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Nov 10, 2016 | Uncategorized

The African, European and International Responses to the Crisis

After 2012, several different external military and civilian operations were deployed to Mali.

The first major external deployment to the region was the French-led Operation Serval, initiated in January 2013 with some 5000 soldiers, 80% of them French, following an enabling resolution of the United Nations (UNSC Resolution no 2085 of 20 December 2012). Its objectives were to check the insurgency in the North, protect French nationals and work to restore Mali’s territorial integrity. This operation would later be incorporated into the UN MINUSMA Mission (the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) except for its anti-terrorist component. (This allowed the UN to maintain its mantra of not being an anti-terrorist actor.)

The second intervention, which went by the name of AFISMA, or the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali, was launched by the African Union and ECOWAS, also in January 2013. AFISMA was set up to contribute to the rebuilding of the Malian Defence and Security Forces and to support the Malian authorities in re-establishing control over Malian territory. Its roughly 7500 troops were operational during the first six months of 2013.

Initially, AFISMA was supported by a civilian initiative of the African Union that went by the name of MISAHEL or Mali and Sahel. Roughly in parallel, the UN created a civilian mission called UNOM or the United Nations Office in Mali.

As an African initiative, AFISMA had the potential for providing a politically more acceptable intervention force than that which could be provided by France, the former colonial power, the EU or even the UN. That said, its mandate included no provisions for enhancing the chronically weak oversight over Mali’s security sector. Moreover, AFISMA lacked the resources to sustain its activity and without a decision of the international community to provide it with a continuing cash flow, it soon became incapable of operating. For those countries that were heavily involved in Mali, it then made more sense to have the intervention become a UN mission whose costs would then be much more widely shared.

In a third operation, Chad forces followed the French initiative the same month with a deployment of 2000 of its own forces. In March 2013, FATIM (Forces Armées Tchadiennes en Intervention au Mali) was incorporated into AFISMA to join the fight against Islamist rebels in the north of the country. Following significant losses and rising costs, Chad President Idriss announced the withdrawal of his soldiers in April of the same year.

The fourth external operation is the European Training Mission, or EUTM Mali, which was launched in February 2013 with 25 States (22 EU and 3 non-EU members) contributing personnel. The objectives of EUTM Mali are threefold: to support Malian efforts to restore the constitutional and democratic order, assist the Malian authorities in their efforts to project government sovereignty over the entire country and neutralize the threat from criminal  and terrorist groups. The EUTM’s mandate was extended in 2016.

In July 2013, AFISMA gave way to MINUSMA, which was supported by international and regional military and police personnel. In addition  to its responsibilities in the areas of conflict suffocation, stabilization and civil protection, MINUSMA was tasked with supporting national political dialogue and reconciliation, re-establishing the authority of the state throughout its territory, reforming Mali’s security sector and coordinating the actions of the various actors involved in Mali’s reconstruction ,i.e., including those of the EU. MINUSMA also set up two SSR-DDR committees, one at the political level, the other at the technical level. MINUSMA’s mandate was renewed for another year on 29 June 2016.

In July 2014, France launched a successor to its Operation Serval with an Operation Barkhane. This follow-on deployment has a similar number of troops as Serval and also enjoys significant participation from states from the Sahel and neighboring regions.

Finally, there is the EU civilian mission in Mali or EUCAP MALI, which was launched in January 2015 with a two-year mandate. Focusing primarily on internal security forces. It has four objectives: improving the operational efficiency of the national police, national guards and gendarmerie; re-establishing military chains of command, seriously destabilized during the crisis; reinforcing the role of the judicial and administrative authorities; facilitating the redeployment of government forces to the Malian North[1].

With this last initiative,the EU would henceforth have a three-pronged presence: the EU Delegation, EUTM and EUCAP.

All external responses to the crisis have involved a strong security sector component, a recognition of the crucial importance of addressing the weaknesses of the Mali security sector moving forward. This is especially true for the Peace Process concluded in 2015 that aims to lay the foundations for a stable and sovereign Mali.

The Peace Process

The external commitment to Mali was undoubtedly crucial in making possible the peace parlays that were initiated as of mid-2013. Although the talks were regularly punctuated by violence and were broken off on more than one occasion, the peace process tended to include an ever greater number of ex-combatants as it moved towards the comprehensive peace agreement that was eventually signed in mid-2015.

Overall, many actors were involved in this process. In addition to the government, regional states and international actors, three main local groupings participated: Tuaregs, Arab Malians based in the North, and other smaller ethnic and tribal groupings of African origin, native to Mali but, like the Tuareg, often with links to groups in other countries. These groups in turn also differentiated themselves as a function of whether they had supported the independence of the North, favored a federalist approach to power-sharing or had been committed to maintaining the status quo. Allegiance to one or the other approach tended to be  fluid.

