Tag Archives: Politics

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Fatoumata Diawara – Bissa

Is the situation in Mali getting better? Or is it getting worse? How do we even attempt to answer this question? The common reference point for many is the 2012/13 conflict. What great achievements has Mali secured since then? In what way does the country continue to slide further out of control?

To concentrate temporarily on the good stuff, there has been one headline grabbing ‘break-through’ moment in recent weeks. Even more important than the Bamako-Segou Highway having almost been completed is that Mali has been declared “Ebola Free” after going 42 days without a new reported case. The virus claimed 6 lives and infected 8 since October. The resilience of Mali’s health system has been tested, and comparatively speaking, it has scraped through successfully…for now. Mali, for the most part remains a post-conflict, developing country and the region’s healthcare systems have been decimated by Ebola. Like every internal issue affecting Mali today, it must be considered within its international context.

Balancing and structuring a narrative about the national and international ‘setting’ of Mali’s struggles is done excellently in this piece by Andrew Lebovich. In a succinct and accessible manner, Lebovich reminds us of the complexity of the issues at hand, and indeed contributes plenty more questions to those that started this article – how can we measure success in Mali? Worthy of significant consideration are the issues of the Tuareg, the remnants of the MNLA, illegal drug trade, gangs, French intervention, regional diplomacy and trade to name a few.

One good bit of regional news is the return of the Festival sur le Niger for its 11th edition, at which Fatoumata Diawara is expected to play alongside an all-star cast of fellow Malians. In international news, a Malian-born man has been awarded French citizenship following his “heroic” actions at the kosher restaurant where he worked when it was attacked by a gunman, killing 4. The story of Lassana Bathily is a small beam of goodness is the misery that has racked Parisian society over the last month.

After a such a mixed update of all things Mali, a populist choice for Song of the Week has been made. The song has over 900,000 views on YouTube since its 2011 upload and following its release on Diawara’s first album ‘Fatou‘.

 

Fatoumata Diawara – Bissa

President IBK – Year One by Jonathan Marriott

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has had a politically challenging first year in office. His personal popularity has slumped and any sign of recovery has stagnated. Photo credit: TVC News

The 12th of August was the first anniversary of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s landslide election victory, but any evidence on the streets of Bamako might have been hard to come by. Everywhere you look in the Malian press these past few weeks there are retrospectives on the last twelve months, but unlike this week one year ago, there won’t be much in the way of flag-waving, smiling faces and music. In response to a disappointing come-down from last year’s optimism, all are looking to “the worst president that Mali has ever had” for an answer – how did he get here? What has been done with all that hope? Options are still open to the former World Bank employee, but they require compromise and a willing attitude, both things he seems increasingly reluctant to give.

That IBK has disappointed and underwhelmed is uncontroversial on all sides; despite having brought all the necessary threads together to weave a stable and economically sound future in the run-up to his election, the country has continued to unravel. However he did it, IBK’s friends have grown more numbered, and the hope and feeling of solidarity that infused his campaign has dissipated. This time one year ago, the country was recovering from a war that saw its northern regions, collectively an area as large as France, overrun by al-Qaeda affiliated military organisations, forcing intervention from their old colonial masters, the French. But a year on, the government’s control over the north is flimsy and incomplete, and two weeks ago Keita signed a defence agreement with French President François Hollande that means French troops will stay in the country on a long-term basis. Peace talks with the comparatively moderate separatists the MNLA (Mouvement Nationale de Libération de l’Azawad) were first scheduled for this time last year, but still haven’t really happened yet. A stultifying inertia seems to have gripped the country’s governing body, as deadlines seem to slip by, opportunities for opening new discourse fall at the first hurdles, and movements towards inclusion and consolidation wither from inattention. Whilst the French are very much back in the country, raising questions of neo-colonialism, allegations of corruption and nepotism have begun to accumulate against IBK, and the much-discussed multi-billion euro EU aid has once again been halted. So much of that hope and euphoria you may have seen at his election has turned to set faces, subdued and gloomy criticism, frustrated voices and scandal. IBK is pretty much all that remains of his cabinet, the whole lot of them having resigned en masse in May this year.

