30 November 2012

Mali: Restoring Security and Stability in Mali - How Should the International Community Respond?

Photo: HRW
Map of Mali


Keynote Address at the Forum Series Sponsored by Howard University's Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center and the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa

Honorable Donald Teitelbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs,

Excellency the Ambassador of the Republic of Cape Verde,

Excellency the Ambassador of the Republic of Niger,

Dr. Bernadette Paolo, President and CEO of the The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa,

Dear Representative of the Howard University's Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center,

Dr. Vivian Lowery Derryck, President and CEO of The Bridges Institute/ Mali Watch Chair,

Professor Ben Fred-Mensah, Department of Political Science,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to thank Dr. Bernadette Paolo for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak on an issue that is obviously of critical importance primarily for the Republic of Mali and the Sahel region, and also for the international security Situation.

I also wish to extend warm greetings to the distinguished members of the African diplomatic corps here this afternoon, as well as this select group of opinion leaders, and U.S government officials, and others interested in the Sahel region and the Malian crisis.

The theme I'm asked to deliver revolves around Africa and the rest of the world facing new security, threats to international peace and security together.

I'm asked to speak about the real-time assessment of the situation in Mali in addition to actions underway in Europe, the United Nations, African Union, and ECOWAS.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma meet in Washington for talks that are expected to focus on terrorists in northern Mali and rebels in eastern Congo.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson will join Wednesday's meetings at the State Department.

In her talks with Zuma, Clinton will discuss West African plans for an intervention force in Mali, where Tuareg rebels and al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists control most of the north of the country.

Zuma and Clinton will compare notes on what outside support is needed for that force, and how Bamako's transitional civilian government can help bridge the political divide.

Yesterday, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was speaking at the inauguration ceremony for the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

In his remarks, Mr. Ban mentioned the situation in Mali who has been dealing with a range of security, political and humanitarian problems since the start of the year, including the imposition of an extremist version of Muslim Sharia law in the north, where radical Islamists have seized control.

As you know, the UN Security Council has authorized a military intervention in Mali and given ECOWAS and the African Union a deadline of late November to come up with a detailed plan of re-conquest for the vast, sparsely populated north.

In the meantime, efforts aimed at promoting a peaceful solution to the crisis in the North of Mali are being stepped up, within an enhanced strategic coordination between the core countries, ECOWAS, the AU and the United Nations as well as other international partners.

Security Situation in Sahel region

The prevailing security environment in the Sahel region in general, and northern Mali in particular is prior to the political developments that took place this year which were manifested by the resurgence of the Tuareg rebellion in January 17th and the subsequent coup d'état in Bamako on 22 March 2012.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and criminal groups found an ideal sanctuary, capitalizing on the many vulnerabilities that include porous borders, weakened state institutions as a result of prolonged poverty, environmental degradation and challenges to securing natural resources.

AQIM has entrenched itself in the Sahel region, particularly northern Mali, through the establishment of social, political and economic ties with other similar groups operating in the region. The group has been deeply involved in the illicit economy of the region, which encompasses the lucrative smuggling business and trafficking of arms, humans and drugs.

AQIM also commanded kidnap-for-ransom activities which involved a complex web of perpetrators and intermediaries.

When the rebellion resurged, terrorist and criminal groups had the resources and the means to hijack it.

Three days ago, last Sunday November 25, 2012, dozen of Algerian jihadists have arrived in the Malian city of Timbuktu to reinforce the AQIM camp who is imposing an increasingly brutal version of sharia law in the vast northern areas under their control. Regional security sources said in early November that dozens of young Europeans and Africans living in Europe had also attempted to join the Islamists in northern Mali.

The arrival of more and more Islamist reinforcements is to be expected.

This is the root cause of the conflict in Northern Mali.

Currently, the convergence of complex political and security issues with a devastating humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region presents serious challenges, in particular to the countries directly affected, but even for the international community as a whole.

Indeed, these transnational challenges in the region have evolved from social and criminal problems into threats to the African and international security and stability.

This situation is taken very seriously by the countries of the region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the core countries, the African Union and the international community as a whole.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Malian Crisis

The crisis in Mali, through its different aspects - security, political and humanitarian - has become one of the most serious and pressing crises impacting on the African and the global security landscapes.

Since January of this year, Mali's deepening insecurity has taken several forms.

Mali has become the world's newest failed state in the nearly ten months since the coup d'état in Bamako on 22 March 2012 overthrew the democratically elected president in the capital.

The chaos that followed created the opening that allowed the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and another Islamic group, Ansar Dine, to seize control of much of northern Mali earlier this year in the confusion that followed a military coup in Bamako.

