10 January 2014

Mali: Reform or Relapse

Photo: La Tribune
Militants of the Sahel region.

document

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

A year after the beginning of the French intervention in Mali, constitutional order and territorial integrity have been restored. However, the north remains a hotbed of intercommunal tensions and localised violence as both French and UN forces struggle to consolidate security gains. Expectations for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) run very high. He is supposed to help elaborate consensus for the future of the northern regions as well as implement reforms to strengthen state institutions. It is time for his government to act beyond declarations of intent. An easy mistake would be to revamp, in the short term, the clientelist system that brought former regimes to a standstill. While the president cannot overhaul the state in a few months, the urgent need to stabilise the situation should not detract from implementing meaningful governance reforms and a truly inclusive dialogue on the future of the country. The opportunity to do so should not be missed.

2013 ended with renewed tensions across the north. Reported incidents include armed banditry, new jihadi attacks, intercommunal violence and frequent clashes between Malian forces and local armed groups. So far these have not led to massive violence but seeds of a more devastating conflict are being planted. Peaceful coexistence between communities remains a distant dream. So far, insecurity has prevented the restoration of state authority and the delivery of humanitarian aid in the north. As a consequence, popular resentment against the government is high, as evidenced by a series of protests in several northern towns, especially Gao. Though the legislative vote was almost incident-free, the situation is worrying, especially in Kidal, in the extreme north, where two French journalists were killed on 2 November and the army fired on civilian protesters on 28 November.

The government has been slow to restore basic services in the north as Malian authorities lack resources to do so. Moreover, they have lost the confidence of most inhabitants of these regions, though many of them do not back armed groups' separatist or autonomist plans. To bridge the gap between the government and the population, the newly started rehabilitation programs should focus primarily on providing concrete services. While redeploying in the north, Malian authorities cannot afford to repeat past, unfulfilled promises of change.

After the rather quick success of the French military Serval Operation, international intervention is finding it difficult to consolidate its gains in the longer run. France, which is now also involved in the Central African Republic, is not ready to finance, on its own, a long-term stabilisation program. The UN force (MINUSMA) has been complementing French efforts to stabilise Mali since July 2013, but an insufficient number of peacekeepers and lack of adequate means cast doubt on its capacities to carry out its mandate alone. More broadly, while security in the Sahel is a regional issue, progress in building regional cooperation has been slow and mutual distrust remains high between Mali's neighbours.

The series of national and regional conferences on decentralisation and the future of the north, held in late 2013, is a positive step toward national dialogue. It could possibly lead to more than a political showdown between the government and the armed groups. For that to happen, however, the meetings should be more inclusive, as critics suggest, and result in prompt, tangible actions. For instance, the overdue transfer of state resources to local authorities must be implemented. The regional forums, set as follow-ups to national meetings, should be community-led and not another way to impose Bamako's top-down decisions. Otherwise, the government's efforts over the past months will be no more than a communication strategy without any impact on the ground.

So far, northern armed groups have refused to attend these meetings, which they say are government-led initiatives with little room for a true dialogue. Despite the recent announcement of their imminent merger in a bid to strengthen their position vis-à-vis Bamako, they are divided over the opportunity to restore links with the government. For its part, the latter seems to have returned to the old clientelist system used by previous regimes to control the north. In the legislative elections, President IBK's party backed several candidates from or close to the armed groups. The government is rekindling clientelist links with Tuareg and Arab leaders with the aim to divide and gradually weaken the armed groups. This policy is likely to bring short-term stability at the expense of long-term cohesion and inclusiveness, vital for peace and development in the troubled north. In addition, it has deepened tensions between armed groups, thus increasing the risk of new splinter groups taking up arms.

In accordance with the June 2013 preliminary agreement signed in Ouagadougou, inclusive peace talks should take place 60 days after the formation of the new cabinet. This deadline expired at the beginning of November 2013. Contacts between the government and armed groups are still taking place but through informal channels and in an increasingly tense atmosphere. The main bone of contention is the future of combatants. The current uncertainty could threaten the ceasefire. The international community should use its influence and convince the actors that they must respect the provisions of the Ouagadougou agreement. The armed groups must accept disarmament and the full return of the Malian administration in Kidal, which could initially work with MINUSMA to maintain law and order. As for the government, it must show more flexibility and understand that national conferences are not an alternative to truly inclusive talks with all the northern communities, including armed groups.