His position is looking lonelier as he has managed to alienate so many of that almost incredibly long list of friends that propelled him into power in the first place, and yet he seems to approach issues with an air of complacency and inattention, which is frustrating his electorate. But though lonelier he may be, he is perhaps not all that uncomfortable: from the back of his brand new $1.4 million Rolls Royce perhaps the fortunes of Mali seem a bit less pressing, the voices of exasperation and calls for his resignation surely only heard mutedly. Or they would, if the luxury vehicle were ever to leave the exclusive Missabougou quarter of Bamako where it languishes in a garage. It has been seen as a symbolic portrayal of his lavishness and abdication of responsibility; the impoverished north whose rebellion created the circumstances for his election, and whose fate is intimately and (sadly) oppositely tied to that of any state in Mali, is almost entirely without paved road. Keita seems to have turned around and gone home, filling his cabinet and government with family members, and shunning open engagement with the electorate. As one commentator put it: “IBK has lost his tongue – that with which he used to shake heaven and earth to make himself heard. It is a silence which says much about his limitations faced with the hard reality of the exercise of power”.

Others have extolled the heroism of Soumailla Cissé, who on the day of IBK’s election visited his house to concede, before the votes were counted, pledging himself to help the new President to forge a better future for Mali. It was widely seen as an act of political heroism; he had fallen on his sword for the good of the country and to maintain its forward momentum, but Keita’s use of the mandate and support he was gifted during the turbulent months at the beginning of 2013 have drawn strong criticism. In an article on this website in November of last year, Sam Garbett presciently warned of the dangers of great expectations for Keita’s presidency, in particular mentioning Gordon Brown’s abject prime ministership in the UK. Prescient because, as frustrations have risen and Keita’s reputation for having a strong hand has waned, disappointment and gloom, that must surely give way to anger and rebellion, have spread.

But all is not lost. Peace talks with the MNLA (the Tuareg separatists unaffiliated with al-Qaeda) are still on the cards, if the political will is there to pursue them. A new dialogue, agreed upon among the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) on the 8th of June, has already seen the release of 30 prisoners from Kidal. It may be a crucial moment for Mali, amid frustration and growing distrust over the failed peace process, since a cease fire was broken in May. On the 26th of June at the African leaders’ summit, Ban-Ki Moon called for talks with the separatists in Mali beginning August 17, again providing some political pressure for a solution. Could a meeting of MNLA chiefs, much reported in April, yet bear fruit? The antagonisms between North and South seem hardly likely to disappear overnight. In April the new Prime Minister, Moussa Mara, declared outright war against the MNLA, In May 50 government troops were killed in a failed attempt to retake the MNLA-occupied town of Kidal, a fiasco for which Mara was widely criticised, and the foreign minister disappointed a UN securtiy council meeting by labelling them Terrorists, and showing little inclination to reach out to them. If the country is to be unified, steps need to be taken to welcome the Tuareg into the nation as equal citizens, and although precious little voluntarism from the politicians in charge is forthcoming, with pressure in the right places a new integrated Mali is still a possibility.

So where next for Mali? Further into the doldrums and authoritarianism? For now, the mood suggests a dim hope that given continued support, and given a political discourse absent from petty rivalries, partisan politics and personal ambitions, Mali may yet find its untapped potential under IBK. For the moment, however, the outlook is distinctly unappealing.

Jonathan Marriott

New President, Old Problems: The early days of IBK’s regime

Men set up a stage for a campaign rally next to a poster for Malian presidential candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (known as IBK) in Bamako, Mali, August 9, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Joe Penney

Any newly elected executive has a difficult task ahead of them regardless of the events preceding their inauguration. For a President one opening matter is to get the right balance of characters into government and getting the country up and running. Style and the setting of priorities are incredibly important. A coherent, suitably ambitious and achievable agenda for power must be made. Get the pace wrong here and you can promise too much and deliver too little or you can end up picking the wrong fights and risk isolation. The early months of a new government can also fall victim to the reliance on the wave of euphoria that delivered them to power. Some forget that this honeymoon period comes to an abrupt end. If taken for granted, a newly installed premier can find that hope and excitement subsides into disappointment and frustration all too quickly. Just ask Gordon Brown how that feels…

So looking to Mali’s new President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (fondly referred to as IBK for short) we can expect the stakes on the early weeks of government to be even higher. A daunting in-tray faces the run-away winner of this year’s elections. How has IBK tried to deliver his election-winning message of peace, unity and technical and administrative competence? Increasingly and ever important for any modern developing world President is external relations, but getting the balance between this and national stability and reconciliation is crucial. These two sides are intrinsically linked yet IBK has urgent issues to address on both fronts – how has he approached this, have some events already forced his hands, and what can we learn already?

