentions, integrity and competence of the regime, particularly upon the topic of the inequalities between the North and South of the country and the management of upcoming elections.
Though elections have been organized and therefore the incumbent government it generally perceived as temporary, its legitimacy has become enhanced by France’s decision to respond to its calls for intervention and the way the Malian government has conducted itself internationally.
Simply put, it is increasingly conducting itself and being treated like a normal government. By concentrating on supporting the capacity and resilience on Mali’s elders concurrently with that of the government it creates a strong civil society that can put pressure on the government, “check” its power, and generally make it clear that the incumbent regime – like any in a pluralist and democratic society – should never make itself too comfortable.
To begin to implement any of the above would be an astonishing undertaking. Mali is not alone in requiring a change of approach to conflict resolution. Has the world already begun to think differently about the role of ‘the local’ in promoting peace? In the third and final entry on the resilience of Mali’s local population, we will look at how this set of elders can be supported in their endeavours by another, quite different, set of “Elders”…
Disaster and conflict often shows that the indispensable heroes are found in the integrity of locals
Of the many under reported stories of the conflict, the story of the destruction of Timbuktu’s manuscripts in January was a truly global event. For centuries Timbuktu had served as not only an epicentre in the trade of silk, salt, gold and slaves but Timbuktu was also a centre of the trade in knowledge, science and art. A medieval cultural oasis at the edge of the Sahara – the mysticism of this reputation still more or less lives on today. But the conflict and the destruction of these great works have changed this. It is hard to say whether Timbuktu will be imagined with the same majesty in years to come.
Social networks and international media mourned the loss of these precious pieces of world heritage. It was a curious moment that befalls during most human tragedies; when material, or non-human, losses are met with a great outburst of sorrow. Valid reasons for sadness, but always standing awkwardly next to the human death and misery of the wider war.
Very rarely do these outbursts eclipse the emotion felt for the deaths, casualties and terror of war. However, Romeo Dallaire – Force Commander of the UN force in Rwanda in 1994 – has always insisted, coldly and hopelessly, that if it had been the endangered mountain gorillas of the country that were being butchered with the aim of extinction then perhaps international help would have been more forthcoming.
In modern conflict, the line between combatants and civilians, allies and enemies, “good” and “evil”, terrorist and liberator can be significantly blurred. Understandably, withholding empathy can be a natural response to this. It can also be a rational one, for it is uncomfortable for anyone to have to back-track on the solidarity they felt for people overseas upon hearing news that they are perhaps not as innocent as first thought.
To want to wait and learn a bit more about the fighters in a conflict before you lend your support is a healthy attitude. Perhaps responding to the destruction of the manuscripts in Timbuktu was an opportunity for a no-strings-attached outburst for many of the world’s concerned people who had been struggling to hold back their humanitarian instinct. When these inanimate and entirely innocent scriptures, maps and works of art were destroyed so much of history went with them – and for what? It was an act of violence that symbolised the senselessness of the conflict as a whole. What explanation were we given? To the Islamist insurgents the scriptures were a violation of their severe interpretation of Shiria law. It illustrated quite how deranged the logic and the conviction of the Islamist militias were and how destructive they intended to be as a means of reshaping the Sahel in to fit their image.
It was indeed a poignant moment in the war.
But were the scriptures destroyed at all? Remarkably, in the months that followed, stories arose telling of a truly heroic micro-story of the conflict. Yes, the shelves and vaults of the libraries of Timbuktu lay empty. If you went and visited them now you would only find ash and empty leather cases as evidence that these ancient documents ever existed here. However if you did visit, you would also hear rumours – just as Yochi Dreazen of The Atlantic did. His article for New Republic explains the incredible story of how a Malian man called Abdel Kader, of the large and well respected Haidara family, foresaw the coming destruction that the artefacts faced at the hands of the militias. When he was 17, Abdel was the family member of his generation that took a vow to protect the library for a long as he lives. This tradition is replicated across Timbuktu in many families. He was one of his generation’s guardians and the madness of the last year pressed him into action. He had to protect the 300,000 manuscripts and fast, but how?
