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How did the conflict in Mali result to violent extremist?

Updated: Jan 20

Written by: Adam Said


The northern and southern parts of Mali have been in conflict since 2012. The dispute, known as The Northern Mali Conflict, Mali Civil War, or Mali War, started on 16th January 2012 when certain insurgent groups under the name of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), began fighting against the Malian government to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people. Azawad is a territory in northern Mali and MNLA had taken control of the region by April 2012. Various Islamist groups also joined the MNLA to varying degrees, but rather than calling for independence for Azawad, they call for imposition of Sharia law across Mali (Arieff, 2013). As a result, unsatisfied soldiers of the existing Malian government, calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR), orchestrated a coup d'état and managed to remove President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012 over his handling of the crisis. The Head of the military junta Amadou Sanogo then ceded power to Dioncounda Traoré and his interim government was put in place. Within a few days of the coup, Mali’s three largest northern cities—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—were overrun by the Azawad rebels and various Islamist groups (Arieff, 2013). The country’s constitution was immediately suspended. On 6th April 2012 the MNLA proclaimed Azawad’s independence from Mali and stopped all advancements into the southern parts of the country. The interim Malian government asked for help to re-take the north and at the beginning of 2013, the French army and other African Union states’ armies were deployed to fight. Within a month, the government re-established its control over Northern Mali, but sporadic fighting and attacks still occurred. A peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels was signed on 18th June 2013, but on 26th September 2013 the rebels pulled out of the peace agreement and claimed that the government had not respected the treaty, citing its’ continuing holding of prisoners. Another ceasefire agreement was signed in Algiers on February 19th2015, with the Malian government rejecting full autonomy but agreeing to devolve local powers to Touaregs. However, until now, attacks and fighting still break out, especially in the centre of Mali as the peace agreement applies principally to the north of the country and the regions in the centre have been ignored by the agreement (Guéhenno, 2017).


The crisis of Mali is far from over, with Tuaregs, different jihadist groups, local militias, armed bandits and government forces fighting for their own reasons. For many young man, joining a jihadi group is a very opportunistic act; it gives them protection, a say in local conflicts over lands, and a chance to obtain arms. Several towns in the centre of the country were attacked by the rebel groups, sending shock waves among the local population with many witnessing the flight of refugees. Marginalised groups and nomadic herding communities have increasingly challenged the existing privileges of traditional local aristocracies and urban elites. And even though the state officials attempt to reconcile quarrelling sides, owing to their corruption and the brutal acts of the security forces, their legitimacy is almost non-existent (International Crisis Group, 2017). Local communities feel abandoned and frustrated with radical groups taking advantage of this situation to propagate hostility toward the authorities of Mali’s capital city (Bamako) and their foreign partners. The government centres its’ military activities on the north, and consequently the centre of the country is very much neglected.


Since the armed conflict in Mali in 2012, the United Nations General

Assembly and Security Council have released several resolutions (A/70/674, S/RES/2100 in 2013 and 2364 in 2017) to address the situation and to recommend actions and solutions. Greater instability and violence looms over the whole of Sahel, the dry region of western and north-central Africa extending from Senegal eastward to The Sudan, as jihadi groups and criminal networks – often linked to local and national authorities – expand and threaten the stability of already fragile states and disenchanted societies. Jihadists and other violent non-state actors are filling the security vacuum in the rural areas of central Mali due to the government army’s retreat and local authorities’ abandonment (International Crisis Group, 2017). An effective response to the jihadi strategy does not exist and they continue to threaten, if not kill, anybody that stands against them. Furthermore, the rise of a new group called the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and the possible influx of the defeated Islamic State (IS) fighters from Libya are further sources of concern. As the activity of the extremist groups in the area is increasing, more and more predominantly young men and children are becoming attracted to extremist movements. The recruits have often experienced economic issues, social issues, and/or war. Many have been displaced by war and have no access to schools. They may join violent extremist groups to provide income for their families. They may have suffered from social exclusion and have deep grievances, and/or they may aspire to contribute to a cause, or seek justice (Ladisch, 2014).


Written by: Adam Said


Selected Readings:

Arieff, A. (2013). Crisis in Mali .Washington: Congressional Research Service.

BBC. (2017, June 4). Reality Check: What is the Prevent strategy?Retrieved September 20, 2017 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40151991

Guéhenno, J.-M. (2017, April 24). Open Letter to the UN Security Council on Peacekeeping in Mali. Retrieved September 2017 from International Crisis Group: https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/mali/open-letter-un-security-council-peacekeeping-mali

Ladisch, V. (2014). Possibilities and Challenges for Transitional Justice in Mali.International

Center for Transitional Justice. New York: International Center for Transitional Justice.

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