CategoryState violence

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:

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The best recipe for protracted warfare in Mali is aerial bombing and rushed deployment of peacekeeping forces

Either you act quick before too much damage is done, or you have patience and try all avenues for peaceful dialogue.

I have tried to make sense of the long delayed international approving of PKO deployment to the Mali crisis as a sign of maturity in international UN and diplomatic circles; without knowing details I have interpreted the situation as peace negotiations must have been at least moderately successful. But now with the French bombing northern Mali I can only conclude that it is either too late, or too soon.

Although the sudden attacks must have been planned well ahead, something that speaks well with the rapid deployment of West African peacekeepers (a mission that would until a few days ago not happen before well into the autumn this year), the question is now what will happen. France will probably continue bombing rebel bases in the north, but will not employ soldiers in the region, except for a few in the Malian capital Bamako. European countries have promised to train both Malian forces and West African peacekeepers, but this will hardly affect the outcome of the crisis. We may get some indications what will come in the future by looking at past West African PKOs and if we look at the chiefly Nigerian missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 90s it is not a pretty picture. Although ECOMOG missions to the two countries limited the intensity of the conflicts they clearly also prolonged them. In both countries the peacekeepers did not only fail to be neutral but very soon after their arrival they became part of the war economy, trading in natural resources, loot and arms. A West African mission in Mali will also have Nigerian forces as its backbone (and I am not saying that Nigerian forces are the only ones with problems or even those with most). One should be fair to say that the Nigerian army has developed positively over the past ten years or so, but be equally realistic: a West African PKO will become part of the conflict and individual forces will try to benefit economically from their presence – where the most troubling perspective would be involvement in the trans-Saharan drugs trade. Ultimately, however, if they will be successful or not depends on their ability to navigate a dry, sandy environment something they are not familiar with.

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Mali : the unexpected crisis, a year later…. (guest post by Marc-André Boisvert)

When I moved to Bamako a bit more than a year ago, the international community praised Mali for being a beacon of democracy and stability.

I did not see that. I am not pretending that I knew that almost two-third of the country would fall under the control of rebels link to Al-Qaeda, nor that the military will take over in one of the most useless coup in West Africa, ousting President Amadou Toumani Touré (locally known under the acronym ATT).

What I knew was Malians did not see their country as the model that the international community kept referring to. They talked about corruption, lack of real democracy and injustice.

Nevertheless, there was such a consensus of Mali being the good Western-friendly pupil that I started to believe in it myself. Then the double crisis hit.

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