Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Crisis in Mali*

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Crisis in Mali*

Article excerpt

OVERVIEW AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

For the past year, Mali has been mired in overlapping security, political, and humanitarian crises. After Mali's government was overthrown in a military coup in March 2012, insurgents, capitalizing on the ensuing power vacuum, seized much of the country's vast and sparsely populated northern territory. As of early January 2013, three loosely connected Islamist extremist groups-including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a U.S.- designated Foreign Terrorist Organization-reportedly controlled all major towns in the north, an area roughly the size of Texas (see map, Figure 1, below). While the number of Islamist insurgent combatants appears to be small, they have become increasingly entrenched, ousting an ethnic Tuareg separatist group with which they were initially allied and recruiting adherents among local populations.1 Meanwhile, the post-coup, nominally civilian-led government in Bamako has been weakened by internal divisions and military interference, while years of corruption and mismanagement appear to have hollowed out many state institutions. Mali's leaders also face stark economic constraints amid a national recession and revenue crisis.2 A regional food security crisis, exacerbated by population displacements from northern Mali, also continues to cause suffering.

On January 11, 2013, France launched military air strikes and ground operations against insurgent targets in northern Mali after Islamist fighters- following months of stalemate-suddenly advanced toward the south and defeated Malian military forces in the town of Konna. The United States is sharing information with French forces and is also considering providing logistics and surveillance. The United Kingdom and other European states are also providing support.3 French President François Hollande has justified the intervention based on the Malian government's request for assistance, portraying the intervention as necessary to prevent the Malian capital from falling into terrorist hands, and additional French deployments in Bamako as helping to protect some 6,000 French citizens.4 French troop reinforcements in Bamako may also be aimed at deterring actors who might try to further destabilize or attack Mali's interim government.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated on January 13 that the duration of French operations was -a question of weeks." At the same time, news reports have indicated that the extremist insurgents are better trained and equipped than French forces anticipated.5 In addition, given that the Malian military is internally divided, lacks the capacity to effectively project force, has been implicated in human rights abuses, and is very small (totaling some 7,000 troops prior to the defections and military defeats of the past year), it is uncertain whether Malian forces will be able to effectively follow up on French military strikes by securing and holding territory. In a radio interview, Oumar Ould Hamaha, a Malian insurgent commander who has been associated with all three main Islamist extremist groups in the north, threatened France with -a trap which is much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan, or Somalia."6

The French operations mark a major shift in the context of international responses to the situation in Mali. Previously, efforts had focused on a French- backed proposal for a regional military intervention to support Malian efforts to retake the north, on negotiations with some armed groups in the north, and on prospects for forging a more legitimate, effective government in Bamako. The proposed regional force, dubbed the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), was authorized to assist in training the Malian security forces and to support them in recovering and stabilizing northern territory, under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2085 on December 20, 2012. However, a regional deployment was widely seen as requiring many months to prepare, pending anticipated internationally assisted training and restructuring of the Malian military, which was expected to lead operations to retake the north. …

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