La Crise Sahélienne Quadrature du Cercle ?
With General Didier Castres &
(moderator: General Dominique Trinquand)
The Sahelian crisis is above all a Malian crisis. The intervention of external actors complicates the situation, and the main axes allowing an appeasement of the region and a resolution of the chronic problems it is currently facing must be the object of all actors, but especially of Mali itself.
A Regional but Fundamentally Malian Crisis
Presenting itself in the form of a regional crisis, the “Sahel crisis” is in reality an essentially Malian crisis. Indeed, the struggle between the northern and southern part of the country began in the first half of the 1960s, less than a decade after its independence. Mali, in addition to being weakened by internal conflicts, is also victim of the repercussions of crises coming from abroad. Whether it is Algeria, (1991-2002) or a more distant country such as Libya (2011).
While difficulties can be regional, affecting the entire Sahel region, such as the demographic crisis in Mali, the problem of governance is one of the main causes of recurrent unrest. The chronic inability to integrate the population as well as the mismanagement of resources, are some of the causes of the government’s vulnerability to radical and separatist sentiments. In addition, the lack of employment, education and large infrastructure projects seeking to create wealth is a negative factor, increasing the creation of the aforementioned sentiments.
The endemic corruption in Mali continues to fuel the discontent of its people and gives rise to tribal and regional antagonism. However, the consequences of corruption are broader. The country is a regional and global platform for numerous traffics such as that of drugs, human beings and gold, the latter of which has recently experienced great development. These factors make Mali a country under high tension, presenting problems long rooted at the national level, and indicate that Mali is the epicenter of this regional crisis.
The Intervention of the International Community, a Squaring of the Circle?
The intervention of French forces on Malian territory, which was followed by the support of member countries of AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali) and other civilian, military, local and international actors, made it possible to prevent the capture of Bamako by separatist and jihadist rebels. However, participants have to face contradictions that are just as equally challenges preventing the resolution of this crisis.
- The problem of strengthening the country’s security measures. While material and financial support to improve security forces is necessary, these efforts are costly and often ineffective, as in Syria and Iraq. Strengthening state structures, although less obvious and indirect, could be a better alternative.
- The conflict between the right to intervene and the right of self-determination. Although the present foreign forces form the backbone upon which the Malian government rests, these forces contribute in the long term to the erosion of the legitimacy of the Malian government. The continued presence of these forces generates tensions with the local population desiring to fulfill its right to self-determination.
- The inconsideration of the concordance of times.The many actors involved in this crisis do not have the same tempo. The various military, diplomatic, developmental and social processes carried out in Mali require long-term operations, conflicting with the impatience often associated with politics.
- The need to transition from a military to a more comprehensive strategy.The situation in Mali requires the implantation of a strategy aimed at eliminating all of the factors that have led to and fueled the crisis. There is an over-tendency to observe these events solely through a military prism and in this specific case, a French prism.
A Risk of a Stalemate, a Need for Haste
More than eight years have passed since the arrival of French forces, and the solutions devised at the time are now facing a paradigm shift. The failure of the government after the Malian elections of 2013 and the duration of operations requiring the presence of foreign troops, especially French, are seen in the eyes of the local population as an inability to solve the crisis. There is therefore a need to offer rapid and effective solutions, allowing the departure of foreign forces in order to avoid any form of stagnation and antagonism with the Malian population. The next Malian elections seem to be the focal point around which proposals can be put forward:
- Ensuring the continuation of the transitional government pending the 2022 election. This will require a consensus with the current government and support of the military and civilian elements, despite numerous bureaucratic and security constraints.
- Guaranteeing the legitimacy and transparency of the census that must be put in place in order to have legitimate elections. This should lead to institutional reforms that in turn should lead to social change.
Towards a Hybridization of the Conflict
The crisis in Mali, by its duration, has seen the emergence of several major developments from a conflictual, technological and societal point of view. The front-line logic, which has profoundly characterised the conflicts of the past, has eroded and created an entirely new dimension.
Increased access to the internet, media tools and other social networks are creating new challenges to which governments partaking in the crisis must face. Indeed, the spread of false rumours negatively describing the foreign soldiers and certain elements of the Malian government is one of the causes resulting in the worsening of the crisis.
France’s role is singular. Indeed, unlike most European countries, it must show the international community that the Sahelian crisis presents not only a real legitimate collective security concern for the region, but also more global issues concerning the economic, demographic and migratory spheres.