As Drezen’s article explains, Abdel fell back onto the only reliable thing he could – the networks between the families of Timbuktu who had all maintained the same values, ties and traditions that bound their society together. Steadily, and with immense danger, the artefacts were moved into the homes of many families in Timbuktu. They remained here till the conflict intensified and they then made their way to Bamako over a series of months.
No doubt without the assistance of some key, brave, individuals then none of the above could have happened. But the contributions of one group must be particularly emphasised. These are the families which took the scriptures in and then facilitated, organised and funded their arduous trickle to Bamako. Even here they still are not safe. Bearing the scars of a tough migration south, the more humid climatic conditions are starting to eat away at them now they are away from their multi-million dollar institute. A fund-raising campaign has been set up to support them “in exile”.
While conflict situations will forever attract the international development cavaliers and industrious thrill-seekers, Mali – with its networks between elderly heads of respected families – shows a rarely appreciated source of resilience in war-torn societies. Perhaps the lesson in the story of the manuscripts of Timbuktu is not only about what the world needs to do to nurture Mali’s unique cultural heritage. Actually, it is more about what Mali’s traditional societal characteristics can do to provide conflict resolution approaches for the current crisis, which in turn can be supported by the world.
We will return to the importance of Mali’s social heritage in my next post.
An examination of the changing strategic security environment in West Africa and the effectiveness of the response initiated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with the support of the international community.
rganised by the Centre of African Studies and SOAS, University of London, with the support of the MBI Al Jaber Foundation, ASA-UK and Goldsmiths’ College, this conference aims to provide an interdisciplinary and research-based platform to Africanists from Europe, Africa and the USA, to initiate a debate about the causes of the present political and humanitarian crisis in Mali, but also its impact on the country’s social and cultural diversity.
The four panels will focus on the following themes:
Interdisciplinary perspectives on the crisis
Emergency crisis and impact of humanitarian action
Heritage and conservation
Historical perspectives and future scenarios
The conference will also provide an opportunity to present the work of Mohamed Alher Ag Almahdi, a Malian Tuareg artisan who trained in restoring ancient manuscripts at the British Library and subsequently helped with the restoration of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu.
The situation on the ground in Mali has so far not shown signs of marked improvement. In fact, many commentators are stressing that the cracks in this fragile ‘peace’ are beginning to accelerate in size and number. The word peace is placed in inverted commas here as much of mainstream reporting on Mali has created the impression that peace has prevailed in Mali for some months. The jubilation that anticipated an imminent French victory was given a good deal of coverage in the West. But this ‘peace’ is a peace defined by the absence of physical violence. There are other notions of peace and these help explain the situation in Mali a little more accurately. Some commentators consider the harm caused by poverty and imbalanced societal structures as forms of violence. People who believe there is some mileage in thinking of peace in this way would argue that there has rarely been an instance this year where Mali could be accurately described as ‘at peace’.
With this in mind, the impression one gets now, from a glance at the news, is a slippery slope, a regression and a return to violence in Mali. There remains a threat of a significant reprise from remaining Islamist rebels who, despite being fractured, have changed tactics and are picking off intervening Chadian soldiers at an alarming rate. The familiarity and resilience of Chad’s soldiers to the rocky desert conditions have been seen as so crucial to the success of their better equipped French counterparts. The Islamists are no doubt bruised from the last months of intense combat. However early this April, Mali’s U.N. ambassador, Oumar Daou, warned the 15-nation UN Security Council that “not all of Mali’s territory has been retaken from extremist armed groups and that they are resorting to new tactics, including laying landmines and conducting suicide and car bombs, in an effort to counter offensive by French and Malian forces.”
