Calls for military intervention in Mali are increasing but it could sink the state, which is already on the brink of dissolution, further into chaos, warns the International Crisis Group.
Mali: Avoiding Escalation, the latest report by the International Crisis Group, urges Mali’s main actors, regional organisations and the international community to seek a political rather than military solution to its woes. Although French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius did not rule out a “military option” during his visit to Algiers last Sunday, an armed intervention in the current political and security conditions would do more harm than good. It is urgent to restore state political, institutional and security foundations prior to working toward the north’s reintegration into the republic.
“Armed and unarmed actors in the north and south must engage in negotiations to achieve a political solution to the crisis”, says Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “The relations between the centre of power in Bamako and the periphery must be improved through radical rethinking of governance of the north, which has rested in the last few years on loose networks of patronage and personal alliances”.
Mali was plunged into chaos after a Tuareg rebellion in the north, buoyed by the crisis in Libya, prompted rank-and-file army officers to lead a coup against President Amadou Toumani Touré on 22 March. In spite of ECOWAS’s (Economic Community of West African States) mediation efforts, the transitional institutions’ lack of credibility and junta leader Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo’s refusal to stay on the sidelines hinder progress. Interim President Dioncounda Traoré is still in Paris, recovering from an attack against him by coup supporters on 21 May, and the government of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra does not represent Mali’s political and social diversity.
Ironically, the coup in Bamako and subsequent political turmoil have allowed the Tuareg rebellion, originally led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) but soon outflanked by Islamist group Ansar Dine, to take over the north. The presence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb raises fears that the Sahel region could become a safe haven for terrorists.
But this grim prospect should not result in hasty decisions and rash actions. All actors must be wary of military intervention given the fragility of the country and the state of its armed forces. It would turn Mali into a new front of the “war on terror”’ and rule out any chance of peaceful coexistence between communities in the north and south. Mali, its neighbours and Western and multilateral actors must work together to foster dialogue between Malians from all regions and isolate foreign opportunistic terrorist groups. They must help restore the political foundations of the central state through a national unity government and reorganisation of the armed forces, and increase humanitarian aid to the Sahel-Sahara region to prevent an economic collapse. Mali’s partners with the necessary resources should provide intelligence support to the governments of the region in their fight against terrorist groups.
“The fear of a north controlled by extremist militants must not lead to a uniform logic of repression against terrorism”, warns Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Controlling radicalisation and negotiating all conflicts inside Malian society is the answer to the crisis”.