Mali’s new cabinet

The first decision that faces any incoming Premier – in this case Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly – is the creation of a cabinet. This is a great way of anticipating the attitude of a government going forward. IBK has certainly made choices to deliver a symbolically unified government. Many of the key appointments are detailed in this article. The prestigious role of Foreign Minister has been handed to Zahaby Ould Sidy Mohamed, a Timbuktu-born Arab from the North who was a senior figure in a rebellion in the 1990s. One of his key tasks will be dealing with the United Nations and issues surrounding the already understaffed MINUSA Peacekeeping deployment picking up from the work of General Secretary Sekouba Cisse. Having an individual from the north represent Mali in this way on the world stage opens the door reconciliation with the north. Mali’s Foreign Minister will arguably be the most important portfolio for providing solutions to Mali’s most pressing needs. Firstly, Mali’s relationship with its West African neighbours will be crucial to the safe return of the thousands of refugees and restoring Mali’s territorial integrity. These countries will be vital to Mali’s economic recovery and in tackling trans-continental organised crime.  Looking further afield, the continued presence of French troops is a reminder of the importance of relations outside of Africa. The US is another key ally in this area as is the EU in the form of a major source of development aid. All in all, the decision to give this important role to a man from Mali’s north is a very encouraging act of trust indeed.

Potential international esteem has been gathered in the form of Boubou Cisse who has been made head of Mali’s Mining Ministry and Bouare Fily Sissoko the country’s new Finance Minister. Both Cisse and Sissoko have experience to draw on from their recent work at the World Bank as well as contacts to exploit. Sissoko is also one of four women in Mali’s 34 person strong Cabinet. Seeing women be given prominent roles is promising and perhaps deserves more credit – Mali has matched the number of women in David Cameron’s reshuffled cabinet of 27. An act of continuity comes with the appointment of Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga as Defence Minister who held the position under President Alpha Oumar Konare and the intriguing re-appointment of Territorial Administration Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly and Transport Minister Abdoulaye Koumare. Both these men held these posts under the military junta who came to power through the coup in 2012 and their inclusion would hopefully have the positive effect of appeasing or even bring the disgruntled elements of the military on-side. However, their presence in government could be questioned on the grounds of legitimacy – are these men here on merit – as argued here – or as a result of the coup have they effectively made their way into Mali’s political class by force?

Managing prevailing instability

On paper this cabinet shows the breadth and depth of character and experience to deliver on IBK’s promises.  There is a theme of inclusivity and a good mixture of old and new faces. Their arrival however has not coincided with the timely arrival of a stable and peaceful Mali. The towns of Gao and Kidal in the north-east of the country continue to be the centre of a very precarious security situation. On the 7th of October, in the first attacks in several months, the rebel group Mujao have claimed the life of a Malian soldier after he sustained fatal injuries from rocket fire. At the same time the city of Kidal has only very recently been brought under government control. It recapture was not an easy task for government forces who mounted their assault just before peace talks with the MNLA were due to begin. The decision to pursue the MNLA aggressively at this time seems ill-judged and disjointed and has now placed further strain on negotiations.

Kidal City (almost) open. Source:  Jeune Afrique

The armed groups in the north appear to be in retreat. Contrary to this more optimistic assessment a terrifying document has emerged. An 80 page “Islamist road map” that written around 12 months ago has been discovered. It is thought that the document was prepared for al-Qaeda. Its contents could explain the change in the strategy of al-Qaeda and other armed groups in northern Mali. It reveals a significant rift occurred midway through last year’s insurgency and confirms that some figures within the rebel networks correctly predicted the problem of insurgency over-reach. They claimed that the ambition to make a charge for Bamako would inevitably lead to the involvement of international forces. As a result, the prospect of military defeat became a far more likely outcome. A rush to Bamako would spell disaster for the wider objectives al-Qaeda had for the Sahel and was an unnecessary risk. These individuals were right. In light of the rebels failure to advance south the recommendations of the 80 page document may have only been heeded now. Is AQIM defeated or in a tactical retreat?

Crucially, this document details how al-Qaeda must not rely on the military capacity of its insurgents. Instead it must emerge newly configured with the intention of implementing Sharia law slowly to earn the trust of locals. Is al-Qaeda regrouping, rethinking and slowly re-emerging in Northern Mali? If this is being pursued it would bring the improving security situation into dispute. Indeed, at the end of September more than a dozen people “were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack in a Malian army camp in the city of Timbuktu”. The likely aim of this horrendous act of terror attack was to crush the confidence of the Malian people, destabilise the morale of the army itself and tarnish the army as a symbol of government stability – right in the heart of Mali’s northern territories. Al-Qaeda has resorted to a fight for hearts and minds – not territory. It would be beneficial to them to make peace talks look like a government failure.