There will be another 750 000 people in need of immediate food assistance and 660 000 children at risk of malnutrition this year, including 210 000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
But the French want out. It has been announced recently that France aims to have 75% of its forces out by the end of this year. It’s a steady draw-down and not the cut-and-run scenario which many thought would result in a disastrous unravelling of all gains the intervention made in the first place. To confuse the picture, many diplomats have suggested that any future UN Peacekeeping operation should be built around the French forces already deployed in the country. But the French are leaving, and thus it’s now time to explore how the groups that are staying on to try and shape Mali’s future – for better or for worse – have responded to this news. What could be the next results from this withdrawal?
The situation is becoming unstable enough for Chad’s President Idriss Deby to recall his 2000 troops. This is significant in many ways. It serves as evidence that Western countries are not the only places to suffer from the ‘quagmire syndrome’. Secondly, Chad’s soldiers were the only African force in Mali performing a major combat role. Other African contributions remained thinly spread around the Malian capital Bamako, far from the most intense fighting. If African soldiers can justify withdrawing, who will step-up to provide military personnel to serve in a country that so desperately needs them?
The United Nations is considering an intervention. It has made some head way. There are two plans at the moment. In the first option, the current 7,000-strong African-led force, known as AFISMA, remains in the country but is linked to the United Nations and is funded from the UN budget. The second option transitions and expands this force into a “full-fledged UN stabilization mission” of about 11,200 troops. Alongside it, a parallel force would be created to conduct “counterterrorism operations”. The performance of the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) 6,400 strong AFISMA force has won praise from around Africa and from the United Nations. However a full-fledged UN controlled force would have unique terms of engagement and would potentially have to show greater constraint in its combat operations. This could in fact be a boon rather than a flaw – and the Malian ambassador to the UN has already expressed it finds the second option – that of a full-fledged UN mission – more favourable. The more inflexibility the UN has to stop it being enlisted and marched off into a wider War on Terror in the Sahel, the better. If it does come to that, it is a situation that the UN rarely wins. Either it over extends, as in Black Hawk Down, or it gets swept aside, along with its credibility, as it did over Iraq.
Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni – of the Institute for Security Studies, Dakar – is right to ask what mandate should this UN mission be handed? Again, there are two options. The first is a mission similar to the one currently underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is charged with the (not so) simple task of keeping warring parties apart. The second is the opposite, a Somalia 1992-93 style intervention characterised by actively seeking and destroying the opposition rebels. The first option seems more favourable here, as problems prevail in defining and identifying a coherent opposition force.
“The Tuareg musician lived under the puritanical rule of the Mujao militia from April 2012 until the French army drove them out in January…life under sharia law was difficult and occasionally dangerous for a musician. But for many Tuareg – identifiable by their lighter skin – the prospect of living with the Malian army was worse. “I’m more frightened of the Malian Army and tribal militias like the Ganda Koy, than the Mujao (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa),” he said. “All they look at is your colour.”
Morgan continues to explain that “As many feared, wresting the northern two thirds of Mali back from the Islamists has been easier than reuniting the nation.” Tuareg have split from Tuareg – some “do not even begin to see themselves as Islamists” whilst other separatists have been cooperating with AQIM for years.
Malian national unity in general is a huge problem. Perhaps the UN could find its footing after the Haiti cholera outbreak scandal in its more traditional role as a mediator. Dr. Roland Marchal, a specialist on the economics and politics of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, warns that this also entails problems. By acting as mediator the UN risks legitimising both unelected government and rebels alike. Historically interventions from external actors often undermine the forces and structures they ought to promote. For this reason Dr. Marchal believes that any UN mandate must be cautious of setting out to heal cultural and historic conflict in Mali: a new social contract for peace and justice must be forged by the Malians themselves. Dr Marshal suggests a “National Conference…” – a broader affair than traditional peace negotiations – “…that would encompass many actors rooted in the political, social, religious and cultural arenas.” He states that it “may offer a greater chance to reach a sustainable agreement” and may be more sustainable as it would confront the fact that all parties involved face allegations of huge human rights violations.
