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Mali: No Shortcuts to Security

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 15, 2012 (121015)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

With thousands of nationalist demonstrators in Bamako calling for military intervention to regain control of the north of Mali from Islamic extremists, and a unanimous Security Council resolution, initiated by France, approving in principle action by an ECOWAS force with support from the African Union, United Nations, and France, one might think that such an intervention is imminent. Those appearances are almost certainly deceptive. Significant skeptical voices, including UN officials, U.S. diplomats and military officials, Mali's northern neighbor Algeria, and expert civil society analysts say an "ill-prepared" intervention could be catastrophic.

Reading the fine print of the UN resolution, one can note that it calls for preparation of a plan for intervention within 45 days. And while some press reports have cited U.S. officials acknowledging the eventual need for military action, less note has been given to the strong emphasis on the need that any such action be "well planned, well organized, well resourced and well thought through. And it must in fact be agreed upon by those who are going to be most affected by it." It is still possible, of course, that the pressure for intervention will continue to grow. But the chances that all those conditions could be met in the foreseeable future are very small.

The most likely outlook for some months, therefore, is for more of the same, despite new diplomatic efforts at the urging of the new UN Special Representative for the Sahel Romano Prodi of Italy, as well as Algerian support for negotiations. The direction of their efforts is likely to be to isolate the hard-line Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) forces, reportedly mostly non-Malian, who are militarily dominant in Mali's North from other Malian groups who have been involved in this year's revolt. While AQIM has little support in Mali, however, any military or diplomatic action against it is made difficult by disarray among Mali's soldiers and politicians as well as the diverse international actors.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several recent documents with background and analysis on the current status of the crisis in Mali. They include an article from the UN's IRIN humanitarian news and analysis, an article from reporting on comments from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, and the overview from a report by the International Crisis Group strongly cautioning against hasty military intervention in Mali. The full Crisis Group report, with extensive additional background, is available at

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Mali, visit

Recent Links for additional background

UN Security Council resolution on Mali, October 12, 2012

"declared its readiness to respond to Mali's request for an international military force, pending receipt of the Secretary-General's report and recommendations on the situation. It also took note of the country's requests to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for military assistance, and requested the Secretary-General immediately to provide military and security planners to assist joint ECOWAS and African Union planning efforts."

"UN Urges Caution on Mali," Magharebia, 1 Oct 2012

"Algeria, Mauritania Discuss Mali Crisis," Magharebia, 9 Oct 2012

"The bicycle theory of international diplomacy drives Mali debate into slow motion" Turtle Bay, October 8, 2012

"Algeria caught in quandary over Mali crisis,' Reuters, Oct. 14, 2012

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Mali: Towards Intervention in Mali

2 October 2012

IRIN humanitarian news and analysis

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations

Bamako - After weeks of shuttle diplomacy, speculation and contradictory signals, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) now looks to have the backing of the Malian government for a major troop deployment in northern Mali.

ECOWAS is still seeking support from the UN Security Council, whose members are divided on the issue of military intervention. Internal ECOWAS documents point to a draft plan, outlining provisional troop numbers, budget and timeframe.

In Bamako, supporters of an ECOWAS deployment are adamant that a strong outside force is crucial if Mali wants to "recapture" the north, ousting the Islamic movements which took over the area six months ago but have dominated an extensive criminal economy for years.

Speaking at a high-level meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly last week, Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon highlighted the Sahel's need for closer regional cooperation and a special UN emissary of its own, warning of "terrorist groups, transnational criminal organizations and insurgencies", and noting: "Human trafficking is on the rise, along with drug-trafficking and arms smuggling."

Who is in control in the north?

When the rebellion in northern Mali broke out in January, it was the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) that quickly out-manouevred a demoralized, ill-equipped army, capturing large swathes of territory.

The MNLA's demands for an independent state carried strong echoes of previous insurgencies but its combatants and fledgling administrations were rapidly supplanted by radical Islamic movements.

For Bamako, the main enemy no longer had a separatist agenda, but a rigid commitment to a Salafist Islam largely alien to Mali. At the same time, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), widely presented as the controller and financier of the Islamic radicals in the north, has extensive trafficking and kidnapping networks there - reportedly secured with the discreet connivance of sections of the Malian military and Algerian security forces.

While there has been endless speculation about the size, military strength, internal structures and support networks of the three main movements (Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa - MUJAO, and AQIM), hard information has often proved elusive.