This is not a time for IBK to be drawn into a false sense of security. Was cutting his trip to France short a wise move? Probably, but in returning home does IBK look like he is buckling to Al-Qaeda pressure? Or does he come across as a man who knows that his country needs him most of all in the support of domestic peace negotiations? It’s an archetypal rock and a hard place situation.

No time to be complacent

The instability is not only a rebel-induced situation in the north, but civic tensions prevail across the country Bamako included.  Al-Qaeda and the rest of the loosely-affiliated patchwork of rebel groups still active in the Sahel appear to be making a new war of hearts and minds. IBK and the new government must take forward the principle of unity and inclusivity symbolised in their own ranks and make it a reality on the ground.  IBK has looked unflustered through-out his opening months as President. Is this professionalism or complacency? He maintains a calming presence by citing the virtues of the UN and MINUSA and by displaying the support he has from his army. At the same time, it is worth remembering that for last decade Mali has been regarded as a democratic example for the whole of Africa to follow. This view has been dramatically revised over the past months. Criticism has been levelled at the West for insisting on a narrow notion of democracy in their assessment of the country. However “it was the pre-coup status quo that led to collapse”. It appears that for IBK – as for any government – there is an urgent need to continue the strong, symbolic start and to deliver on election pledges swiftly. We will have to see whether IBK’s approach is evidence of a firm hand or “impotence” in the face of Mali’s ongoing security dilemma.

The most important tweet in Mali’s history?

tweet

At 2:44pm on the 12th of August 2013, Soumaila Cissé sent arguably the most important tweet in Mali’s history. As the defeated candidate in Mali’s run-off Presidential election, he summarised in no less than 113 characters the strong, positive spirit that his country had expressed over the election period. Though the UN has reported that the second-round of elections occurred ‘without major incident,’ the jury should still be out till all data has been processed whether the logistical fears surrounding the elections materialised. It does appear that the greatest criticisms cited about these early elections – namely reprisal violence – have not occurred. As the BBC’s man in Bamako, Abdourahmane Dia, writes:

Mali seems to be headed towards a peaceful end of its electoral process after Soumaila Cisse conceded to Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following Sunday’s run-off vote.

This is yet another example that politics is not an exact science -many had predicted chaos if Mali held elections so soon. France, anxious to get its troops out of Mali after routing Islamist militants from northern regions earlier this year, faced criticism for pushing for early polls.

Yet the electoral success lies more with the Malian people, who firmly believed the polls would end an era of turmoil.”

Though it is correct that these elections have occurred “without major incident” the difficulties and trauma experienced by some who were simply trying to cast your vote cannot be forgotten. It has been reported that individual Malian’s have been frequently intimidated and sometimes killed trying to vote. A chilling reminder to anyone reading from the Western world of awfully underappreciated our democratic rights sometime appear.

Importantly for Malian’s, Cissé rounded off his most gracious of election defeats with a vow to create a strong and credible opposition. Malian television showed images of Soumaila Cissé going with his wife and children to congratulate Keita and his family at their home. The whole end to the election process was a national occasion. “Soumaila’s conduct was truly impeccable,” said Aissata Camara, a pharmacy lab technician. “It was very impressive and very democratic as well. It was a relief for all of us.” Another man interviewed in the street said “I was moved to tears when I heard of what Soumaila had done. He has freed this country from any problems.” Despite all his humility, it is worth mentioning that Cissé still cited some concerns over voting fraud.

With all the news about Soumaila Cissé, it is important to remember that Mali has a new President with plenty of work to do. There is plenty of information about Ibrahim Keita on the internet. The challenges sitting in his overflowing and newly acquired in-tray are enormous. The Huffington Post immediately centres Keita’s premiership on the issue of the Tuareg while The Guardian emphasises the difficulties in reigniting the economy and managing the flow of international aid after years of endemic mismanagement. If these elections are really meant to serve as a new chapter for Mali, and putting the turmoil behind, then politics and governance must start now. Cissé appears to already begun his job. Now we will have to wait and see what IBK’s plans to do first to take his country forward.