So perhaps there is a role for the UN as a facilitator; to table a fresh set of elections and channel international support. Unlike in Rwanda and Angola where this strategy failed spectacularly, some democratic norms are already prevalent in Malian society. Perhaps Mali will be responsive and succeed in places where other interventions failed. Statements following a recent week-long from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet appear promising in this regard. He stressed that any UN force would be limited and would focus on supporting the Malian authorities and protecting civilians. As AllAfrica reports:
‘“The sovereignty of Mali is the main objective of this international support,” Mr. Mulet said. “It is not to create a buffer between the north and the south. The members of the Security Council and the member states are very clear on the need for Mali to extend its authority over all its territory” he added.’
“While attention is focused on the type of peace operation to put in place in Mali, the international community should not lose sight of the fact that a peace operation alone will not suffice to bring about a lasting solution to the profound security and governance crisis that has led Mali to its current predicament.”
From the moment the French arrived, or even when Mali’s government sent a plea for help, the governance and future of Mali has been internationalized. As James Schneider – editor of Think Africa Press – explains that Mali is being described using a “false narrative” which “places the effects of Western policy far above the moods and motivations of Malians”. It seems that a narrative prescribing to a wider War on Terror has influenced policy for a long time. The United States made up its mind on this one some time ago. The Obama administration has “spent more than $550 million over the past four years to help train and equip West African armies to fight militants so that the Pentagon would not have to”. An article in the New York Times caught up with the US soldiers training African forces in the southeastern corner of Mauritania, about 100 miles from the border with Mali. The detail of the article exposes a deep preparedness in the persona of the US soldiers. It hints how long Mali has been taken seriously as the next potential battlefield in the War on Terror, and how involved the US has been with Mali’s neighbours in drawing up the agenda for Mali’s future. Is the UN really calling the shots here?
The United Nations does have an opportunity in Mali to prove it is not just full of hot air. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has plenty on its plate at the moment; with the crisis in Syria ever out-of-hand and the already massive mission in the DRC seeing troops increases and a strengthening mandate . Regardless of this, it is the view that a UNPK mission for Mali could be ready by July. However as this article points out a deployment date and the length of time the mission’s mandate will run for have not been formally written out. Equally ambitious are the Malian government’s hopes to hold elections in July, and while Security Council diplomats and UN officials said that goal may be overly ambitious the EU has waded in stating that it is ambitious, of course, but surely it is also desirable? Someone needs to take the plunge and throw their weight into this plan soon before Mali’s unelected regime is left to manage this crisis itself.
It would be a surprise if France is forthcoming with troops again, and the UN knows this. The UN has made plans to give President Hollande a ‘Peace Prize’ to stick on his mantelpiece. Now, he wouldn’t want to gamble that chance away now, would he…?
This time next month the major component of the French military intervention in Mali is going to be heading home. However, this has not halted the debate over the reasons for France’s involvement in Mali in first place. Interestingly, it is the African journalists rejoicing and describing France and Hollande as their saviours, making the whole thing seem like a jovial neo-colonial favour. Meanwhile, parts of the Russian and Arabian press remain highly critical, citing geopolitics and West Africa’s resource endowment as the real pull-factors in the French decision to intervene. These arguments are compelling, however a huge part of the French timing of their intervention and their withdrawal are linked to the domestic political landscape in France.
Quite incredibly, as this research shows, France has conducted 46 separate Military Interventions in Africa between 1960 and 2005. What constitutes an intervention may be contestable, but by the standards set out in the research above the military campaigns France has led in Libya and Mali in 2011 and 2013 should bring this total up to 48 – averaging just under once-a-year since a wave of African states, including Mali, gained their independence 53 years ago.
