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For a holistic approach to problems and opportunities in North Mali
François Grünewald


 An area and people who have been severely affected by the succession of crises

The events of 2011-2014 have further deteriorated a situation which had already been significantly degraded by the droughts of 1973-74, 1984-85, 2010 and 2011 as well as the political crises of the 90s, 2000 and 2006. These different events brought about and continue to bring about profound changes to natural and human environments. With the sedentarisation of nomadic communities and the access to education that this allows there also comes profound changes in social relations, with a redistribution of roles between high casts and former servants as well as the transformation of the role of women. Finally, the succession of crises has exposed the inhabitants of North Mali to the practices of humanitarian agencies, with the positive and negative aspects that this implies.
These crises have had several major consequences for these communities who had been cut off from the world for a long time. They accelerated the exodus towards the cities, migration abroad and exile to refugee camps. Uprooted from their pastoral areas, the nomads have learned other ways of living, getting used to the harsh realities of urban employment, becoming soldiers in other people’s wars (Lybia, etc.), becoming familiar with the functioning of humanitarian aid, or becoming part of the Diasporas of Paris, Dubai, Nouakchott or Doha. These factors of social change should imperatively be taken into account by anyone who wants to carry out programmes in the region.

The impact of the recent conflict is obviously still being felt, with very intense psychological wounds, deep misunderstanding, justice not yet re-established and peace-building efforts which continue to falter. In order to understand the current situation it is important to look at the history of the conflict in North Mali. Often simply described as a clash between “white” nomads and “black” farmers, it is actually much more complex. During the previous conflict in the 90ies, the demands of the Front de l’Azawouad, which included all the ethnic groups of the North, did not concern ethnic issues, but rather for a genuine development policy in North Mali. Only when it became necessary to divide to rule were the different groups played against each other. After that crisis, significant efforts were made including decentralization, demobilization and reintegration programmes, the integration of Tuareg leaders into high levels of the administration and the army, and the development of infrastructure. However, the deterioration of governance at the highest level of the state, which allowed a culture of impunity and illegal trade to develop, combined with the movement south of radical Islamic movements normally based in the Maghreb, created the conditions which would then explode. The war in Lybia followed by the return of groups of heavily armed Tuareg soldiers led to the defeat of the widely demoralized Malian army. A number of horrible acts, such as the Aguelhok massacre, echoed past situations where the Malian army had attacked defenceless Tuareg camps. The North thus fell very suddenly, leading to a coup d’état in Bamako and putting an end to Mali’s “donor darling” image. The takeover of the North by the radical Islamic movements was complex as some of them were internationalist (AQMI) whereas others were essentially interested in the Sahel (MUJAO) and others just in the national situation (Ansar Edine).

The military interventions by France (Serval), the African nations (MISMA), and then the United Nations (MINUSMA) allowed almost the whole territory to be recovered, with numerous areas of uncertainty and tension such as in Kidal. In this context, the redistribution of strategic and tactical cards amongst political movements seeking to begin negotiations has met with a lot of difficulties. The negotiations between Bamako and Malian armed opposition movements (MNLA, MUA), themselves very divided, are not making any headway.

Despite exercises like the Etats généraux de la decentralization (the 2013 version only reiterated what had been said at the 2011 and 2012 sessions) or the Assises du Nord, which were unfortunately not very well prepared in the field, political dialogue is far from being properly engaged. It took the United Nations Security Council mission in February 2014 to begin to make some progress. A number of factors are beginning to highlight the loss of confidence between civil society and the state: a crisis of confidence in the political system which, despite efforts, has not completely managed to rid itself of the corruption and nepotism of the past; the fragile economic situation, particularly in rural areas which have only just got over the serious food shortages of 2011-2013 and are now about to face the same again; the loss of confidence between exiles in the camps and the administration of their own country; and the difficulty of preventing acts of violence against communities. Everyone is waiting for peace dividends that have not yet materialized. The jihadist movements who lost part of their chain of command and their weapons still have the capacity to cause substantial harm, and are no doubt in the process of reorganizing.

One of the major impacts of these crises is the weakening of economic mechanisms: trans-Saharan trade blocked at the borders, tourism and crafts, which have a very high level of added value and are essential to the economy of the North, have been abandoned as there are no clients due to insecurity, etc. This both increases pauperization and the risk of radicalization.

In this context, which remains explosive, inter-community conflicts over land and water, access to pastureland and to protect farming areas can quickly become exacerbated. The international community, and notably the United Nations mission (MINUSMA), is having difficulty influencing the course of events and the Malian population is beginning to show signs of disenchantment, and even resentment.