Mali: Imminent Intervention, Uncertain Future

The situation in Mali, six months after a coup that toppled the president, is on the verge of deteriorating further. The transitional government and its three key figures – the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, the prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, and the ex-junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo – are divided and enjoy only limited popular support. The rebellion in the northern part of the country is taking root, and Islamic extremists seem to be recruiting fighters from across the region to rejoin the cause. While ECOWAS announced its intention to intervene militarily in Mali to recapture the north, there has not been any decisive actions taken since, and the much-needed mandate from the UN has not been forthcoming. This week in New York, French president Francois Hollande exhorted the UN Security Council to produce a resolution in support of an ECOWAS intervention in the area. While France intends to provide logistical support to the mission, it stopped short of promising troops, France declared that “It is up to the Africans, working under a UN mandate, to take the necessary action.” France, which has four citizens currently held hostage by AQIM, are “walking a tight rope” on the issue of Mali. While they are pressing for action and intervention, there is a clear sense that France wants to be a “facilitator”, not an “actor” in the resolution to this crisis.

Today in New York, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community not to abandon the Sahel. Indeed, as Mali is in the grips of a political and security crisis, the rest of the region is experiencing a profound and complex humanitarian crisis. “Any proposed military solution to the security crisis in northern Mali should be considered extremely carefully. [It] could have significant humanitarian consequences, including further displacement and restrictions on humanitarian access,” Ban warned. For her part, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanked the French president for his leadership on the issue, and declared that “meeting the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel [and] bringing stability back to Mali to combating violent extremism across the region is a shared responsibility. And there is no place where that shared responsibility can be actualized other than the United Nations.”

But beyond the need for UN leadership on this burning matter, a military intervention in Mali needs to also take into account the broader regional dynamics at play and firmly engage partners such as Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal in helping to quell the growth of criminal and terrorist networks in the region. This past July, the UN Security Council requested from the Secretary-General the development of an integrated strategy for the Sahel, which would encompass “security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian dimensions.” Indeed, the situation in Mali is not self-contained, and it is therefore imperative for ECOWAS and the Malian government to work closely together, with their regional allies and the United Nations to design and implement the seemingly imminent military intervention in the north. A recent International Crisis Group (ICG) briefing also suggests that Malian political leaders should design a “global strategy to resolve the crisis”, that includes specific provisions for restoring the rule of law, holding elections and developing regional diplomatic strategies.

“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,”notes the ICG briefing. The complex nature of the crisis in Mali is compounded by the fact that there are many other diffuse regional dynamics at play. There is an opportunity for the transitional government to work together with ECOWAS and the UN to resolve the immediate crisis in the north, while engaging regional and global partners in the more long term fight against extremism, criminality and insecurity in the Sahel region.