In their own words, one would suspect that the French would describe their mission as overwhelmingly successful. As Oussama Romdhani summarises:
“Five weeks after the start of their military campaign, the French believe they have already achieved about “70% of the set-objectives”. They have indeed retaken the cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. Then, with the help of Chadian and Malian armies, their expeditionary forces have dealt heavy blows to Jihadist positions in the Ifoghas and Timetrine regions, north east of Mali….Compared to the relatively limited casualties in the French expeditionary force, hundreds are said to have been killed in the ranks of Ansar al-Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJAW) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)…”
But the important question remains begs to be answered: “… is there reason to believe there is a clear endgame in sight here?” Does the timing of the French troop withdraw going to impact positively on Mali?
There is much doubt that this was a consideration in the decision to withdraw at all. It is end-game time for France, and that’s that. As Romdani points out the “quagmire syndrome” is choking the halls of the French foreign ministry. The quagmire syndrome is a historic problem, a ghost that haunts countries who have ever had a fairly miserable experience conducting a military intervention and fear a recurrence of the rolling difficulties, plunging approval ratings, spiraling costs, and mounting body count. The enthusiasm for the war in Mali amongst French people, especially people of the political right, is quickly departing. This war in Mali – a victory for Hollande – is slowly becoming a vulnerable flank to attacks from the hawks of French security policy. The press is turning and it is time to get out. April has been announced as draw-down date and will see all but a fraction of the French forces return home, or relocate to relocate to Niger. As William Terdoslavich writes in reference the American experience of Vietnam; botched and bloody interventions haunt political elites long after they finish.
But as Romdani wisely notes “quick military victories alone will not provide an endgame for the Sahel’s widening arc of crisis.” Reprisal suicide bombings are jeopardizing the French’s ability to get out swiftly and successfully state the case that everything is done and dusted. This violence is a potential spanner in works for the way the world will view French withdrawal plans, but it seems pretty clear that France are leaving next month anyway. If France adamantly stick to their self-declared withdraw date – in this setting – they run the risk of appearing to be trying to wash their hands of their responsibility of not getting a the job done. France is getting out of there and is medicating the ‘quagmire syndrome’ with a strict regime of treatment and is willing to take a risk on its credibility for it.
Where does this leave Mali, and what does the rest of the world planning to do about it? The Malian army cannot be left to fend for themselves just yet. During the most intense period of the conflict “some of the Malian soldiers ran out of ammunition before the jihadists did.” But everyone isn’t leaving. Yes, it is the plan that the majority of the fighting will not be done by the armies of Western countries from now on, but that does not mean these armies have not remained behind in some capacity. The EU is introducing a force this spring for a period of about 15 months which will aim to support the Malian army in securing the gains of the last few months. The French, joined by the Czechs, will retain a combat role in defence of infantry training personnel from the Republic of Ireland and 40 troops from the United Kingdom. Whilst most of the British troops will carry out mortar and artillery training, it is a welcome sign that four UK personnel will be headquarters-based alongside three civilians from the Foreign Office’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative who will provide human rights and gender awareness training. The UK government continually stresses that its contributions will not be in combat roles, further evidence of our obsession in avoiding the quagmire. This leaves the remaining French forces to do the taxing job of scouring Mali’s dry, rocky and unforgiving landscape, or ‘Planet Mars’ as it has become known.
The stability of the situation on the ground remains confused. Diplomats from the United States are convinced everything is chugging along smoothly and have already committed $6.6million toward elections. Instability remains widespread. Malian everyday tells a slightly less chirpy story. As was suggested in an earlier article written by the author, militarism usually brings more militarism. “Striking knives into wounds rarely cause them to heal any quicker.” In response to “France’s Crusader Campaign” Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have appealed for the “sons of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Mauritania, to thwart the attack of Crusader France and defeat its agents in the region, and empower the Islamic project.” France can claim to have dented this call to arms by killing one of the leaders of AQIM. But when in the War on Terror has decapitation ever stunted the long term war-preparedness of Al Qaeda and its associates? These wars are not frontier wars with battle lines drawn, with enemy armies to crush and rout off a designated battlefield. It’s not about seeking terms and surrender. Taking out significant members of armed rebellions rarely translate into a crushing the willingness to fight, because the reason for taking up arms isn’t mercenary. The difficulty in attempting to deliver ‘knock-out’ blows on any large network of armed groups is that reports of enemy deaths can be so easily contested. For example, the world seems unable to confirm whether the notorious architect of the Algerian hostage crisis, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is dead or not.