How much can these elections put a line under Mali’s troubles? Another tweet offers a more measured and reflective point. Freelance journalist Peter Tinti aptly points out that though the elections serve as a crucial first step it is important to “keep in mind” that Mali’s problems of the last 20 years have not come from the lack of free and fair elections. The greater challenge that awaits Mali’s new incumbents – and opposition – is to resume the mission of building strong institutions. Though elections have evidently been successful in beginning national reconciliation, Mali needs to expand its democratic credentials and not rely purely on the existence of ballot boxes. It is a promising start, but a lot still needs to be done.

Indeed these successful elections are more cause for ’a collective sigh of relief’ rather than celebrations in the streets.

Mali’s resilience part 3: Elders to Elders

Malians register for the elections. Courtesy of @newsafrican

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.

Timbuktu lies in ruins. The city acts as the economic engine for northern Mali and without it the whole region is in deep peril. Thousands of skilled farmers, carpenters, masons, traders, business operators have departed in the last 12 months and food security, livelihoods and any attempt of reconstruction has left with them. French news agency IRIN has produced a series of videos that each gives a glimpse of the situation in the city from a different group’s perspective.

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?

The Elders. Courtesy of @TheElders

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?

Malian refugees are recieveing help, but are vulnerable to the political instability. Photo courtesy of @MP_Boyce

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.

Mali untapped resource: it’s resilience – part 2

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.

A Dogon elder, courtesy of @hassan_wanini

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.

Mali’s Islam. Courtesy of @PCCLofficial
  1. Reclaiming Islam

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.

At the time of the French intervention The High Council of Islam also presented its position on national television stating that the intervention is not directed against Islam, but rather aims to defend Mali’s territorial integrity and stop the progress of allied terrorist groups into the south of the country. This action was said “to calm parts of the population who were afraid of the religious developments taking place in 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.

Transitional justice. Courtesy of @maliactu
  1. 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.

Malian elections loom. Courtesy of @Maliactu
  1. 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”…

UN intervention?

#Photo of the #UN Security Council adopting resolution 2100, establishing a new @UNPeacekeeping operation in #Mali – Courtesy of @UNPeacekeeping

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.”

At the turn of March to April the United Nations estimated that:

  • Around 470 000 people have fled the fighting and sought refuge either in Malian host communities or in neighbouring countries
  • More than 290 000 people are internally displaced and about 177 000 are facing a humanitarian crisis of their own as refugees in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
  • 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?

Minister Mushikiwabo has an exchange with HE President Idriss Deby of Chad and Chairperson of ECCAS. Courtesy of @MinaffetRwanda

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.

Also, another factor that has been tragically misunderstood so far is the presence of the disgruntled, dissatisfied yet ambitious Tuareg rebels. The Tuareg are a seminomadic pastoral people of North African Berber origin. They represent a minority in Mali, and the other countries of the western Sahel they live in but their cultural unity is profound. The UN Under Secretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said that while “arbitrary acts of violence” against Tuaregs and Arabs had recently slowed, “there is still a risk of reprisal against members of these communities.” Now that combat operations have diminished and the French have scared off al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Tuareg are prepared to begin acting as their own security providers.

Andy Morgan illustrates their difficulties through the story of a Tuareg musician, “Hamid”:

“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.

Clear msg from Northern Malian leaders: credible elections & robust US security assistance critical to Mali’s future Courtesy of @SenJohnMcCain

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.’

Equally Théroux-Bénoni adds that:

“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…?

Mali events in Britain

These posts will be semi-regular updates on events featuring Mali happening in the UK. If you know of an event not on the list here, please get in touch.

 

Rising radicalism in the Sahel: Mali & Regional Destabilisation– 5.30pm 6th February 2013

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.”

 

African Music Event – Peterborough’s Key Theatre – 4th May 2013

Further details to come

Live music from Batanai and Shumba Mbira.

Mali News #6 – The end has not begun

It’s tempting to celebrate as French forces enter Timbuktu, much like the Malian people did as the French forces entered Gao as Channel 4 news reported. The level of excitement is heartening and exhilarating for many.

But the story isn’t as clear cut as that. French forces may have retaken Timbuktu today, only for the rebels to burn priceless manuscripts as they fled. Kidal is still held by either the MNLA or other forces, and the terrorist forces still include many child soldiers. The death toll is still not clear due to a lack of proper monitoring of what has happened, and the French and Malian military are still limiting access to the areas so people who need medical treatment are still not receiving help.

The human cost has been irredeemable, the cultural losses are a damaging blow to Mali’s vibrant culture and the world’s understanding of medieval Islam. So what now as the French and Malian government claim the war will be over in a few days?

