Beyond the peace agreement in Mali

by Aurelien Tobie

The 2012 crisis in Mali triggered a strong response from regional, international, national and non-state actors in a country that, until then, had been considered an example of democratic stability in the unstable Sahel region. Crucially, civil society also mobilized to support peace negotiations and conflict resolution efforts at the community level.

Groups of citizens demonstrated against the military coup in the capital, Bamako, and they alerted the public to the poor conditions of Malian soldiers fighting in the North. Solidarity movements conveyed medical supplies and equipment to the conflict-affected regions. While under enormous constraints, civil society organizations in north Mali worked to counterbalance the absence of the state and ensure the delivery of vital services to the population.

In 2015, inter-Malian negotiations resulted in a peace agreement between the Government and two coalitions of armed groups (the Coordination of Azawad Movements, CMA, and the Platform of armed groups, the Platform). The agreement was supplemented with military operations that enabled the formal restoration of state institutions in areas previously under the control of these groups. Despite the severity of the crisis, and as a consequence of the mobilization, quick progress has been made in restoring constitutional order and achieving some level of stability.

The 2012 crisis triggered a public debate to explore the severity and the far-reaching roots of insecurity and fragility of the Malian state—not just in the north, but over the entire territory. Issues of governance, availability and delivery of public services, effectiveness of the security architecture, local participation in decision-making and power-sharing at the national and local levels are now openly discussed in public forums. The perceived role of development aid in enabling or hindering prospects of peace is also a topic of conversation in Mali’s public spaces.

The conflict demonstrated the capacity and readiness of civil society to contribute to the resilience of the Malian society.  If progress is to be made towards a sustainable peace in Mali, civil society has to remain actively involved.

The root causes of the conflict

Despite the brokering of a negotiated peace agreement in 2015, violence is still part of the daily life of many people in Mali. While the fighting was predominantly contained within three main regions in the north of Mali, new violent groups have emerged in the central part of the country. Worryingly, while the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and other international and regional security actors still struggle to stabilize the most affected areas of the country, little has been achieved in tackling the root causes of the conflict.

The 2012 events were the result of structural issues within the Malian state, which have still not been comprehensively addressed: the legitimacy of state institutions is contested and the decentralization process has not made any significant progress, long-term community tensions have not been resolved, the political representation of different groups of the population is strongly debated, the role of women in the public sphere remains greatly constrained, and youth struggle to find a place and a voice in a changing society.

If these issues are to be addressed, they will need a long-term approach and a clear political commitment. They directly affect the prospects for sustainable peace and could even bring into question Malians’ historic sense of togetherness. Studies and surveys—such as the Afrobarometer, a research project that measures public attitudes in sub-Saharan Africa, or the self-portrait of Mali conducted by the Malian Institute of Action Research for Peace—have demonstrated a strong willingness of the Malian population to engage in a nationwide dialogue on Mali’s future. These studies also show that the population’s concerns and needs reach far beyond the immediate stabilization agenda and cessation of hostilities between armed groups.

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