Someone who had met Belmokhtar on quite a few occasions is Dr. Abdoulaziz Maiga, a family practitioner and aspiring surgeon at the Hospital of Gao. According to Anne Jolis of The Wall Street Journal Belmokhtar is ‘just another patient’ for Dr Maiga – “sometimes he came to the hospital and sometimes we went to his house. But it was purely medical.” In an amazing article, Dr Maiga takes us on his journey through his experience of the war, occupation and his interactions with the Belmokhtar and his soldiers. Despite the strength of the French in battle, he states that the militants remain “strong and they’re dangerous. With all that we’ve survived here, no one feels secure. Even with the French here, they’re still capable of doing things.” As Jolis continues:
“It’s not hard to see why Dr. Maiga does “not have confidence” in French talk of an imminent troop drawdown—and why he might dread that development. If the jihadists ever manage to retake Gao, it will likely mean a return to the most harrowing period of the doctor’s professional life…assisting in the dismemberment.”
Dr. Maiga was forced to cut, repair and dress the stumps of their victims. He found it very difficult. He went into medicine to combat disease and infection, but now appears to be burdened with the guilt of assisting in nine Shariah-prescribed amputations. Like every other resident of Gao with whom Jolis spoke, Dr. Maiga doesn’t really believe the jihadists have gone anywhere. “Mujao is very powerful,” he says.
So the French are leaving, but the situation does not seem one primed for their departure. There is an explanation. As the editor of Think Africa Press explains, the reason the withdraw has to be now is in line with the justification for intervening in the first place. It’s not neo-colonialism. Despite France’s “sorry record of neo-colonialism in its former colonies” this intervention “is not an example of it.” Apparently it’s not as a result of Mali’s resource endowment or “strategic importance” either, but rather a combination of three prevailing narratives. One is combating Islamist militants in a broader War on Terror and another is salvaging a chunk of domestic popularity. The third is because France was asked to by the government of Mali. This narrative is not so much a neo-colonial one but is instead because “Mali is a victim of structural dominances related to colonialism and its subordinate position in systems of global power. France’s intervention is an expression of that rather than an extension of it.” In this position of authority, France only has to stay for as long as the other two narratives permit it. Sinking support for the war domestically and the fear of being stuck in a quagmire in the Sahel means it’s definitely time to go. Sadly, Mali’s domestic affairs have no weight in this equation.
The story of “Aissatou” started over 12 months ago with her heavily pregnant fleeing from the advancing rebels. At the age of 14 she was only a child herself when she gave birth to her son and arrived in Gao. The rebel forces soon caught up and tore the community to pieces. Aissatou locked herself in her house for two straight days. Only when she emerged was the full reality of the trauma made clear. Her brother-in-law’s hand had been cut off at the wrist – justice in the eyes of the rebels for alleged stealing. Worst still was the crimes and atrocities committed against scores of young girls – including Aissatou’s closest friend “Ines”. The girls of the village – aged in their middle-teens – were taken by force and transported in trucks to the bush where they were raped, abused, and beaten with blunt weapons. Discarded, Ines – a girl of only 14 years – fled and was found fallen in the road by men from the village and brought back to their hospital. This is where Ines told Aissatou her terrible story. Aissatou, on the run again, has not seen Ines since.