Both Islamic groups are believed to have close links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Ansar Dine is believed to be made up mostly of Malian fighters whereas the two other groups -- AQIM and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO -- are said to be primarily composed of foreign fighters from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, and from as far afield as Pakistan.

The Tuareg rebels' Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), fought alongside the Islamist groups now controlling northern Mali, but the more secular Tuareg fighters were soon sidelined over a dispute about implementing Sharia in the region.

Since taking control of the north, the Tuareg rebels and terrorist groups have and continue to commit serious human rights violations.

These include arbitrary arrests, torture, amputation, rape, summary executions and use of child soldiers.

Some of the groups active on the ground have also been engaged in the desecration, damage and destruction of sites of holy, historic and cultural significance, some of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including in the city of Timbuktu.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Real-time Assessment ECOWAS

On Sunday 11th November 2012 in Abuja, ECOWAS Heads of State and Government adopted the "Harmonized Concept of Operations for the deployment an African-led international force in Mali" and reiterated their instruction to the ECOWAS Commission to maintain the ECOWAS Stand-by Force in a high state of readiness for imminent deployment.

ECOWAS requested the African Union Peace and Security Council to endorse same for onward transmission to the UN within the 45-day deadline of the UN Security Council Resolution 2071, and urged the UN Security Council to examine the Concept with a view to authorizing the deployment of the international military force in Mali in conformity with Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

African Union

On November 13, 2012, the African Union-Peace and Security Council (PSC) endorsed the "Harmonized Concept of Operations" and announced the deployment of AFISMA, the African-led mission in support of Mali.

The Concept of Operations was, on the day of its adoption by the PSC, transmitted to the UN Secretary-General.


The blueprint of the "Harmonized Concept of Operations" agreed in Abuja was sent by the African Union to the United Nations, on November 15th, 2012.

Later this month, the plan will be presented to the United Nations Security Council, the final step before the operation can go ahead.

Once approved by the United Nations, military action could begin immediately, although mobilisation is unlikely to be ready before early 2013.

European Union

On November 19, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton presented a first draft of the EU's plans to send a military training mission to Mali to support regional African efforts to wrest control of the north of the country from armed Islamists.

Under the plan, some 250 European officers would be sent to train Malian combat units and help restructure the country's army in a mission that could start as early as January 2012.

But, Ashton's final "Crisis management concept" will need to put political conditionality first.

The EU and its member states must make sure that it is essential that an official framework for negotiations be created before deploying the training mission in Mali, in early 2013. Furthermore, human rights and humanitarian law training needs to be an integral part of the planned mission.

The current draft "Crisis management concept' of the European Commission includes human rights, humanitarian law and gender training as one of the elements. But it does not specify the respect for human rights by the trained troops as one of the key aims of the training mission.

African Union and ECOWAS military plan

The ECOWAS military plans suggest that the region seems capable of generating a force of a few thousands, comprising six or more national military groups, that will have to operate over long distances in difficult territory, against islamist armed groups adept at guerrilla tactics.

The "Harmonized Concept of Operations" covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali's south, followed by combat operations in the north.

The military reaction force will count initially some 5,000 Malian troops would be joined by 3,300 west African troops coming primarily from Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo, with the possibility of expanding, in case the ground situation will demand so.

From outside of ECOWAS, Chad could also participate. ECOWAS have had contacts with other countries : Mauritania, South Africa.

The command of this task force was offered to General Sekouba Konate, Guinea's former transition leader, which already stated that all the partners will respect Mali's territorial integrity.

Algeria is reportedly deploying additional troops along its 1,200-mile border with Mali, but this seems designed to ensure security and help prevent rebel militias crossing into Algeria in the wake of any intervention.

So, I think that almost ten thousand troups (10000) of African led Force will be sufficient to deal with armed groups in northern Mali, with the technical and logistical support of European partners and the United States, as long as the plan is approved by the United Nations.

Equipment, intelligence, training and support from American, British and French special forces will add steel to the operation.

Having said this, much remains unknown about the militant groups controlling the north and how they interact with one another. Estimates of the size and commitment of their forces vary greatly. Whilst many of the foot soldiers are opportunists, drug smugglers, gun runners and paid conscripts who might melt into the desert in the face of battle, there are also ideologically committed jihadists who could fight to the death.

Moreover, Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups are skilled at operating across the desert and could readily disrupt supply-lines to any garrison implanted in northern towns; and aerial resupply could be vulnerable to mobile anti-aircraft missiles that may have seeped into Mali from Libya.


The military intervention could work with extensive European (and especially French) military advice and supplies.

Both the United States and France have identified the al-Qaida threat in northern Mali as a key security risk, not just to the region but also to Europe and beyond. Both Washington and Paris have offered logistical support to the future intervention. Britain has said that "no option is off the table".