In late January 2013, the Malian Parliament unanimously approved a road map setting out a pathway towards peace. It highlighted two essential missions for the transitional government: the restoration of territorial integrity and the organization of free and fair elections. The road map also committed Mali to continue engaging its security forces alongside the foreign missions engaged in the country,

A number of wider-reaching tasks were envisaged in the road map: a full-scale reform of the armed forces; a dialogue with groups renouncing military struggle and adhering to the unitary nature of the Malian state and its constitution; the return of refugees and displaced persons; inter-communal dialogue; and the fight against impunity.

Additionally, the road map made three commitments regarding the electoral process: the legal and institutional framework was to be reformed; the revision of the voters’ list was to be finalized; and legislative and presidential elections were to be held by the end of July 2013. As it was, Presidential elections were held in July-August and legislative elections in November of that year.

The first major step in the peace process came in June 2013 when a “Preliminary Peace Agreement for the Presidential Elections and Inclusive Talks for Peace in Mali” was signed in Ougadougou between the still transitional government in Bamako and some of the armed groups that had been in opposition. Notwithstanding the agreement, the situation in the North remained tense all through 2013 and into 2014.

As of 2014, there were two main opposing coalitions facing one another in the peace process. One was the Platform, which tended to be pro-government. The other was the Coordination, which brought together five formations: the MNLA, the main Tuareg group, which had gone from being for independence to instead favoring autonomy for the North; an Arab group opposed to both Shariah law and independence for the North (Mouvement arabe de l’ Azawad or MAA); a mainly black African group favoring autonomy (Coordination des mouvements du Front Patriotique et de résistance or CM-FPRZ); as well as two smaller groups, mostly of Tuareg origin (le Haut Conseil pour l’unité de l’Azawad or HCUA and la Coalition du peuple pour l’Azawad or CPA).

In May 2014, a cease-fire agreement was signed between Bamako and the Coordination.

In July 2014, negotiations began in Algeria between the Malian government, the Coordination and the Platform, supported by a mediation team made up of the MINUSMA, ECOWAS, the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the EU and the governments of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, the Niger and Chad. This had to be a two-track process because the Coordination and the Platform refused to sit at the same negotiating table, which resulted in the elaboration of two different documents on the cessation of hostilities. Both documents contained a road map for negotiations emphasizing national unity, territorial integrity and secularism as the way forward. Representatives of local communities and civil society organizations were also significantly involved in the process.

In 2014, there were three more rounds of Algiers peace talks, all overshadowed by continuing violence and repeated infringements of the cease-fire arrangements, involving both parties to the peace talks as well as jihadist groups,  The peace talks were broken off in December after persistent disagreement over the status of the North.

In May 2015, despite a serious deterioration of the security situation across the north of Mali in the first part of the year, with multiple ceasefire violations and clashes between Platform and Coordination units, the Government, the Platform and representatives of two of the members of the Coordination coalition (CPA and CMFPR-II) signed the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. The other movements of the Coordination (notably MNLA, HCUA, MAA and CMFPR-II and CPA) first refused to sign the agreement, as they wanted to consult with local communities before allowing the peace process to go forward. But by 20 June 2015, all parties to the the peace process had put their signature on the peace agreement.

Implementation of the agreement has been severely limited over the past year or so, as its signatory groups have continued to clash. In particular, there has been an increase in terrorist actions on the part of AQIM and other jihadist formations, including Ansar Dine and the Malian Liberation Front. While the most notable was the attack on a luxury hotel in Bamako in November 2015, there have also been terrorist strikes in neighboring Burkino Faso and Ivory Coast. The recent outbreaks of violence in central Mali underscore that the governance challenges are about much more than the relationship between the centre and the north.

A year after its signing, the peace process appears frozen. There remains a fundamental lack of confidence between Bamako and the predominantly Tuareg forces that are supposed to work together with them to bring peace to the North. The Mixed Units that these forces were supposed to constitute as a confidence-building measure, protecting in the process the cantonment sites and interim authorities foreseen in the Ougadougou Agreement, have yet to see the light of day.


David Law, a former Head of the NATO Policy Planning Unit, is a Senior Fellow with the Centre for Security Governance.


[1] In fulfilling its mandate,  EUCAP is to focus on improving the human resources system, reorganizing the training programs on offer and providing training courses to officers in the gendarmerie, national guard and police. 13 EU member states contribute to this mission and there are currently 110 people in the staff. The budget is EUR 11.4 million for 2015.

Feature Photo Credit: UN Photo