Conflict in Mali; Bringing Peace and Stability to the Fragile Sahel Region


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The Sahel region spreads from west to
eastern Africa and comprises ten countries. It extends from northern Senegal to
the tip of the northern parts of Ethiopia. This vast swath of land which is
hardly in the news for good has suffered series of struggles over the years
ranging from famine, conflicts, ethno-religious crises, etc. These challenges,
which are interconnected in some ways, have led to the instability of the
region for many years. Mali, a major country in the belt of the Sahel is
witnessing a conflict which has raged on for many years. After years of stable
democracy, the military coup of 2012 happened and left a power vacuum. This
plunged the country into a long term conflict that has evaded all forms of
resolutions. In 2017, the conflict in Mali still rages on despite numerous
attempts to strike a peace deal, prompting the Malian conflict to be described
as the deadliest of the 16 UN’s global peacekeeping operations (

The focus of this paper is to examine the
ongoing conflict in Mali, how it affects the neighbouring areas and other
countries in the Sahel region, and proffer solutions that will bring peace and
stability to the region. This is especially imperative as the conflict in Mali
has evaded all forms of peaceful accords and seems to be spreading across the
entire region.

The genesis of the Malian conflict, which
is basically a non-international armed conflict, can be traced back to 2012
when a military coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Mali
which was headed by then President Amadou Toumane Toure. Before the coup in
2012, though, Mali had labored with years of political turmoil. There had been
previous rebellions in 1963, 1990 and 2006, respectively. In the July of 2009,
however, a peace agreement was signed which seemed to restate the demands of
the National Pact (
The Malian government which presided over one of the poorest countries in the
world ( has always struggled with
development and poverty.  The aftermath
of the 2012 coup saw armed rebellious groups take hold of the country’s north
thereby throwing the country into further chaos. The north of Mali which is
largely a desert area and had hitherto remained undeveloped and neglected for
years had become a breeding ground for religious Islamist extremists. These
radicals, who have often fomented unrests in the country’s checkered troubled
history, re-ignited hostilities immediately after the military coup. Major
extremist groups were created from existing ones after the destabilization of
the country’s democracy, and thus began the 2012 Malian conflict. In spite of
obvious progress over the years like peace treaties, ceasefire agreements, and
even a democratic election supported by international organisations, some of
the militant groups still control parts of the country in the north, and the
conflict is far from over. The belligerent groups have gone into alliance with
each other, broken the agreement, and now fight for territory in the vast,
mostly lawless areas of northern Mali while other groups have expanded outside
the Sahel region.

the agitations of the fundamentalist groups, like the others in neighbouring
states, are aspirations to establish Islamic Sharia law, free the people of
Mali from French or western colonial heritage and other revolutionary goals.
Their actions include destroying age-old monuments and other things that are
considered to be relics of Mali’s colonial past.

The audacious strengthening of the
militant groups in Mali has created a safe haven for religious extremism and
terrorism to spread to other parts of the Sahel region as well a central
transit point for young migrants from all over western Africa looking to travel
to Algeria or Libya with the ultimate plan to reach Europe (!/conflict/destabilization-of-mali).
The conflict has assumed both humanitarian and security dimensions as the
militant groups have found a way to make money from human trafficking to fund
their vicious operations. Currently, the situation in Mali has not improved.
Schools remain closed and the number of internally displaced people is
increasing. Armed groups are still in control of parts of the country and
gruesome armed attacks have not shown any signs of abating as peacekeepers and soldiers
continue to be killed. More than 135,000 Malians remained as refugees in
neighbouring conflicts because of the conflict (


Actors Analysis and Relationship

Armed Groups

key players in the Malian conflict are numerous, a factor which makes the
conflict even more complex. Unlike neighbouring states in the region where
armed conflicts are limited to between the state and one armed group, for
instance Nigeria v Boko Haram, the situation in Mali has proven to be much more
problematic with the number of actors.

are both international and national actors involved in the crises. While the
armed groups are mostly national, a few of them have formed alliances with
international armed groups or splintered over the years to form new groups. The
non-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 Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM), the Signed-in-Blood Battalion and the Islamic Movement for
Azawad (IMA), and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) (
While the objectives of the armed groups vary, their modus operandi,
ideologies, and qualities are strikingly similar. The Ansar Dine, led by former
Tuareg rebel leader, lyad Ag Ghaly, for example, is domestic and aims for the
imposition of Sharia law in the country. It is well known for its complicity in
the 2012 Malian coup. The group controls areas around the west and south of
Timbuktu and members of the group pride themselves as ‘defenders of the faith.’
The Ansar Dine group is considered to be the strongest militant force operating
in Mali today (

the contrary, the AQIM, which is the north African wing of al-Qaeda and has its
origins from the 1990 Algerian civil war, seeks to establish a worldwide
Islamic indoctrination and free Mali from all forms of colonial legacies. Based
in Algeria, its main objective is to overthrow and replace the democratic
Algerian government with an Islamic one while also extending its operations to
neighbouring Mali. The Ansar Dine and AQIM have formed financial and strategic
alliances in the past, unleashing mayhem and kidnapping foreign citizens for
ransom.  The MNLA was created in 2011, a
little later than AQIM. It was formed as a result of an alliance between the
National Movement of Azawad (MNA), and the Tuareg Movement in northern Mali
(MTNM). A composition of Tuareg youths, defectors from the Malian army, and
Libyan-trained soldiers, the group is driven mostly by gains and its major goal
is winning rights for the Tuareg minorities in Mali. Secular in nature, members
of the MNLA, whose members mostly fought for Gadaffi before his fall, also seek
to establish a country called Azawad.

 MUJAO is a fragment group of AQIM. Unlike AQIM
which seeks to limit its agenda to the Maghreb and Sahel region, Mujao’s brazen
objective is to propagate jihad in the whole of west Africa. The group held
sway and caused a lot of terror until the interference of French military
forces, in 2013, forced the members out of their controlled area of north east
Mali. The IMA describes itself as championing the struggles of the people of
northern Mali who have allegedly been marginalized by different governments
since Mali gained independence in 1960. The armed group, which is also led by
an Algerian, is a strong ally of Ansar Dine and Mujao (

of the armed groups involved in the Malian conflict are deeply rooted in
Islamic fundamentalism. A noteworthy similarity is that all the militant group
members have at one time or the other been involved in conflicts in other
countries and are led by former or current war-lords. However, many cases of
in-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 sign
of the weakening of the groups. However, fighters who defect from a group join
other groups bringing with them inside intelligence stolen from their previous
groups. While some of these groups have limited their roles to regional areas,
others, like the MUJAO have extended their deadly actions nationally and
internationally by forming alliances with other radical Islamist groups.

recent, some of the groups like the MNLA and Ansar Dine, have agreed to broker
peace and accept mediation endeavors. Hostilities have however resumed as all
peace agreements have been broken.