Mali security nightmare: Why foreign intervention alone won't stop the chaos
A divided Mali could become a haven for armed groups and a security nightmare for the whole of West Africa and far beyond. But foreign military intervention alone will be insufficient to address the turmoil. External troops will need the help of local and regional civil society organizations.
The West African nation of Mali is the subject of several crises at the same time. Against this backdrop, calls for a military intervention in Mali are getting stronger. An area the size of France becoming a free haven for uncontrolled armed groups is a security nightmare for the whole of West Africa and far beyond. But foreign military intervention in and of itself will be insufficient to effectively address the chaos there. External forces would need the cooperation of local and regional civil society organizations.Skip to next paragraph
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The legitimacy of what was once a strong democratic state in Africa has suffered from drug trafficking, corruption, a disregard for ethnic tensions, and other forms of weak governance. When armed groups spilled into Mali at the end of the war in Libya, they found a fertile ground of grievances among local communities. In a matter of weeks, the north of Mali was occupied by an ad hoc coalition of different factions.
Having conquered the North, these groups turned on each other. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad (MNLA), with its base in the endemic Tuareg communities, lost out from groups promoting an Islamic state. The North is now under an aggressive patchwork rule of non-state actors, with grave consequences for the safety and rights of local people, in particular women and children.
Meanwhile, instead of fighting the insurgents, the Mali military converted its frustration into a coup in the capital Bamako, which further destabilized the country. Thanks to a diplomatic intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the military junta quickly agreed to a transition of power. By April, this led to the establishment of an interim government. However, despite the restoration of a level of constitutional order, the interim government continues to suffer from tensions among civilian politicians and the military, and does not have a strong grip on what is left of the country.
The international community is keen to prevent the emergence of an “Afghanistan in the Maghreb.” In Bamako, initial resistance against a foreign intervention has waned with international pressure and the opportunity to get access to different kinds of support, including military hardware and training.