State services in an insecure environment: Perceptions among civil society in Mali


Aurélien Tobie and Dr Grégory Chauzal

I. Introduction

Mali was once considered to be a leading example of democratic progress and stability in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the crisis in 2012 revealed that the Malian state was much more fragile than commonly thought. Within weeks of the start of the rebellion in January 2012, the public services provided by the state—such as education, healthcare and security—demonstrated their inability to respond to the crisis: the Malian Army retreated from the north in the face of the rebellion and the subsequent jihadist occupation of the main northern towns, and the state administration ceased to function there. In March a military coup deposed the president and gave way to an 18-month transition government, confirming the collapse of a state that was unable to deal with the multiple threats that it faced.

More than six years later, Mali remains deeply affected by the 2012 crisis. Despite the organization of national elections in 2013 and 2018, the signing of a peace agreement in June 2015, and the presence of numerous international and regional actors aiming to stabilize the country and restore the authority and capabilities of the state, the violence is spreading and peace is nowhere in sight for a large part of the population.

In order for international and national responses to be effective in supporting peacebuilding and stabilization, there is a need to consider the perceptions of the population and their definitions of priorities and for state services to be adapted to their needs. Only if Malians see the benefits of governmental and international interventions as being effective and legitimate can they renew their social contract with the state and feel that they can, once again, build a future for themselves while being supported by state services. This is particularly challenging in a context such as Mali where security and development actors have to respond to multiple priorities affecting human security. Moreover, these actors have to take into account the perceptions of a diverse population, spread over a large territory.

Earlier research has shown that this diversity is exemplified by regional differences in priorities for addressing human security. These regional differences, linked to geographical and cultural diversity, make it extremely difficult for the Malian Government to design policies and programmes that suit communities across the entire territory. Needs, priorities and expectations also vary with gender and age. In this context, that earlier research concluded that Malians were likely to resort to other means, beyond the state, to access basic services.

This paper goes further to present research into the ways in which Malians access these services, and what their expectations are of the role of the state in providing them. The paper continues in section II by outlining state services in Mali and the methodology of the research. Sections III–VII then look in turn at a different aspect of service provision. Conclusions are given in section VIII.