In the absence of rapid, firm and coherent decisions at the regional (Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS), continental (African Union, AU) and international (UN) levels by the end of September, the political, security, economic and social situation in Mali will deteriorate. All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and social unrest in the capital, which risks undermining the transitional institutions and creating chaos that could allow religious extremism and Arab terrorist violence to spread in Mali and beyond.
None of the three actors sharing power, namely the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, the prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, and the ex-junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, enjoys sufficient popular legitimacy or has the ability to prevent the aggravation of the crisis. The country urgently needs to mobilise the best Malian expertise irrespective of political allegiance rather than engaging in power plays that will lead the country to the verge of collapse.
Almost six months after a coup overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) and the Malian army relinquished control of the three northern administrative regions to armed groups – the Tuareg traitors of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Arab terrorists of Ansar Dine (Ançar Eddine), the Movement for Unicity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – none of the pillars of the Malian state was able to give a clear direction to the political transition and to formulate a precise and coherent demand for assistance to the international community to regain control of the north, which represents more than two thirds of the territory. The next six months will be crucial for the stability of Mali, Sahel and the entire West African region, as the risks are high and the lack of leadership at all levels of decision-making has so far been obvious.
The message from Crisis Group’s July 2012 report on Mali is still relevant. It is not a call against the principle of a military action in the north. Indeed, the use of force will be necessary to neutralise transnational armed groups that indulge in terrorism, jihadism and drug and arms trafficking and to restore Mali’s territorial integrity. But before resorting to force, a political and diplomatic effort is required to separate two sets of different issues: those related to intercommunal tensions within Malian society, political and economic governance of the north and management of religious diversity, and those related to collective security in the Sahel-Sahara region. The Malian army and ECOWAS’s forces will not be capable of tackling the influx of arms and combatants between a fragmented Libya and northern Mali through southern Algeria and/or northern Niger. Minimal and sustainable security in northern Mali cannot be reestablished without the clear involvement of the Algerian political and military authorities in governing their own lawless border.
Following the high-level meeting on the security situation in Sahel scheduled for 26 September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, Malian actors, their African and non-African partners and the UN will have to specify their course of action and clarify minimal objectives to be reached by March 2013.
The president and the prime minister should:
constitute immediately a small informal group including Malian personalities, preferably retired from the political scene, who have specific skills and significant experience in the areas of internal security, governance and public administration, organisation of elections, decentralisation, inter-community mediation and international relations, in particular regional diplomacy, in order to help the government define a global strategy to resolve the crisis.
ECOWAS leaders should:
recognise the limitations of the organisation in mediating the crisis and planning a military mission in Mali, and work closely with the African Union and above all with the UN, which are better equipped to respond to challenges posed by a crisis threatening international peace and security.
The UN Security Council and member states represented at the high-level meeting on the situation in Sahel should provide support to the Secretary-General to:
appoint a special representative of the Secretary-General for the Sahel and provide him with the necessary means to achieve his mission, which must focus on reconciling the positions of ECOWAS member states, regional players (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Niger and Mali) and Western countries; boost the UN presence in Mali to help the transitional government withstand the economic and social crisis, produce a credible roadmap for the restoration of territorial integrity and the organisation of transparent elections as soon as possible, and uphold the rule of law by gathering detailed information on human rights violations committed in the south (in particular in Bamako and Kati) as well as in the north;
begin, together with the AU and ECOWAS, a mission to facilitate reconciliation within the Malian army to prevent another military coup with unpredictable consequences.
Mali’s non-African partners, in particular the European Union and the U.S., should:
support efforts to reestablish the Malian defence and security forces by enhancing their unity, discipline and efficacy in order to ensure security in the south, constitute a credible threat of the use of force in the north and be able to participate in operations against terrorist groups;
contribute to the resilience of the Malian economy, and employment in particular, through a rapid resumption of foreignassistance so as to prevent social unrest that risks deepening the political and humanitarian crisis;
respond favourably to demands for urgent humanitarian assistance to the civilian population seriously affected by the crisis in Mali and the entire Sahel region, in accordance with what the UN has been advocating for several months without generating mobilisation adequate to the seriousness of the situation.