Tag#mali

War and Rumours of War: Returning to Northern Mali, by Ole Martin Gaasholt

The conflict that broke out in Northern Mali in January 2012 delayed yet again a long awaited return to the place where I had undertaken fieldwork, and long before that, spent one whole year of my adolescence. While my parents worked for a Norwegian NGO, I lived for one year in the then drought-stricken town of Gossi making friends that were now eagerly awaiting my return. More than one year after the French intervention drove the Islamists back to the fringes of Northern Mali, it was finally considered safe for me to set out towards Gossi. That is, my best friend initially very much wanted me to come, but was soon discouraged by his father and younger brother, who no longer lived in Northern Mali, but in the capital Bamako. The younger brother, a captain in the National Guard, frequently went to North Africa on training missions, and during the conflict was sent there by the military authorities to keep him out of harm’s way when he, as a Malian Arab, risked being conflated with the rebels, who were predominantly Tuareg. In fact, his entire family, whether in Northern or Southern Mali, fled to Burkina Faso during the conflict. Visibly shaken by his own experiences and by what had befallen others, the father urged me not to go lest I be abducted. These days, he said, conflicts between different communities had created so much bad blood that people might designate a person connected to a rival group as a potential kidnap victim only for the sake of inflicting harm upon them. Continue reading

Ground zero: Revival of Democratic Mali?

Not long ago Mali was considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa. Then came a military coup, out of the blue to many outsiders, and a rapid mobilization of several armed groups, more or less radical in religious view, that quickly moved to capture much of the north and even started to threaten the capital Bamako. Then came the French to the rescue of the south and somewhat awkwardly also to the rescue of a government the military junta had put in place. France together with forces from Chad and Niger quickly forced the armed groups to retreat into the vast deserts of the north. In the blink of an eye came elections and transition to a civilian democratically elected government. Seldom has a conflict scenario containing such national and regional complexity become so compressed in time. And here we are today at some kind of ground zero.

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The Malian crisis: causes, consequences, responses by Morten Bøås and Mats Utas

Even if Northern Mali has been in the hands of armed Salafist forces since spring 2012, it has not yet morphed into another ‘Afghanistan’. The Salafist forces, may have taken the name of al-Qaeda, but they are of a different origin and nature than the one in Afghanistan. The danger is, however, that if the international response to Mali is too heavy-handed, it may create a dynamic that pushes the conflict into a similar pattern like the one in Afghanistan.

On January 11, 2013, French airplanes attacked strongholds of Islamist rebels in the north of Mali. Soon thereafter land troops followed in a quick sweeping raid, clearing most of rebel controlled areas. French forces, assisted by several thousand troops from Chad and Niger, thereby efficiently ended the offensive of Islamist rebels and gained nominal control over the cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This was, however, the easy part.

The Islamists have not completely lost the battle for northern Mali. They still have the capacity to resist and even strike inside towns formally under French control. As France is scaling down its number of troops from 4,000 to 1,000 by the end of the year, controlling this vast territory will prove even more difficult for the remaining French force and the joint ECOWAS/AU mission and the Malian army.

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A scary end for Democrazy in Mali, by Ruben Eberlein

Each time political scientists in the West talked about democratisation in Africa during the last twenty years, you could bet that Mali was rated as a reformer and a good example. The country received a lot of plaudit from Western governments, the academic world and developmental organizations especially for its transition from a long period of military rule under Moussa Traore to a civil government under Alpha Konare. He became the first democratically elected President in 1992.

The coup of March 2012 terminated the Malian experiment with democracy for the time being. Dissatisfied with the hesitant reaction to the uprising of Tuareg and Islamists in the North, young officers under the leadership of Captain Amadou Sanogo disposed the President Amadou Toumani Toure. In August 2012, an interim cabinet under President Dioncounda Traore with 31 ministers officially took over, but most observers believe that the military still holds the real power.

Despite all the regalia, Mali’s democracy had and has not much in common with a parliamentarian democracy in the Western world. Politics and economy of the country were and are coined by clientelistic networks between some big men or big women and a multitude of poor and politically marginalized people. The sheer number of NGO’s and political parties cannot hide the fact that Mali is a neopatrimonial state where the logics of the formal and the informal are intimately intertwined.

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A scary end for Democrazy in Mali, by Ruben Eberlein

Each time political scientists in the West talked about democratisation in Africa during the last twenty years, you could bet that Mali was rated as a reformer and a good example. The country received a lot of plaudit from Western governments, the academic world and developmental organizations especially for its transition from a long period of military rule under Moussa Traore to a civil government under Alpha Konare. He became the first democratically elected President in 1992.

The coup of March 2012 terminated the Malian experiment with democracy for the time being. Dissatisfied with the hesitant reaction to the uprising of Tuareg and Islamists in the North, young officers under the leadership of Captain Amadou Sanogo disposed the President Amadou Toumani Toure. In August 2012, an interim cabinet under President Dioncounda Traore with 31 ministers officially took over, but most observers believe that the military still holds the real power.

