Mali: Conflict, Political Instability and Future Conflict

Photo from Alchetron

The Republic of Mali, home to more than 20 million people, is a landlocked country in West Africa. Since the outbreak of the Mali War in 2012, the country has been embroiled in military and political conflict, including two coups d’état in the past two years.

Conflict began in the country following the Tuareg Rebellion in January 2012 when several insurgent groups, united under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), began a campaign against the central government to declare an area of northern Mali an independent nation. This area, named Azawad by insurgents, was to serve as the homeland for the nomadic Tuareg people of northern Mali. However, the MNLA also included Islamist extremist groups such as Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, whose aim was to instate Sharia law.

As a result of the government of Mali’s poor handling of the armed conflict, a coup d’etat was carried out by the armed forces, ousting the democratic government of Amadou Toumani Touré. In its place, the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) was installed. However, this did little to quell the Tuareg rebellion and by April of the same year, the insurgents had captured the two strategically important cities of Gao and Timbuktu and declared the independence of Azawad, with Gao as its capital city.

This has had dire consequences for human rights in the area. According to Human Rights Watch, insurgents committed numerous war crimes during their conquering of the north, while members of Mali’s military forces carried out arbitrary detentions and executions of ethnically Tuareg civilians and members of security services. Along with this, the implementation of Sharia law restricted the rights of women in the region, while extremist groups also persecuted religious minorities.

Following an African-led foreign intervention in 2013, control was regained over northern Mali. However, the effects of these events are still being felt in the present day. The ceasefire of 2013 was unsteady, with a heavily military presence being maintained in northern Mali and several smaller attacks and operations from both sides of the conflict. A second coup d’état occurred in 2020 after military mutineers stormed Bamako, Mali’s capital. Incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was forced to resign and dissolve his government, and a transitional government was installed. This too was overthrown in a second coup in 2021, when the Malian Army, led by led by Vice President Assimi Goïta captured President Bah N’daw, who led the previous coup.

Since then, the transition period back to a democratically elected government has been extended by five years, equivalent to a full presidential term in Mali, which has triggered tough economic sanctions from foreign countries and the severance of ties with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union. The future ramifications of this coup are unclear, with a UN Envoy believing that a “endless cycle of instability” may be in effect. Food insecurity is at its highest level since 2014, with more than 1.8 million people expected to need food assistance this year, and more than 500,000 schoolchildren have been affected by school closures, which the envoy believes puts “the future of the country in jeopardy”.  

However, many believe the situation can be alleviated if the transition to democratic leadership occurs without delay, as this could bring an end to instability by breaking a ‘vicious circle of political crises’, as mentioned by a UN spokesperson.

Read more:

By: Rohan Silvestro