The high level of poverty and the long history of political exclusion of northern Mali have made the area particularly vulnerable to climatic change. Mali, in particular its northern regions, are suffering from the combined effect of progressive warming and increasingly frequent droughts.
The increased frequency of droughts has had disastrous consequences for farmers and pastoralists in northern Mali. The lack of economic alternatives and the threat of droughts on livelihoods have exacerbated the inequalities between north and south. Thus, northern populations have become especially aware of the government’s neglect.
These developments have increased support for rebel and terrorist groups and have fuelled strong anti-state grievances among nomad communities such as the Tuareg. Against this backdrop, many young northerners seek employment and security with armed groups such as Ansar Dine or the separatists rebellion spearheaded by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Drought-induced hardships also encourage criminal activities, such as smuggling, banditry, and kidnapping.
Mali is currently facing multiple and intertwined security challenges. From 2012 to 2015 a separatist rebellion spearheaded by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) shook the northern part of the country. After the intervention of the United Nations, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), Algeria and France, a peace agreement between the northern rebels and the Malian government could be reached in June 2015. Yet, communal tensions in northern Mali - which were partly responsible for the 2012 uprising – remain and many of the underlying tensions between northern and southern Mali - in particular important gaps in development and access to essential services - need yet to be addressed (c.f. Davis, 2014; Rüttinger et al., 2015:31).
Meanwhile, and partly in connection with the above conflict, northern Mali has evolved into a sanctuary for traffickers, bandits and radical Islamist organizations such as Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Despite the presence of more than 10.000 peacekeepers and some 1.000 French troops on Malian soil, these represent a serious threat to the country's security and risk to delay the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement (UN, 2016; Stigall, 2015; Ahmed, 2016).
These threats arise at a moment where Mali's leadership and institutions are just recovering from a recent legitimacy crisis. In March 2012, then-president Amadou Toumani Touré was overthrown in a military coup led by Captain Amadou Sanogo. A new president has been elected since in August 2013, but it remains to be seen whether the new government will be able to tackle all the security and development challenges it is currently facing.
Unstable neighbours, inner crisis and environmental change
The origins of this situation can be traced back to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, leading to a massive influx of weapons and combatants from Libya, as well as the gradual weakening of Mali’s leadership, culminating with the 2012 coup against Amadou Toumani Touré (Larémont, 2013; Jalali, 2013). The coup followed a period, in which Touré allegedly supported AQIM in a bid to suppress mounting irredentism in northern Mali. However, the strategy backfired. Not only did this undermine northerner’s trust in the government and thus benefitted the separatist MNLA, but it also eroded Touré's support within the armed forces and more generally within the Malian population. Moreover, absent strong sanctions, AQIM and other terrorist groups were able to extend their influence in northern Mali (Bakrania, 2013; Welsh, 2012).
A further important and often overlooked factor behind the Malian crisis is climatic change. Mali and in particular its northern regions are suffering from the combined effect of progressive warming and increasingly erratic weather conditions, leading to intermittent and severe drought conditions, which accentuate existing grievances and enhance support for rebel and terrorist groups.
Changing climatic conditions exacerbate northern grievances
Years of government neglect and lack of investments have left northern Mali with insufficient infrastructures and poor access to essential services. Socioeconomic indicators such as school attendance and malnutrition rank well below the country's average (Bakrania, 2013). In northern towns such as Gao and Timbuktu 26%-31% of the population lives below the poverty line, as compared to 9% in the capital Bamako (Davis, 2014). Economic marginalisation in the north has also been accompanied by political exclusion and the gradual alienation of pastoral land, which have informed strong anti-state grievances among nomad communities such as the Tuareg (see also Tuareg Rebellion in Mali 1990-1995).
Moreover, poverty and political exclusion have made northern Mali particularly vulnerable to progressive warming and increasingly frequent droughts (de Sherbinin et al., 2014). Since 1960, and partly as a result of anthropogenic climate change, temperatures in Mali have risen by 0.7°C (Goulden & Few, 2011; Niang et al., 2014). At the same time, different sources indicate an increased frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, with disastrous consequences for farmers and pastoralists in northern Mali (Arsenault, 2015, weAdapt, 2016; EMDAT, 2016; c.f. Hartmann et al., 2013). These developments have not only exacerbated inequalities between north and south, but have also made northern populations brutally aware of the south’s disengagement and thus increased support for separatist groups such as the MNLA (Lecocq & Belalimat, 2012; Bakrania, 2013; Morgan, 2014).
Droughts, destitution and ‘food for jihad’
Besides increasing support for northern irredentism, droughts and worsening ecological conditions have also facilitated the recruitment of fighters by both separatist and Islamist armed groups (Morgan, 2014). As explained by a senior adviser to the Malian ministry of agriculture ‘there is such poverty [in the north], the environment is so tough, that when the jihadists come they find it easy to get followers’ (Arsenault, 2015). Indeed, lacking economic alternatives and seeing their livelihoods threatened by drought, environmental degradation and intermittent conflict, many young northerners seek employment and security with armed groups such as Ansar Dine or the MNLA (Davis 2014; Welsh, 2012). In other cases drought-induced hardships encourage criminal activities, such as smuggling, banditry and kidnapping, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of further insecurity and further deteriorated livelihoods (Bakrania, 2013; Lecocq & Belalimat, 2012).
[Last update 2016-01-12]
The security crisis in northern Mali has prompted a number of responses from civil society organisations, the Malian government as well as the international community. Negotiations between separatist rebels spearheaded by the MNLA and the government of Mali led to an agreement in June 2015, which grants northern Mali more autonomy, a better representation in national institutions and more significant development resources. Further points of the accord are the demobilisation of rebel fighters and their integration into the regular armed forces, as well as the progressive transfer of territorial control to the Malian army, while conceding local authorities the control over local police forces (Ahmed, 2014; Le Touzet, 2015; RFI, 2015a).
