TheConflict in Mali; Bringing Peace and Stability to the Fragile Sahel RegionIntroductionThe Sahel region spreads from west toeastern Africa and comprises ten countries. It extends from northern Senegal tothe tip of the northern parts of Ethiopia. This vast swath of land which ishardly in the news for good has suffered series of struggles over the yearsranging from famine, conflicts, ethno-religious crises, etc. These challenges,which are interconnected in some ways, have led to the instability of theregion for many years.

Mali, a major country in the belt of the Sahel iswitnessing a conflict which has raged on for many years. After years of stabledemocracy, the military coup of 2012 happened and left a power vacuum. Thisplunged the country into a long term conflict that has evaded all forms ofresolutions.

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In 2017, the conflict in Mali still rages on despite numerousattempts to strike a peace deal, prompting the Malian conflict to be describedas the deadliest of the 16 UN’s global peacekeeping operations (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/soldiers-killed-attacks-camps-mali-170814213142119.html).

The focus of this paper is to examine theongoing conflict in Mali, how it affects the neighbouring areas and othercountries in the Sahel region, and proffer solutions that will bring peace andstability to the region. This is especially imperative as the conflict in Malihas evaded all forms of peaceful accords and seems to be spreading across theentire region.The genesis of the Malian conflict, whichis basically a non-international armed conflict, can be traced back to 2012when a military coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Maliwhich was headed by then President Amadou Toumane Toure. Before the coup in2012, though, Mali had labored with years of political turmoil.

There had beenprevious rebellions in 1963, 1990 and 2006, respectively. In the July of 2009,however, a peace agreement was signed which seemed to restate the demands ofthe National Pact (http://cscubb.ro/csq/wp-content/uploads/CSQ-3.-Badale-Isvoranu.

pdf).The Malian government which presided over one of the poorest countries in theworld (http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/MLI) has always struggled withdevelopment and poverty.  The aftermathof the 2012 coup saw armed rebellious groups take hold of the country’s norththereby throwing the country into further chaos. The north of Mali which islargely a desert area and had hitherto remained undeveloped and neglected foryears had become a breeding ground for religious Islamist extremists. Theseradicals, who have often fomented unrests in the country’s checkered troubledhistory, re-ignited hostilities immediately after the military coup. Majorextremist groups were created from existing ones after the destabilization ofthe country’s democracy, and thus began the 2012 Malian conflict.

In spite ofobvious progress over the years like peace treaties, ceasefire agreements, andeven a democratic election supported by international organisations, some ofthe militant groups still control parts of the country in the north, and theconflict is far from over. The belligerent groups have gone into alliance witheach other, broken the agreement, and now fight for territory in the vast,mostly lawless areas of northern Mali while other groups have expanded outsidethe Sahel region. Amongthe agitations of the fundamentalist groups, like the others in neighbouringstates, are aspirations to establish Islamic Sharia law, free the people ofMali from French or western colonial heritage and other revolutionary goals.Their actions include destroying age-old monuments and other things that areconsidered to be relics of Mali’s colonial past.The audacious strengthening of themilitant groups in Mali has created a safe haven for religious extremism andterrorism to spread to other parts of the Sahel region as well a centraltransit point for young migrants from all over western Africa looking to travelto Algeria or Libya with the ultimate plan to reach Europe (https://www.cfr.

org/interactives/global-conflict-tracker?co=C042701#!/conflict/destabilization-of-mali).The conflict has assumed both humanitarian and security dimensions as themilitant groups have found a way to make money from human trafficking to fundtheir vicious operations. Currently, the situation in Mali has not improved.Schools remain closed and the number of internally displaced people isincreasing. Armed groups are still in control of parts of the country andgruesome armed attacks have not shown any signs of abating as peacekeepers and soldierscontinue to be killed. More than 135,000 Malians remained as refugees inneighbouring conflicts because of the conflict (https://www.

amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/mali/report-mali/). Actors Analysis and RelationshipMapping1.1.Armed GroupsThekey players in the Malian conflict are numerous, a factor which makes theconflict even more complex.

Unlike neighbouring states in the region wherearmed conflicts are limited to between the state and one armed group, forinstance Nigeria v Boko Haram, the situation in Mali has proven to be much moreproblematic with the number of actors.Thereare both international and national actors involved in the crises. While thearmed groups are mostly national, a few of them have formed alliances withinternational armed groups or splintered over the years to form new groups.

Thenon-state armed actors consist of five main Islamist groups; The Ansar Dine,Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), al Qaeda in the IslamicMaghreb (AQIM), the Signed-in-Blood Battalion and the Islamic Movement forAzawad (IMA), and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-17582909).While the objectives of the armed groups vary, their modus operandi,ideologies, and qualities are strikingly similar. The Ansar Dine, led by formerTuareg rebel leader, lyad Ag Ghaly, for example, is domestic and aims for theimposition of Sharia law in the country. It is well known for its complicity inthe 2012 Malian coup.

The group controls areas around the west and south ofTimbuktu and members of the group pride themselves as ‘defenders of the faith.’The Ansar Dine group is considered to be the strongest militant force operatingin Mali today (http://cscubb.ro/csq/wp-content/uploads/CSQ-3.-Badale-Isvoranu.pdf).

Onthe contrary, the AQIM, which is the north African wing of al-Qaeda and has itsorigins from the 1990 Algerian civil war, seeks to establish a worldwideIslamic indoctrination and free Mali from all forms of colonial legacies. Basedin Algeria, its main objective is to overthrow and replace the democraticAlgerian government with an Islamic one while also extending its operations toneighbouring Mali. The Ansar Dine and AQIM have formed financial and strategicalliances in the past, unleashing mayhem and kidnapping foreign citizens forransom.  The MNLA was created in 2011, alittle later than AQIM. It was formed as a result of an alliance between theNational Movement of Azawad (MNA), and the Tuareg Movement in northern Mali(MTNM). A composition of Tuareg youths, defectors from the Malian army, andLibyan-trained soldiers, the group is driven mostly by gains and its major goalis winning rights for the Tuareg minorities in Mali. Secular in nature, membersof the MNLA, whose members mostly fought for Gadaffi before his fall, also seekto establish a country called Azawad. MUJAO is a fragment group of AQIM.

Unlike AQIMwhich seeks to limit its agenda to the Maghreb and Sahel region, Mujao’s brazenobjective is to propagate jihad in the whole of west Africa. The group heldsway and caused a lot of terror until the interference of French militaryforces, in 2013, forced the members out of their controlled area of north eastMali. The IMA describes itself as championing the struggles of the people ofnorthern Mali who have allegedly been marginalized by different governmentssince Mali gained independence in 1960. The armed group, which is also led byan Algerian, is a strong ally of Ansar Dine and Mujao (http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264190283-en).

Mostof the armed groups involved in the Malian conflict are deeply rooted inIslamic fundamentalism. A noteworthy similarity is that all the militant groupmembers have at one time or the other been involved in conflicts in othercountries and are led by former or current war-lords. However, many cases ofin-fighting and insubordination within the groups have led to splinter groups,thereby increasing the number of the rebel groups.

One might see this as a signof the weakening of the groups. However, fighters who defect from a group joinother groups bringing with them inside intelligence stolen from their previousgroups. While some of these groups have limited their roles to regional areas,others, like the MUJAO have extended their deadly actions nationally andinternationally by forming alliances with other radical Islamist groups. Ofrecent, some of the groups like the MNLA and Ansar Dine, have agreed to brokerpeace and accept mediation endeavors.

Hostilities have however resumed as allpeace agreements have been broken.