Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mali: International Intervention in an Ethnic Conflict

Mali, a former French colony, gained independence in the 1960s as part of the wave of democratization spreading across Africa. In 1991, as a result of a military coup to oust longtime dictatorship rule in Mali, a democratic presidential system was established. The elections and constitutional system established following the 1991 coup were considered free, fair, and a stable example of democracy in the region.

However, as conflict increased in Libya calling for the overthrow of Qaddafi, Malians living in Libya began to flee back to Mali. Many of the returning Malians were members of the Tuareg ethnic group of the North. The diffusion of refugees back into Mali spurred much of the initial conflict. Mali is divided between the urban and rural majority Malian population of the South and the nomadic Tuareg ethnic group who control the North. The Tuaregs have long fought over their claims for rights of cultural land in Mali and the establishment of an autonomous homeland.

In March 2012, conflict with the Tauregs and disagreements over how the state was handling internal ethnic issues led to the overthrow of Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure by a military coup. Various coups and rebel groups have repeatedly prevented any interim presidents or prime ministers from being able to establish any democratic control of the country. Interim President Traore was recently ousted in December of 2012. 

Mali has since been criticized as a safe-haven for Islamic extremist and terrorist groups since the conflict broke out. The turmoil among the state’s inability to establish stability in the government or protect Malians via the military has allowed Al Qaeda to move into the Northern areas. As a result of attempted Al Qaeda movement into the South, France decided to intervene in its former colony. January of 2013 marked the beginning of French military intervention and deployment of boots of the ground. The French are currently leading the Malian military in pushing for the withdrawal of Islamists from major Mali cities.

Since the infiltration of Mali by the Islamist extremists, the intervention of French troops has been aimed at reducing jihad control of major cities, the prevention of the takeover of the capital, and reestablishing democratic rule.  President Francois Hollande of France has been quoted as claiming the intervention was to establish safety in Europe to prevent radical Islamic advancement and reestablishing democracy in Mali to help establish further cause for democracy in northern African countries. This indicates that Europe is looking to gain from the situation in the fight against Islamist law in the MENA region.  As a result of French military intervention, the conflict is diffusing over the Malian borders into Algeria, another former French colony.  The rebels and the Mali state are both holding strong in their positions and attempting to take command over many important cities in Mali.

The biggest questions facing Mali now are how the French intervention will extend the length of conflict in Mali and once the Islamist strong hold is removed, will the country be able to reestablish democracy or will continued conflict between the Northern Tuaregs and Southern Malians prevent stability in the state.  Once the Islamist extremist groups have been pushed out of Mali, many project that existing ethnic tensions between the Mali ethnic groups will not allow for a smooth transition back to democracy with the majority taking hold.  Further ethnic rebellion could extend the length of instability in the country.

Melly, Paul. "France: How Was It Dragged into the Malian Conflict?" BBC News. BBC, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.
"Mali." News. The New York Times, 10 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.
"Mali." The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.
"Mali Profile." BBC News. BBC, 03 July 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.


  1. I think it is interesting that today (link is posted below), the French government predicts Mali to be "secure" by the end of this month. You are right, even if all the extremists are wiped out, ethnic tensions in Mali may prevent a smooth transition to democracy. It seems that the French government (and Reuters) appear to be primarily focused on defeating al-Quaeda rather than trying to solve disputes between various ethnic groups.

  2. I think the French intervention though short term has helped Mali and defeating/discouraging rebel revolts, in the long run I think Mali is going to be in trouble.
    I believe that the instant French intervention in Mali has shown the region (governments and rebel groups) that there is little state capacity and Mali as a country is a sitting duck. I would argue that Mali's land and natural resources are now in greater danger of rebel conflict.