A representative from Save the Children Australia made a point of reporting Aissatou’s story. Very few stories that can bear be told, even when victims can be reached. The vast majority of traumas remain unreported and for many their stories are not finished. Despite a fairly comprehensive military victory on part of the Malian’s and the French, UNICEF has recently emphasised that ‘risks to women and children are far from over’ due to prevailing insecurities. While control has been restored to the north, rebel forces have reprised in suicide bombings and guerrilla warfare behind French-Malian lines. With these acts of violence, and in the chaotic disorder that ensues, the disgraceful and humiliating acts of sexual abuse and rape carry on.
Life during war time and under oppressive occupation is exceptionally tough for the disempowered. What does Mali tell us about this issue? What does examining the conflict in through a gendered lens tell us about Mali? What stories must be shared? The history of women in war paints a bleak picture. Our understanding of the role of gender in conflict is fairly underdeveloped, but our most obvious finding so far in the long history of war is that the odds of violence, rape, humiliation and death are stacked overwhelmingly against women. Unfortunately the situation in Mali has not strayed from this sinister trend. Reports of sexual violence and abuse against women have come overwhelmingly from the northern areas of the country which were or have been occupied by the rebels. The brutality described in the stories of the victims is unbearable. According to Save the Children’s perennial report ‘The State of the World’s Women’ Malian women, and subsequently Malian children, rank in as the 7th worst-off in the world in a composite index including healthcare, life-expectancy, sexual and maternal health, socio-political opportunities and education. It is safe to say that Malian women, compared to their male counterparts, appeared to be severely less-resilient to the impending conflict and its aftermath. UNICEF has responded with a stirring report entitled Supporting Women through an Emergency which sets out its developmental agenda in Mali for 2013 with specific reference to increasing the resilience of women. This is welcome news, especially considering this battle-cry from freelance journalist Amma Bonsu which stresses the rise of Islamists in an already patriarchal society severely threatens the country’s strong and industrious women. If Mali is to recover the world must invest in its women.
But how is this achieved when the security situation on the ground is still in doubt? The main provider of physical and strategic security still has to be the French who are adamant that they are going to be leaving soon. Details surrounding an African Union force, UN Peacekeepers, or an EU delegation all remain murky, indistinct, and stink of a situation being held at arm’s length. We also must not disregard reports that the Malian army itself is a threat to the fragile security as to its people. Asking the French to stay brings its own problems with reports of ethnic violence and wanton abuse – which so often haunt peacekeeping interventions – being levelled against the French and Malian government troops themselves. Even if stability continues to improve, the emphasis on the security crisis in the north has meant that aid projects are being heavily emphasised in these areas. The EU said it will come to the assistance of women who have been a victim of abuse by releasing some of the 250 million Euros of development aid it froze after the coup in Mali in March last year – but what of the women falling ill to the reprisals and attacks in the south? Arguably, the most severe stories are still coming from the north. Only last week fresh stories of rapes, stoning, lashes and forced marriages were reported. Unfortunately, regardless of a prevailing north-south dichotomy it seems that scarce resources are going to be out of reach to many thousands of women and children all around this fragile country, in this year and into the future.
With the military victory led by the French, some improvements can be observed. One cannot help but be warmed by the sight of the recently-liberated women of Timbuktu rejoicing in acts of self-expression that for so long has be quashed. Dancing and singing, and wearing what they wanted. Talking to whoever they wanted. Inspirational businesswomen and musicians have also returned making a future for Mali where women see their quality of life improve more viable. Some commentators are fearful that an early exit from the intervening ground troops threaten to unravel all that has been gained. Amma Bonsu is of the opinion that “an occupying force must remain in Mali until the frayed interim government is replaced with an elected government committed to educating girls and expanding the rights of women”. It is a logical request, especially when we must remember that the current incumbents in Bamako were installed by coup rather than ballot. The issue remains of political will – what organisation powerful enough but also willing to stay longer than is politically viable? François Hollande has his victory – which he hopes he can translate to political approval back at home – why risk this by staying and giving the public approval gains he has made through the intervention an opportunity to fester and decay?
