Mali: Enemies Can Be Reconciled in Northern Mali, Economy Is Key - Oxfam

Tensions between ethnic groups, such as Tuaregs and Arabs, which flared up during 18 months of armed clashes in northern Mali are neither radical nor irreparable, according to an Oxfam report.

Mali was plunged into conflict when a Tuareg uprising in 2012 led to a military coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the northern half of Mali by Islamist militants during the subsequent chaos. Over 500,000 people were displaced throughout Mali and in neighbouring countries.

The report, the first of its kind to analyse the impact of the conflict on the "social fabric" of Mali, appeared days after Tuareg separatists rejoined the Ouagadougou Peace Process, just over a week after they pulled out and accused Bamako of not respecting the terms of a truce signed in June.

Oxfam interviewed around 2,000 people in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako as well as in Malian refugee camps in Burkina Faso. But the survey left out major parts of the population, like those in Kidal or in refugee camps in Mauritania and Niger.

Mali has not experienced such a destructive conflict in living memory - almost all those who took part in the study described it as "unrivalled", "unequalled" and "scandalous," the report said.

Part of the problem now is the inability to distinguish between individual wrongdoers and the ethnic groups to which they belong.

Six out of 10 of those who believe that social relationships are either average or poor profess to have a problem with a whole ethnic group rather than with individuals, the report said.

"People who used to live together, now find themselves as enemies based on their ethnicities," said Ilaria Allegrozzi, who wrote the report.

"The generalisation that all Tuaregs are MLNA, all Arabs are Islamists and all Songhai are with the Ganda Koy militias prevents people from distinguishing between the individual and the group," she said.

The report, "Piecing together the jigsaw: prospects for improved social relations after the armed conflict in northern Mali," also found that the perception of worsening social relations is much more pronounced among displaced people than among those who remained in the north of the country.

Six out of 10 discussion groups held with displaced and refugee populations concluded that relations between individuals and communities in the North were now "poor," while only three out of 10 believed this among people who stayed put, the report said.

"The survey found that displaced populations have more radical views and opinions especially in terms of reconciliation. A significant minority of refugees and IDPs said that separation was the solution for reconciliation," Allegrozzi said.

"This was only found in the displaced populations, in the north when we put such questions to communities in Gao and Timbuktu, they didn't put forward such solutions," she added.

Mali has experienced four rebellions since independence from France in 1960 and the people have always come back together because of historical, social and especially economic ties, Allegrozzi said.

"Everything is about economic relations, even social relations depend on economic relations. Every Tuareg, for example, needs a Songhai to live because they exchange products.

The Tuaregs bring milk and animals and the Songhai give back rice and other products that they grow. These people have lived together for centuries and they need each other," she said.

The government needs to play its part too by strengthening the judicial system, tackling structural challenges and including all groups in economic development, the report said.

Poverty, corruption and the perception of underdevelopment in northern Mali, accompanied by feelings of injustice and marginalization, are also seen as factors undermining harmonious social relations, the report said.

The right to justice, the need to tackle impunity and to establish the truth about crimes committed are still widely demanded, the report said.

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