Central Mali: violence, local perspectives and diverging narratives
In 2012, at the start of the crisis in Mali, violence appeared to be limited to the north of the country, in the Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal regions. Three years later, in 2015, the intensification of violence in the central regions has increasingly drawn the attention of the Malian authorities and international observers.
Since the start of the crisis, it has been striking to see how the analyses of decision makers have often underestimated the deterioration of the situation in the centre of the country and incorrectly evaluated the capacity of the state to deal effectively with the conflicts developing there. While it is generally accepted that the Malian political and security crisis can no longer be limited to the north of Mali, it is imperative to obtain a detailed view of the national and regional dimensions of the problem developing in the centre, and the interaction between these two dimensions of the conflict. Indeed, it is now evident that the security concerns in the centre are as severe and urgent as those in the north.
The many security actors in Mali, at national, regional and international levels, have progressively engaged with this problem, extending their programmes to acknowledge the destabilization of the centre of the country.
The Malian Government, in particular, has announced the establishment of an Integrated Security Plan for the Central Regions (Plan de Sécurisation Intégrée des Régions du Centre, PSIRC). In support of Mali, its partners in the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad—are planning to deploy a Joint Force in the area in an attempt to strengthen the security presence. On an international level, the European Union (EU), through the Programme of Support for Enhanced Security in the Mopti and Gao regions (Programme d’Appui au Renforcement de la Sécurité dans les régions de Mopti et de Gao, PARSEC) and the Programme for Youth and Stabilization in the Central Regions of Mali (Programme Jeunesse et Stabilisation dans les région Centre du Mali, PROJES), is supporting government initiatives in the development and security sectors, while the United Nations peacekeeping mission (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA) has already redirected some of its resources towards the Mopti region. Other initiatives, less formal or more modest, have also been launched with the aim of opening up a political dialogue with the conflicting parties in the region, including good offices and dialogue missions, and contacts between governing elites in Bamako and community leaders in the Mopti region.
However, these acts of goodwill are no substitute for a detailed understanding of the growing conflicts in central Mali. At present, lacking a strategy based on a common understanding of the situation, the actors are veering between, on the one hand, acknowledging the concerns of communities in the centre in the context of existing peace agreements and, on the other hand, developing a specific plan for these regions to restore the legitimacy of the state among all the population.
There is a particular need for an accurate analysis of the rise of a jihadist phenomenon in central Mali. Despite the very high visibility of these ideological extremists, who are responsible for increasingly frequent acts of violence, it is essential to identify the reasons for their attractiveness and the political and economic dimensions of their actions, which have undeniably brought them the support of some groups within the population.
Therefore, the present dynamics of the violence in central Mali must be understood within a context that extends beyond the 2012 crisis to encompass the historical, political, economic and community conditions, and this framework should be used in order to provide the most appropriate response.