Despite all the regalia, Mali’s democracy had and has not much in common with a parliamentarian democracy in the Western world. Politics and economy of the country were and are coined by clientelistic networks between some big men or big women and a multitude of poor and politically marginalized people. The sheer number of NGO’s and political parties cannot hide the fact that Mali is a neopatrimonial state where the logics of the formal and the informal are intimately intertwined.

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Mali: Towards a neo-trusteeship? (by Yvan Guichaoua)

This is the second part of a two-part analysis of the present situation in Mali. Part I, entitled “Mali: the fallacy of ungoverned space” is available here.

Preventing the fall of Bamako into Islamist hands is the official trigger of the French military campaign in Mali, which kicked off on January 11th and soon drove out Islamist forces from northern Mali main cities. Whether the Islamists really had the intention to seize Bamako is unclear. Taking control of Sevare and its strategic airport, 600 km northeast of the capital, might have been their main goal. But at the same time, French security sources argue, a coup in Bamako was being fomented by ex-junta affiliates, meant to ‘connect’ with the Islamists’ offensive southward conducted by Ansar Eddine. Hence the immediacy of France’s heavy-handed response. It is premature to make this narrative historical truth but this is a plausible one.

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Mali: Towards a neo-trusteeship? (by Yvan Guichaoua)

This is the second part of a two-part analysis of the present situation in Mali. Part I, entitled “Mali: the fallacy of ungoverned space” is available here.

Preventing the fall of Bamako into Islamist hands is the official trigger of the French military campaign in Mali, which kicked off on January 11th and soon drove out Islamist forces from northern Mali main cities. Whether the Islamists really had the intention to seize Bamako is unclear. Taking control of Sevare and its strategic airport, 600 km northeast of the capital, might have been their main goal. But at the same time, French security sources argue, a coup in Bamako was being fomented by ex-junta affiliates, meant to ‘connect’ with the Islamists’ offensive southward conducted by Ansar Eddine. Hence the immediacy of France’s heavy-handed response. It is premature to make this narrative historical truth but this is a plausible one.

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Mali: the fallacy of ungoverned spaces (by Yvan Guichaoua)

This is the first part of a two-part analysis of the present situation in Mali. Part II, entitled “Mali: toward a neo-trusteeship?” will explore the responses to Mali’s crisis.

Repeatedly in the past weeks, UK Prime Minister David Cameron called northern Mali an ‘ungoverned space’, indulging in the classic intellectual shortcut used by those looking for easy explanations of the territorial entrenchment of irregular armed groups, including Al Qaeda-affiliated ones, in Africa and beyond. Such an assumption leads to dangerous misconceptions of political and social realities of Mali.

Crucially, it suggests that terrorists have established their stronghold in a political vacuum. The implication is that those who have shaped the political environment leading to the resumption of a separatist Tuareg insurgency in January 2012 followed by its replacement by a coalition of Al Qaeda affiliated groups and Salafist Tuareg, are automatically exonerated from their responsibility in Mali’s present state of affairs.

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Report from Mali (by Marc-André Boisvert)

TV host from a distant news channel: How is it in Mali now that the War is over, Marc-Andre…. Buoy-z-vert?

Marc-André: Well…

The last weeks have been a marathon for me where I have multiplied media intervention with hosts from all over the world, some not understanding a word of what I was trying to say.

This brought me to short answers to complex questions in the like of:

“The War in Mali occurs in one of the harshest, poorest and most isolated place in the world. Beyond the complexity of the terrain, there are also numerous actors with centuries of history behind. “

We, journalists, cannot tell you more than that. We need to get stories before our editorial staff will call us back to tell us that we cost too much or that we need to move to the next emergency. And the War in Mali has not been easy for us journalists. There have been a lot of complains about the media handling and military boycott at the beginning of the crisis (see: http://www.cpj.org/security/2013/01/in-mali-a-war-without-images-and-without-facts.php).

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New situation in Mali and wider Sahel

Military efforts combining French, Malian and most recently troops from Niger and Chad have quickly managed to uproot the various militia groups in Northern Mali and driven them into deserted mountain areas. During the last weeks we have seen an unprecedented drive against a common goal among such diverse actors as France, Algeria, Mali, AU and the West African states. This is in itself a victory. It may be argued that without the backup by troops from Niger and Chad, French and Malian troops would indeed have managed to retake Gao and Timbuktu and secured the territory south of the Niger river, however daring the push to take Kidal should be seen in the light of troops support from Niger and Chad. With these two countries having support lines across their respective borders more long-term control over the Kidal region becomes a possibility. At the same time involvement by Nigerien troops risks creating new problems with their Tuareg populations in that country.

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