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Mali: After the Intervention

January 4, 2013 ·

A coherent, well-orchestrated plan for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of rebel forces and extremists must accompany any intervention in Mali.

A coherent, well-orchestrated plan for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of rebel forces and extremists must accompany any intervention in Mali.

Despite the recent UN Security Council resolution authorizing a military intervention in Mali, the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya regrettably remains the dominant story on U.S. policy in Africa. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia – the jihadist coalition linked to the American deaths in Libya– are rapidly consolidating power and Libyan arms in northern Mali. Instead of fodder for retroactive condemnation, the attack in Libya should provide an important reminder to the U.S. and international community that UN-authorized military action alone is not sufficient. A coherent, well-orchestrated plan for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of rebel forces and extremists must also accompany any intervention in Mali. 

Mali is a landlocked nation in the Sahel region of northern Africa, an area that stretches across the southern border of the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Mali is most famous for its music and Timbuktu, a centuries-old center of Islamic scholarship and crossroads on trading routes across this region. Today, Timbuktu risks becoming yet another haven for terrorist activity as militants seize control over the northern two-thirds of the country and implement a debilitating version of Shari’a law that calls for amputations, bans on music, and public stonings.

On December 20, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, known as AFISMA, to take “all necessary measures” to restore peace and security. Such authority derives from Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which the Council also invoked to accelerate the end of the 2011 Libyan revolution through a NATO-led intervention. In Mali, necessary measures under Chapter VII include the pursuit of a political solution prior to intervention, the rebuilding of Mali’s security forces, support for the recapture of territory in the north, protection of civilians, and security stabilization activities. 

Political, military, and humanitarian solutions are, no doubt, integral to the resolution of the escalating conflict. History demonstrates, however, that security stabilization activities are also essential for long-term stability. In Libya, despite a successful UN-backed intervention last year, security remains the primary challenge due to the proliferation of weapons and prevalence of armed militias. As part of its mandate, AFISMA must therefore establish a clear strategy for stabilization measures – such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of Mali’s divided factions – to secure a safe and successful return to democracy. 

For instance, AFISMA, Malian troops, and international partners should implement development-driven incentives to encourage individuals to trade in weapons. Although certainly not a panacea for disarmament, such programs present a viable method for future progress and discourage a culture of violence. Incentives may include distribution of basic resources, including tools and food, in exchange for weapons, as Mozambique did with success following its civil war. They may also incorporate lessons learned from the 1990s disarmament program used in Mali itself, in which fighters could swap weapons for loans to start development projects. Yet, incentives that lack a focus on long-term stability – such as the distribution of IPads and televisions in Libya – may prove ineffective.

AFISMA and its allies can also develop a strategy to separate the extremists from the Tuareg rebels. The UN Security Council’s insistence on continuing the political process, in part through negotiations with groups committed to the cessation of ties with terrorists and the possible use of sanctions against those refusing to cut ties, is a step in the right direction. Such dialogue needs to complement a military intervention.  

Additionally, AFISMA, Malian troops, and international partners must ensure that Tuareg rebels and those renouncing their terrorist ties reintegrate into society. Reintegration can include extensive job training, development projects that spur employment opportunities, and psychological counseling. Legal reform focused on improving protections for Tuareg and minority rights might also address some of the Tuareg’s grievances regarding marginalization. The UN Security Council resolution rightly suggested that transitional authorities in Mali should address the “long-standing concerns” of groups in the north. 

Prevention is paramount. Failure to tackle the long-term security situation up front may encourage a resort to weapons as a means of conflict resolution. The international community must therefore implement stabilization measures alongside political solutions, military intervention, and humanitarian aid. Otherwise, violence may expand far beyond Mali’s crown jewel, the distant land of Timbuktu.

Annie Castellani is a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law firm, the Public International Law & Policy Group, where she focuses on transitional justice, constitution drafting, and civil society development in Libya and other post-conflict nations. Her
views are independent.