Negotiation with some of the paramilitary Islamist groups and political dialogue with tuaregs Negotiation with some of the paramilitary Islamist groups(Ansar Edine) While these plans for an international military intervention in northern Mali proceed, diplomats are trying to resolve the Mali crisis through negotiation.

In this respect, ECOWAS and the African Union have continued to stress that for any negotiated resolution to the crisis in northern Mali to take place, all rebel groups claiming to have legitimate claims within the Republic of Mali must sever all their ties with terrorist groups, reject all forms of terrorism and crime as well as separatist tendencies.

Political dialogue with Tuaregs(MNLA)

The Tuareg issue is a political problem that need to be addressed in a political context.

Overall goals

1 . The international community is gravely concerned about the risk of northern Mali becoming a safe haven for extremists and a focal point for organized crime, illicit trafficking of narcotics.

The overlapping crises facing Mali constitute a serious threat to core principles of the AU and the wider international community, particularly the principles of respect for the national unity and territorial integrity of Member States; rejection of terrorism and transnational organized crime, as well as of unconstitutional changes of government; and respect for human rights.

These are principles that are of vital importance for the maintenance of peace, security and stability on the continent, as well as for its development.

2 . ECOWAS also stressed that dialogue remained the preferred option in the resolution of the political crisis in the Northern parts of Mali.

However, Ladies and Gentlemen, regarding the security situation, recourse to force may be indispensable in order to dismantle terrorist and transnational criminal networks that pose a threat to international peace and security.

Terrorism in the Sahel region is an international crisis that should be nipped in the bud especially in Northern Mali so that it does not spread to other parts of the continent.

Terrorists must not be allowed to install themselves in the Sahel region. It's not just an aggression against the sovereign country of Mali. It's a major issue for the security of the entire continent - and the international community.

That's why the international intervention is necessary.

3 . The launching of any war in the region must be preceded by exhausting all peaceful options to resolve the crisis in northern Mali.

Despite news last week that one militia group, Ansar Dine, was committed to peace following talks in Burkina Faso and Algeria, hopes for a negotiated settlement to the current crisis remain slim. Some sources have recently reported that Ansar Dine's leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, declared sharia law in the north to be non-negotiable.

It is unlikely that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa will have any interest in taking part in negotiations.

In fact, the armed groups are seeking to get time to strengthen and consolidate their positions both in the desert and in towns where they have been quick to set up semi-functioning forms of administration and service provision.

Having said that, the military intervention seems inevitable, and the military action appears as the only way for peace to be restored in the North of Mali.

This military action aims at responding to the request by the Malian authorities to regain control over the occupied regions in the north of the country, dismantle the terrorist and criminal networks and restore effectively the authority of the State over the entire national territory.

4 . Thankfully, the international community has finally come together in recognizing the complexity of the security situation in the Sahel region and the Malian crisis, and most acknowledge that the military intervention is just part of the global strategy needed to solve it gradually.

There is now more coherence and coordination than in the last few months and the creation of the positions of UN and African Union special envoys on Mali and Sahel should help in keeping consensus on the way forward.

And, in order to minimize the conditions that made such a breakdown in peace in Mali and the Sahel region, we support the developing and effective implementation by the United Nations of an "Integrated regional strategy on the Sahel" that will strengthen regional capacities to combat insecurity, prevent and respond to large-scale crises, and promote democratic governance and respect for human rights.

First, the strategy will help the countries of the Sahel to stem the terrorist threat, fight organized crime and control the proliferation of weapons. This will include tackling money laundering and improving border management.

Second, the strategy will promote inclusiveness, conciliation and mediation to decrease tensions within and between countries. Regional forums that bring together Government officials, religious leaders, civil society and cross-border communities will be part of the picture.

Third, the strategy will seek to strengthen the short- and long-term ability of communities to cope with extreme climatic conditions and market shocks.

Fourth, the strategy will place great emphasis on environmental management. The countries of the Sahel need to better regulate their extractive industries, improve water resource management, adapt to climate change and regulate land tenure and access.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The overall goal of the AU and ECOWAS, with the support of the international community, is to contribute to the creation of the necessary conditions for a stable and democratic Malian State responsive to the needs of all its citizens, fully exercising its authority over its national territory and effectively assuming its responsibilities in addressing regional security and other challenges.

The approach is based on the following : Malian leadership and ownership of the process towards the search for solutions to the crises facing the country, regional collaboration and coordination, and international support to the Malian and African‐led efforts.

Thank you for your attention.

Al Maamoun Baba Lamine Keita is Ambassador of the Republic of Mali to the United States

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