Cover: Toward a Secure and Stable Mali

Toward a Secure and Stable Mali

Approaches to Engaging Local Actors

Published Jul 2, 2013

by Stephanie Pezard, Michael Shurkin


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Research Questions

  1. How can the international community ensure that northern Mali remains tolerably stable and secure while minimizing the level of international presence required in the region?
  2. What lessons do the history of political unrest in Mali since 1916 offer for current efforts to bring stability and security to northern Mali?

The 2012 conflict in northern Mali has shown that many assumptions about Mali's political stability, internal cohesion, and military capabilities were deeply flawed. The January 2013 French-led military intervention scattered the insurgents, but the conditions and drivers that brought about the crisis in the first place have yet to be addressed. This report is intended to assist with the post-conflict planning in northern Mali by examining the historical, economic, and social factors that drive conflict in northern Mali and the different groups that have been involved in the conflict. The authors argue that, in the absence of a large international presence, durable security in northern Mali will have to be provided, to a large extent, by local actors. The authors draw on historical examples of rebellions in Mali since 1916 to show how detailed knowledge of the different local actors and their political dynamics can help in finding solutions that will bring lasting security and stability to the region.

Key Findings

Understanding Northern Mali's Local Dynamics and Actors Is Key to Finding Security Solutions for the Region

  • Any solution to the crisis in northern Mali needs to take into account the complexity of the root causes — including economic, religious, and political factors — that led to the conflict in the first place.
  • Uprisings in the region are almost always the work of a few specific clans or tribes acting in pursuit of specific objectives, rather than entire communities or ethnic groups rebelling with a common cause.
  • The Malian government and the international community will have to delegate some amount of security responsibility to northerners.
  • Several examples from Mali's past provide cautions and suggestions on how to engage local actors today.


  • Work to engage the local communities that have the ability to provide enduring stability and security in the region.
  • Develop expertise in the local actors and their interests so as to identify appropriate partners and avoid negative unintended consequences.

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