Finally, the focus on the northern region should not overshadow the need to lay better foundations both for the state and for governance. As Crisis Group previously mentioned, the crisis in the north revealed serious dysfunctions that affect the country as a whole. Malian democracy, hailed as a regional example, collapsed suddenly. The country's new leadership and international partners agree that meaningful reforms are required to break with the past. Some believe that these reforms are too early, too soon for a state still reeling from the crisis. However, it is important not to miss the unique opportunity of implementing an ambitious reform on governance and economic development, supported by a well-coordinated international response. At the very least, bad habits of the past should not resurface.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure security throughout the territory and better protect the populations

To the Malian government:

1. Ensure that the redeployment of the state in the north focuses on resumption and improvement of services (judicial, educational and health) and not only on restoration of the symbols of central authority.

2. Restore trust between state representatives and northern populations, particularly in Kidal, by:

a) investigating all potential abuses committed by armed forces against civilians and trying those individuals involved;

b) setting up the international investigation committee prescribed by Article 18 of the Ouagadougou agreement as soon as possible;

c) ensuring the professionalism and probity of the armed forces deployed in the north, in particular by using trained police forces, rather than the army, to maintain law and order; and

d) putting an end to the use of community-based armed groups to restore security in the north.

To armed groups in the north:

3. Respect strictly their confinement into barracks as stipulated by the Ouagadougou agreement, or otherwise accept co-responsibility for incidents happening in localities where they still operate.

4. Clarify and update their political demands.

To the Security Council and countries contributing troops:

5. Increase without delay MINUSMA's human and logistic resources, especially airborne capacity, until reaching full capacity.

To MINUSMA:

6. Fulfil its civilian protection mandate while remaining neutral to avoid being perceived as a state proxy, especially in the north.

7. Reinforce significantly its presence in the north, especially in towns where security incidents have been reported, and strengthen its patrol capacities, in conjunction with Malian forces, to secure main roads.

8. Secure the return of refugees, including in pastoral areas, through an increased presence outside of urban centres.

To the French authorities:

9. Maintain a rapid reaction contingent and intelligence gathering capacities on Malian soil to support the government and MINUSMA.

To the African Union, Sahel, West and North African states, the UN special envoy for the Sahel and special representative of the European Union for the Sahel:

10. Help revive regional cooperation for security and economic development, by supporting consultation and decision-making mechanisms to defuse tensions between the countries involved, such as the African Union-backed initiative that regularly gathers heads of intelligence services of the region.

To promote peace and reconciliation

To the Malian government:

11. Capitalise on the dialogue initiated since the Ouagadougou agreement by:

a) opening inclusive peace talks with representatives of northern communities, including the armed groups that signed the agreement;

b) opening, as soon as possible, discussions on disarmament and the future of combatants;

c) showing flexibility in organising negotiations so as to hold meetings outside Bamako, including in major northern cities; and

d) refraining from setting decentralisation as the only acceptable basis for negotiations, being open to other institutional arrangements, and implementing measures to facilitate dialogue.

12. Pursue and strengthen a sustainable national reconciliation policy by:

a) making sure the dialogue is held at the grassroots level rather than imposed by the state, and setting up regional and local forums as follow-up measures to the recent national conferences;

b) showing determination to continue discussions and to implement the recommendations of these forums, by linking them directly to a political decision-making process; and

c) clarifying the mission and functioning of the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, adding to its prerogatives a fact-finding mission on crimes committed since 1963.

To MINUSMA, ECOWAS, witnesses to the Ouagadougou Agreement (AU, EU and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and the French government:

13. Continue to facilitate negotiations maintaining a neutral position as between the government and armed groups.

To initiate a meaningful reform of the state and governance

To the Malian government:

14. Show capacity to implement long-lasting state reforms through immediate, tangible actions mainly by:

a) continuing, in the short-term, to enforce discipline and a strict respect of hierarchy within the armed forces and undertaking a long-term reform of the security sector in collaboration with the EU training mission in Mali (EUTM);

b) implementing short-term measures to restore public services in the north and throughout the country;

c) implementing, in the longer term, the main recommendations of the general meetings on decentralisation, steering clear of the pitfalls of an ill-prepared decentralisation;

d) facilitating, without delay, judicial action against corruption, and quickly highlighting the first results of such action; and

e) putting in place a longer-term policy to restore the capacities and independence of the justice system.

To Mali's partners and donors:

15. Review fully the failures of past aid policies, taking into account their own responsibilities as well as those of Malian leaders.

16. Coordinate their actions, especially through the creation of frequent donor forums to define an aid policy tailored to the country's limited absorption capacities.

17. Put in place mechanisms to ensure a better monitoring of aid disbursement and to significantly reduce embezzlement.

18. Help the government set priorities and plan decisions while focusing on tangible actions to restore public services and economic development across the country and not only in regional capitals.

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