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Research Report

The roots of Mali’s conflict: Moving beyond the 2012 crisis

Grégory Chauzal
Thibault van Damme
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2015
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 62
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 10-16)

    The 2012 Malian crisis has placed Amadou Toumani Touré’s regime in the dock of history. Accused by many, both inside and outside the country, of being the chief culprit for the breakdown of his country, President Touré has at times appeared to be the sole scapegoat for the conflict.

    However, the crisis of 2012, which will be recounted briefly below, was also undeniably the result and most recent manifestation of Mali’s political history as well as the long-standing distrust between different ethnic communities. Economic frustration, political resentment and strategic opportunity-taking, all of them rooted in the fragmented nature of the...

  2. (pp. 17-29)

    The events of 2012 were the most recent illustration of long-standing tensions between the southern and northern parts of Mali. With independence and the end of French colonial rule came the need for new Malian political elites to assert their authority over the whole territory. However, the approach taken at that time not only exacerbated tensions between government and northerners, but also led to the gradual political and economic marginalisation of the north. This withdrawal of the central state from a region once seen as prosperous and valuable turned northern Mali into a liability, and a security threat for the...

  3. (pp. 30-42)

    Historical lack of understanding and mutual distrust between Bamako and its northern territory have played an important role in Malian instability for decades. By ignoring northern aspirations for economic development (especially social and economic infrastructure) or political representation (lack of governmental seats for instance), the Malian authorities have paved the way for violent contestation and separatist actions. The popular support among Tuareg and Arab populations for some rebel movements and armed groups, and the authority the rebel leaders have had over some northern populations, are good illustrations of the inequalities collectively experienced by the northern population.

    The subsequent rebellions in...

  4. (pp. 43-51)

    While Mali has long been considered as a relative ‘no interest’ zone by the international community (because of its apparent democratic normality and the absence of strategic resources), other African countries, such as Libya and Algeria, have made this country, and the northern regions in particular, central to their Sahel leadership strategies. The inability of the Malian government to assert its political and military presence in the northern areas has greatly facilitated those foreign interferences. Amadou Toumani Touré’s voluntary relinquishment of state sovereignty in some northern areas exacerbated that sense of impunity. At the same time, fragmentation between northern communities...

  5. (pp. 52-58)

    Just as the last three Malian crises failed to result in any viable settlement, but instead progressively deepened levels of distrust between the country’s various communities, the 2012 conflict is seriously testing the resolve and the creativity of local and international bodies. As is plainly evident from recent history, military solutions and a counter-terrorism commitment in the Sahel are not sufficient in themselves to generate long-term stability in the region. Alongside these security initiatives, political dialogue and economic development need to remain a central part of the Malian normalisation process.

    In addition to general efforts that must be made in...