The first question is of course, will it really be over? The relative ease that French forces found on entering Gao and Timbuktu make a strong contrast to the heavy fighting and resistance they found around Konna a little over a week ago. Only now are people beginning to consider that this access to Urban areas leads to a, “shadow war” where terrorists blend back into the cities, or retreat into the deserts, where they know the territory well and have much more freedom of movement.

Bruce Whitehouse neatly lays out the political, social and economic problems laid out ahead in Mali, entitled, “Next, the hard bit”. He deftly highlights the effect of the terrorist’s forces dispersal but leaves one clear message that has been continually missed in the western media.

“Mali’s conflict must be resolved not only in the wastes of northern Mali but in the corridors of power in Bamako. The country’s political leaders must now get down to the difficult business of working out how Malians will coexist in a single republic, under a democracy worthy of the name. Recent history may be discouraging, but one hopes Malians will rise to the occasion.”

It will not be an easy process, many people in the south still blame the Touregs for this crisis and the various economic and political struggles leave the capital and country divided. Retaliation attacks are already happening, harming reconciliation. Leaders at all levels of Mali must now come together to reforge the country as a strong nation. One that takes democracy beyond a process, but into every community and home, whether in the North and South, which empowers Mande and Toureg alike.

Economically Mali has been given a $18.4m loan from the IMF to help stabilise the economy. But while this may stabilise the economy in the financial markets, 400,000 Malians are still refugees and may take months to return. Mali itself is still considered a war torn country, damaging it’s international image.

This is where Britain and British people can help. The Sahara Soul events in London and Glasgow alike are highlighting the solidarity of British people with Mali as a whole. David Cameron has stated his ongoing support for France and Mali, and has since committed to non-combat military support. There are a series of events on Mali this week by Chatham House and the Royal African Society. In the next post I’ll be outlining what the British public are doing in Mali to raise awareness, support and funds for Mali.

For now I’ll leave you with a quote from Desmond Tutu. People in Britain are doing their little bit, so are people in Mali, now we just have to keep it up, and encourage others to do the same.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Mali News #2 – Government swept away

As our last update was posted, we received news that the Malian Prime Minister and his government had resigned, through coercion. News was not complete, so we’ll review what happened and look at some of the implications and analysis around this latest trial for Mali.

Peter Tinti’s article gives a brief overview of the events a week ago, with suggestions that Diarra’s initial strength of being a political outsider, eventually led to his resignation as he tried to move away from Captain Sanogo’s Military Junta.

International condemnation swept down on Mali and the Military Junta, with the UN threatening sanctions on a country already experiencing famine.

Mali’s new Prime Minister, Diango Cissoko, started drawing up a unity government based upon the belief he could co-ordinate the retaking on Northern Mali through military means. The ICG, who have a good understanding of the situation in Mali commented that Cissoko might stand a better chance or achieving this aim. Despite the international criticism around the resignation of his predecessor, ECOWAS and other nations responded fairly neutrally to this new appointment. Clearly foreign observers are still unsure of the political stability in Bamako while Captain Sanogo is present to undermine what democratic structures that remain in Mali. In fact they still aren’t united in believe in the efficacy of the most publicised plans, as Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, calls the French intervention plan for Mali, ‘crap’.

To really understand the reality of the power of the coup in March, and it’s clear continuing implications, a read of this article from Bruce Whitehouse, an American Anthropologist, gives a great insight. Bruce reported on the situation in Mali as the tsunami of the current crisis hit Mali and Bamako through his blog: Bridges from Bamako. He continues to report occasionally with excellent blog pieces.

In his latest post, Bruce talks of Sanogo’s call that he can start the war of liberation before an election, as some Malians want. He also links to this BBC article which provides an  analysis of the possible scenarios for Mali in 2013, which in the run up to the holiday season including the New Year celebrations in Britain, leaves much to think on for the coming year in Mali.

It’s worth noting that the option of settlement through negotiation and dialogue isn’t present in the four scenarios given, despite suggestions that this route might be effective and is making marked progress. Mark Doyle gives three lines at the end of the article on the prospect. An unsettling reaction rises, and without generalizing from one news piece, you can wonder whether too many people outside Mali are brushing aside the chance for a non-violent solution that might lead to an enduring peace. Dishearteningly that position is something being seen and heard (fr) inside Mali too, although not universally. As conditions continue to deteriorate in the South and the North a thought out route to an enduring and just peace in Mali becomes ever more important.