Visitors to the north suggest AQIM's leadership is very much present, but extremely mobile, individual warlords frequently shifting location, while MUJAO's strength is allegedly growing, much of it fuelled by non-Malian West Africans.

What about mediation?

Regional mediation efforts have yielded little. ECOWAS's designated mediator, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, was much criticized in Mali, seen as pro-Tuareg and taking unilateral initiatives without consulting the transitional government in Bamako.

Peace initiatives from Mali have been exploratory. Among those to have headed north was the Guinna Dogon (GD) movement, representing the Dogon ethnic community, mainly based around Mopti and Djenne in the north. "We went as cousins", GD president and Foreign Ministry adviser Mamadou Togo told IRIN. Both "occupiers and those being occupied" wanted peace and dialogue, but he found AQIM and MUJOA to be dominated by non-Malians, who seemed to have little understanding of the country, he said.

Togo found Ansar Dine veteran Tuareg leader and long-term negotiator Iyad Ag Ghali more approachable, but still with a wholly unrealistic agenda. "Iyad wants Sharia", Togo explained. "The Islamists argue that 95 percent of Malians are Muslims, so Sharia must be imposed now. How do you negotiate with that?"

What are the human rights concerns?

In a 23 September report Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that under the control of Islamic radicals "stonings, amputations and floggings have become the order of the day in an apparent attempt to force the local population to accept their world view."

There is evidence of strong cohesion between the three movements on imposing Sharia, with courts now sitting regularly in Timbuktu and Gao, according to senior HRW Africa researcher Corinne Dufka, who also confirmed major recruitment drives of children and adults.

Could intervention make matters worse?

The reports of excesses in the north have inevitably strengthened the calls for prompt, decisive military action, with warnings that the longer the Islamists are left to their own devices, the more difficult they will be to dislodge.

But there are serious caveats about the humanitarian implications of renewed conflict. "There are no easy answers," Ban ki-Moon warned. According to Oxfam West Africa Regional Director Mamadou Biteye, "there is a major risk that military operations in northern Mali would make an already fragile humanitarian situation much worse."

Dufka of HRW warned of a conflict where humanitarian law would get little recognition, emphasizing that aerial strikes and drone attacks were likely to feature.

She also warned of a "fratricidal" element to the conflict, with armed groups like the northern militia group Ganda Koy (made up of ethnic Songhai and traditionally violently opposed to the Tuaregs), coming into the picture. Many Tuareg refugees told IRIN they were too afraid to return home because they would be targeted in attacks.

Dufka also expressed concern about the professionalism of the Malian military. An investigation has been promised into the killing of 16 Malian and Mauritanian Islamic preachers from the Dawa movement at Diabaly, 400km northeast of Bamako on 8 September, an incident which has further complicated Mali's relations with Mauritania and drew a furious response from Islamists in the north.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned in a recent report that "all scenarios are still possible in Mali," including a wave of attacks, major social protests, or another coup. The ICG urged the international community to help heal divisions and build strength in Mali's military, re-establish stalled development aid, and give the crisis a much higher profile.

Is ECOWAS capable of effective intervention?

Diplomats, who see a conflict as likely if not yet inevitable, suggest an intervention begun in haste will be catastrophic, not least because serious questions remain about ECOWAS's own capacity.

Key member states like Senegal appear lukewarm about intervention in Mali. Nigeria, facing its own Islamic fundamentalist threat in the shape of the radical Boko Haram movement, may face domestic pressure not to commit troops.

Few available ECOWAS troops have combat experience in a desert. Mauritania, which has criticized Mali in the past for being "soft" on "Islamic terrorism", and has sent its own troops into Mali on counter-insurgency operations, is not an ECOWAS member.

Neither is Algeria, accused by many Malians of spawning the Jihadist movements and their accompanying kidnapping and trafficking networks, which have played such a destructive role in northern Mali.

Neither the Malian army nor ECOWAS will be able to tackle the influx of arms and soldiers from Libya to northern Mali through southern Algeria and northern Niger, warns the ICG without "clear involvement of the Algerian... authorities".

ECOWAS has made it clear that it needs and expects strong backup from outside, particularly in airlifting troops to the combat zones, promoting speculation that France and the USA could play critical roles. Both, predictably, are downplaying their importance.

