5 June 2012

Mali: For a Collective Action in the Sahel

Photo: UNICEF/Patricia Esteve
A malnourished boy eats UNICEF-provided therapeutic food.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the creation of the Center for Security Policy in the Sahel Sahara Region, the President of Centre4S, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, calls upon neighbors' Sates in the Sahel towards a quick and lasting resolution of the crisis in Mali.

For several months, Mali has been breaking up: first the coup in Bamako, then the Northern part of the country became occupied by the Islamists of AQIM, their allies of Ansar Dine and MUJAO.

The MLNA, which launched the rebellion in January, has been over passed while Arabs, Fulani and Songhai try to regroup. By now, the Islamists have settled in cities such as Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu where they are getting organized. In Nigeria, Boko Haram relentlessly pursues its targeted deadly attacks. Sleeping cells in other countries of the region are, by definition, invisible. The Sahel Sahara is, every day, on the upfront African and international news with all the downside risks inherent in such a situation.

Crises and Regional Rivalries

All is not lost, however, and it is still possible to manage successfully the crisis in Mali. To do this, a regional approach, collective and inclusive of all States and relevant stakeholders, should be favored. Naturally, each crisis is specific and there is no single formula for managing a conflict. However, there are analogies to be drawn and lessons to be taken to counter the risks of a possible partition of Mali. At this stage, the most important thing to do is to avoid exacerbating regional rivalries.

In Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, the conflicts were characterized by competition between neighboring states. Since 1990, the stakes in Afghanistan are marked by the old rivalry between Pakistan and India.

Iran is not absent either, and even Saudi Arabia... In Yemen, the recurring conflict with Houthiyines is seen as an indirect confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Somalia, Eritrea does not even try to hide its intention of confronting neighboring Ethiopia.

To Avoid Rapid Internationalization

In Mali, an internationalization of the conflict involves a number of risks. First, it can attract an increasing number of mediators and other external actors, whose sensitivities and interests are diverging or in competition; these emissaries make a collective and inclusive approach more difficult. Secondly, it tends to radicalize and make more visible the more extremist groups and, therefore, to marginalize the moderates or the representatives of civil society. Because of all this, there is a risk of perpetuating the conflict and of extending it to neighboring countries.

Moreover, the internationalization often feeds suspicion or competition between the powers of the sub-region, often for the benefit of local belligerents and, in the longer term, it becomes detrimental to all concerned states. In this respect, lessons of historical dimension could be learnt by Libya neighbors from the consequences of that country single diplomatic show played by the former Libyan regime in the Sahel.

Faced with such a pressing danger, it would be better for major countries in the Sahel Sahara region to act differently from Afghanistan, Yemen or Somalia neighbors. They should act more decisively to resolve as soon as possible the Malian crisis and, with it, all other conflicts that may undermine the region. Without the will for an urgent and collective action by the three or four regional powers, in strong cooperation with their neighbors, there is concern that the management of Sahel will escape national governments and remain, for a long time, an additional problem on the international scene.

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