Cover: Achieving Peace in Northern Mali

Achieving Peace in Northern Mali

Past Agreements, Local Conflicts, and the Prospects for a Durable Settlement

Published May 1, 2015

by Stephanie Pezard, Michael Shurkin


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تحقيق السلام في شمال مالي: الاتفاقيات السابقة والنزاعات المحلية وآفاق التسوية الدائمة

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Research Questions

  1. How viable are specific political and security arrangements, given Mali's past experience?
  2. What political actors are most likely to play a role in the future political and security arrangements in northern Mali?
  3. How can Mali draw on lessons learned from similar conflicts in the surrounding region (in particular, Niger)?

This report examines the prospects for stabilization in Mali following the political and military crisis that began in 2012. To this end, it examines Mali's peace settlements since the early 1990s to identify flaws and successes. The authors find that five recurrent issues have impeded the implementation of successive accords: the lack of representativeness of the peace-accord signatories; a flawed understanding of decentralization and democracy; the limited perceived legitimacy, in the north, of Bamako; persistent insecurity; and an absence of transitional justice and reconciliation. The report recommends building representativeness through a variety of measures to simultaneously address these issues and help craft a peaceful way forward for Mali. The report also explores whether Mali's neighbor Niger owes its current stability to a more favorable context, shrewd policies, or sheer luck and whether it might offer a model of resilience for Mali. The authors recommend emulating some of the policies that could account for Niger's sustained stability, such as better integration of Tuareg populations and a focus on development programs in addition to security, while recognizing that these do not make Niger impervious to a resurgence of the political turmoil it experienced in the past.

Key Findings

Successes and Failures from Past Agreements Can Inform Future Efforts

  • The situation has evolved in important ways, and the past agreements have brought about certain accomplishments that have at least partially addressed some of them while generating a new set of conditions that need to be taken into consideration.
  • Among the more-important gains of the peace accords were the decentralization and democratization movements initiated in 1991, with the goal of involving more of Mali's diverse population in governance. However, problems include poor implementation, an acute lack of resources, an immature political culture in which electoral competition is seen as a zero-sum game that exacerbates intercommunal tensions, no particular place for traditional chiefs, lack of government legitimacy among many northerners, persistent insecurity that reinforces the inclination to fall back on solidarity networks while undermining the legitimacy of the Malian army, and the absence of transitional justice and reconciliation.

Mali Could Learn from Niger's Experience

  • Niger could be structurally different from Mali: Demographics and geography make Niger more resilient. Or Niger's policies toward returnees and northerners in general following the collapse of Libya might have been more beneficial than Mali's inaction in this regard. Or Niger might have simply been lucky so far, and its more-favorable structural conditions and policies might not be sufficient in the future considering the long-standing and emerging threats that the country is facing, as well as its history of past political instability.


  • The government should prioritize improvements to the system created by the national pact of the 1990s (namely, the integration of the Malian army and improving the implementation of decentralization and democracy).
  • Security assistance to the Malian military should place greater emphasis on the military's relationship with Malian society.
  • The government should promote including as many groups as possible in negotiations and not overestimating the representativeness of the armed groups.

This research was sponsored by the Office of African Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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