France has serious concerns about French hostages still held by Islamic radicals. The US formally suspended military engagement with Bamako after the National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE), headed by US-trained Captain Amadou Sanogo, took power on 22 March.

What about the new government in Bamako?

Military intervention is further complicated by the power vacuum in Bamako, where the government has no electoral mandate and where none of the three actors sharing power has sufficient legitimacy, say observers. Critics warn that the restoration of democracy has barely begun.

The government formed by President Dioncounda Traore in August under outside pressure and headed by Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, remains a weak, compromise administration, described by one diplomatic observer as, at best, "an imperfect construct, but one that could move forward".

Other concerns include continued support for Cpt Sanogo, the military's retention of key ministerial portfolios, including Defence, Home Security and Territorial Administration; and a history of serious human rights violations, with security forces targeting critical journalists and the reported torture and disappearance of soldiers hostile to the military junta.

"This is not a normal democracy; this is Mali post-coup," said a Bamako-based analyst.

Relations between ECOWAS and CNDRE have been volatile, with Sanogo and his political allies wanting to keep foreign troops outside Bamako and confining ECOWAS's role to logistics and training. The current civilian administration is more accepting, with Traore issuing an invitation for military intervention.

But there is no evidence yet of a more robust approach from the Malian military, with reports instead of dangerous schisms, particularly after the "Red Berets" - Mali's elite force - were accused of leading a counter-coup attempt in late April.

Timbuktu parliamentary representative Sandy Haidara is adamant Mali cannot go it alone. "We are from the north and we know our army cannot do this," he told IRIN. "They will need help".

Mali: Restore Democracy Then Liberate the North - U.S. Official Johnnie Carson

1 October 2012

Cape Town - The top United States diplomat for Africa has acknowledged that military action will be needed to break the control of northern Mali by Islamic extremists and reunite the country, but says this needs to follow the restoration of democracy.

Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told journalists in a telephonic briefing on Monday: "It is absolutely, critically important for there to be democratic progress in Mali, that there be a restoration of the civilian, democratic, constitutional government, and that needs to be done as soon as possible."

Since a military coup in March, the central government in the capital, Bamako, has lost control of the north of the country, and West African states organised in the regional grouping, Ecowas, have been pressing the international community in recent weeks to back the formation of a regional military force to intervene.

However, Carson said domestic forces need to lead military action. Without a strong, credible government in Bamako, "it will be difficult to have a military which is capable of leading, as it should, the liberation in the northern part of the country."

He also stressed that Algeria and Mauritania, which are not members of Ecowas, but have long borders with Mali, as well as Chad, need to be included in talks on action.

He said: "There will have to be at some point military action to push AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and MUJWA (a related group) out of the north and out of the control that they are exercising over towns like Timbuktu, and Kidal and Gao. But any military action up there must... be well planned, well organized, well resourced and well thought through. And it must in fact be agreed upon by those who are going to be most affected by it. It is not something that should be taken lightly."

Carson was briefing African and Western journalists on discussions held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly's opening session last week.

He said the U.S. view was that the "enormously complicated situation" in Mali had four components, all of which needed to be dealt with simultaneously:

  • The issue of governance: There had to be a return to "a civilian, elected, creditable government" after the overthrow of civilian rule in March.
  • The "political marginalization" of the Tuareg people: This problem, which pre-dated Mali's independence, needed to be resolved, "and it must be resolved politically, not militarily." This too needed strong government in Bamako.
  • The "very serious" question of the pursuit of terrorism by AQIM and the related MUJWA group: This would have to be dealt with "through security and military means".
  • The humanitarian crisis brought about by the failure of rains and the displacement of people by military action.

Carson said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed to appoint a special envoy for Mali and the Sahel to coordinate international efforts to address the crisis. The U.S. hoped he would move swiftly to announce an envoy, and supported the establishment of a working group to integrate the efforts of the UN, the European Union, the U.S., Ecowas and Mali's other neighbours which were not part of Ecowas.

In an interview with AllAfrica last week in the midst of the deliberations at the United Nations, Senegalese President Macky Sall called for an urgent international response to the "worrisome" crisis in Mali.

"For the first time, an international jihadist movement has made a country bend to its will," he said. Drugs and arms trafficking threaten the entire region, and "if the world does nothing to reclaim Mali as a single united territory" the lawlessness will provide a haven for what he called "the international terrorist movement."