The Department of International Development (DFID) cites a statistic that should frighten anyone to the core: one woman in every three is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. These acts of physical violence and the psychological traumas that result from them are, despite their severity, too frequently left undiscovered. In the midst of the upheaval, destruction and the state of exception found during war the crisis facing the world’s women only escalates. The societal and structural factors that drive and manifest gendered violence are even more elusive. Cultural practices, historic norms and societal conventions, some enshrined in law, such as forced marriages, gendered hierarchies, and restricted access to education and work are complex and entrenched vehicles for violence.
These systems are present globally. Correspondingly, the fight for equality has to be fought globally. It extends everywhere; from debates concerning succession in the British monarchy and number of female MPs sitting in Westminster to the issue of the demobilisation of child soldiers in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 40% of child soldiers are thought to be girls yet Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programmes (DDRs) only see girls making up 5% of total enrolment. This missing 35% – the girls in their thousands that are disproportionately excluded from these schemes – meet far grimmer fates than the boys that suffered alongside them. In Mali, Britain has yet to fully recognise the humanitarian blight that is unfolding. Like Hollande, senior politicians in Britain are more concerned with not becoming embroiled into another lengthy occupation – an obvious hangover from Afghanistan. When intervention and involvement is considered seriously it is only considered in military terms – of defeating jihadists and winning a battle in a broader geo-political war on terror. The plight of the most vulnerable is an issue that does not resonate loudly in Britain today.
Although we can always hope for the future. As International Women’s Day approaches journalists, political commentators, staff of national and international development agencies, as well as politicians, have an opportunity to advance our awareness of women in war and this long underappreciated dynamic of human conflict. The United Nations has taken the approach of positive canvassing this year. Instead of focusing on the terror described above, the UN has compiled statistics on why empowering women is so important – not simply as a moral cause for equality but as a way of alleviating poverty. For example; “if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent, lifting 100-150 million out of hunger”. So can Mali show us any evidence that it will rise out of this conflict with women in greater stead? World War I saw Western women gain the vote, and the parliament of post-genocide Rwanda has the highest % of women MPs of any country in the world. Concentrating on women in conflict can not only reveal structural and systematic failures; it can also be an opportunity to empower women and realise their full capacity as a force for positive change.
Angelique has for years worked tirelessly with other artists to strengthen the hand of the world’s women through. For a detail of the kind of causes she supports please visit the webpage of the ‘Half the Sky’movement which is dedicated to “Turning Oppression into an Opportunity for Women Worldwide”.
To promote this the Mali Interest Hub is offering a free copy of Angelique Kidjo’s live music album. All you have to do is answer this question:
For what album did Angelique Kidjo win a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 2008?
Competition closes Sunday 10th of March. Contact us here with the answer and we’ll let the winner know on the 11th of March.
Royal African Society – Room 3B20, Strand Campus, King’s College, London, WC2R 2LS
Speakers: Mr Ali Soufan (CEO, The Soufan Group) and Dr ‘Funmi Olonisakin (Director, African Leadership Centre). Chair: Professor Jack Spence OBE (Department of War Studies, King’s College London).
Focusing on Mali, this event will look at the wider implications for the Sahel. We will examine the structural causes of the rising tide in extremist movements and ask – what will be the regional and international response that will succeed in stopping the fall of the Sahara?
Downing Street Mali Demonstration – 9.30am 8th February 2013
Malian Community Council & Malian Consulate – Parliament Square
Malian Community Council – “A demonstration in Parliament Square, to be completed by a march on Downing Street to hand over a declaration/letter to the PM’s office. In this letter we will express our thanks and those of the malian people to the coalition that helped the Malian Army to oust the islamic extremists from Northern Mali and ask the British government for more involvement.”