On paper, the agreement is a success. Now, it needs to be implemented rapidly (RFI, 2015b). Agreements between northern separatists and the government in Bamako have been reached before in 2006 and 2013, but have failed, due to slow implementation, the erosion of government credibility and conflicts of interest between different rebel factions (Wing, 2013; Pezard & Shurkin, 2015). In the short-term it is thus urgent to rapidly advance on the provisions of the 2015 agreement. In the medium-to-long-term, the government of Mali and its partners need to address northern communities' needs for security, prosperity and political participation.
Rebuilding trust in the government and the army
Past political crises have undermined the credibility of the Malian government. In particular corruption and clientelsm have compromised political and economic reforms, while also preventing the formation of a meaningful political opposition (Davis, 2014; Crisis group, 2012). Increasing parliamentary oversight and extending the powers of parliamentary commissions could not only promote necessary reforms but also rebuild trust in the state and its institutions (Davis, 2014).
Central and local government structures could further increase their legitimacy by working more closely with traditional systems of governance and conflict resolution. To this effect, skills and financial resources need to be transferred from central to local government structures (Davis, 2014).
Most importantly, mistrust in the Malian army - which many northerners still consider as an 'occupying force' - needs to be addressed (Pezard & Shurkin, 2015). Indiscipline, varying loyalties, inefficiency, collusion with traffickers and serious human rights violations have tainted the image of Mali's security forces (Davis, 2014; Wing 2013). Current efforts thus aim at re-establishing a coherent chain of command and extending government control over the armed forces (Bakrania, 2013). Furthermore, the integration of ex-rebel fighters is a central point of the 2015 agreement (Roger, 2015). Yet, transitional justice and reconciliation are largely absent and many Malians complain about the absence of punishments for crimes committed by different armed armed groups (Pezard & Shurkin, 2015).
Economic development and climate change adaptation
Revitalising the Malian economy and providing economic alternatives to northern communities are a further important step in curbing trafficking, crime and the influence of terrorists in northern Mali (Bakrania, 2013). Overall, estimates for the period 2014-2016 indicate that economic growth in Mali has regained its pre-crisis levels (OECD, 2015). The government of Mali has announced ambitious plans to improve infrastructures and public services promote education and social development and address the particular needs of displaced populations (Davis, 2014). A special program, the Programme de Développement Accéléré des Régions du Nord (PDA/RN), is dedicated to northern Mali, in order to accelerate the implementation of local development projects (OECD, 2015). However, the success of these efforts remains below expectations: the rapid growth of the workforce has surpassed efforts to create new jobs, educational reforms, so far, yield disappointing results, infrastructural development has been delayed due to limited financial and implementation capacities, and the expansion of cultivated surfaces is hampered by limited access to agricultural inputs and modern irrigation techniques (OECD, 2015; Davis, 2014).
Given northern Mali's high vulnerability to progressive warming and extreme weather events and the links of these phenomena to security, particular attention needs to be given to climate change adaptation. Mali has completed its National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) in 2007, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The programme has raised the awareness of climate change and existing adaptation measures within the government and among the population (Watts, 2012; weAdapt, 2016). Furthermore, USAID is working on an extensive climate information dissemination programme in cooperation with the Malian national meteorological agency (see USAID, 2014). However, local communities and local governments have not been sufficiently included in the NAPA, which makes it difficult to integrate and coordinate existing community-level adaptation strategies (Watts, 2012).
Successes and limitations of international responses
Under the aegis of Algeria, mediation efforts between the government of Mali and northern armed groups have included the African Union (AU), the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations (UN), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as Burkina Faso, Mauretania, Niger and Chad (Bertrand, 2015). Moreover, ECOWAS has played a leading part in mediating the political transition after the 2012 coup and preparing the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) – replaced by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in July 2013 (Bakrania, 2013; UN, 2016). In January 2013, France launched a large military offensive against northern armed groups (Opération Serval), which, in July 2014, has transitioned into a more durable counter-terrorism operation comprising the Sahel countries Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (Opération Barkhane) (Stigall, 2015). These responses have been accompanied by humanitarian actions and capacity building with a particular emphasis on strengthening Mali and other Sahel-countries against the double threat of terrorism and food insecurity (see Bakrania, 2013; EU, 2015).
These measures have facilitated presidential elections in 2013, eased a settlement with the northern rebels and brought most of the country back under Malian control (Pezard & Shurkin, 2015; Stigall, 2015). However, the international involvement in Mali has also been criticised for being biased, lacking coordination and maintaining a discredited political elite in power (Oluwadare, 2014; Théroux-Bénoni, 2013; Samba Kane, 2014). In particular the efforts of ECOWAS's lead mediator and Burkinabe president Blaise Compaoré after the 2012 coup have been qualified as ' chaotic and unilateral' (Bakrania, 2013), while the french Opération Serval has been accused of exacerbating communal tensions in northern Mali (Davis, 2014).
Despite notable progress, the situation in northern Mali remains fragile. Traffickers and terrorist groups are still active in the hinterland and maintain working relationships with some of the signatories of the 2015 agreement (Ahmed, 2016; Roger, 2015). Due to a strong emphasis on combatting terrorist groups, ethnic tensions between northern communities have not been addressed. Short-sited counter-terrorism actions might even exacerbate these tensions in the longer term (Davis, 2014). Finally, the 2015 agreement foresees more autonomous institutions for northern Mali, but these are not well equipped to include minorities such as the Tuareg and could thus encourage new conflicts in in the future (Le Touzet, 2015).
[Last update 2016-01-12]