Sall said the west African community Ecowas cannot manage the crisis alone. The United Nations must take decisive action, he said, and must involve Mali's neighbors who are not Ecowas members - Mauritania, Algeria, and Chad.

Mali: The Need for Determined and Coordinated International Action

International Crisis Group

Dakar/Brussels, 24 September 2012 /


In the absence of rapid, firm and coherent decisions at the regional (Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS), continental (African Union, AU) and international (UN) levels by the end of September, the political, security, economic and social situation in Mali will deteriorate. All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and social unrest in the capital, which risks undermining the transitional institutions and creating chaos that could allow religious extremism and terrorist violence to spread in Mali and beyond. None of the three actors sharing power, namely the interim president, Dioncounda Traore, the prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, and the ex-junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, enjoys sufficient popular legitimacy or has the ability to prevent the aggravation of the crisis. The country urgently needs to mobilise the best Malian expertise irrespective of political allegiance rather than engaging in power plays that will lead the country to the verge of collapse.

Almost six months after a coup overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT) and the Malian army relinquished control of the three northern administrative regions to armed groups - the Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist fighters of Ansar Dine (Ansar Eddine), the Movement for Unicity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - none of the pillars of the Malian state was able to give a clear direction to the political transition and to formulate a precise and coherent demand for assistance to the international community to regain control of the north, which represents more than two thirds of the territory. The next six months will be crucial for the stability of Mali, Sahel and the entire West African region, as the risks are high and the lack of leadership at all levels of decisionmaking has so far been obvious.

The message from Crisis Group's July 2012 report on Mali is still relevant. It is not a call against the principle of a military action in the north. Indeed, the use of force will probably be necessary to neutralise transnational armed groups that indulge in terrorism, jihadism and drug and arms trafficking and to restore Mali's territorial integrity. But before resorting to force, a political and diplomatic effort is required to separate two sets of different issues: those related to intercommunal tensions within Malian society, political and economic governance of the north and management of religious diversity, and those related to collective security in the Sahel-Sahara region. The Malian army and ECOWAS's forces will not be capable of tackling the influx of arms and combatants between a fragmented Libya and northern Mali through southern Algeria and/or northern Niger. Minimal and sustainable security in northern Mali cannot be reestablished without the clear involvement of the Algerian political and military authorities.

Following the high-level meeting on the security situation in Sahel scheduled for 26 September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, Malian actors, their African and non-African partners and the UN will have to specify their course of action and clarify minimal objectives to be reached by March 2013.

The president and the prime minister should:

  • constitute immediately a small informal group including Malian personalities, preferably retired from the political scene, who have specific skills and significant experience in the areas of internal security, governance and public administration, organisation of elections, decentralisation, inter-community mediation and international relations, in particular regional diplomacy, in order to help the government define a global strategy to resolve the crisis.

ECOWAS leaders should:

  • recognise the limitations of the organisation in mediating the crisis and planning a military mission in Mali, and work closely with the African Union and above all with the UN, which are better equipped to respond to challenges posed by a crisis threatening international peace and security.

The UN Security Council and member states represented at the high-level meeting on the situation in Sahel should provide support to the Secretary-General to:

*appoint a special representative of the Secretary-General for the Sahel and provide him with the necessary means to achieve his mission, which must focus on reconciling the positions of ECOWAS member states, regional players (Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Mali) and Western countries;

  • boost the UN presence in Mali to help the transitional government withstand the economic and social crisis, produce a credible roadmap for the restoration of territorial integrity and the organisation of transparent elections as soon as possible, and uphold the rule of law by gathering detailed information on human rights violations committed in the south (in particular in Bamako and Kati) as well as in the north;
  • begin, together with the AU and ECOWAS, a mission to facilitate reconciliation within the Malian army to prevent another military coup with unpredictable consequences.

Mali's foreign partners, in particular the European Union and the U.S., should:

  • support efforts to reestablish the Malian defence and security forces by enhancing their unity, discipline and efficacy in order to ensure security in the south, constitute a credible threat of the use of force in the north and be able to participate in operations against terrorist groups;
  • contribute to the resilience of the Malian economy, and employment in particular, through a rapid resumption of foreign aid so as to prevent social unrest that risks deepening the political and humanitarian crisis;
  • respond favourably to demands for urgent humanitarian assistance to the civilian population seriously affected by the crisis in Mali and the entire Sahel region, in accordance with what the UN has been advocating for several months without generating mobilisation adequate to the seriousness of the situation.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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