One of the biggest precipitants of the conflict was the drought in 2011. This would exacerbate existing conflict and the influx of weapons into the region made these conflicts deadlier than in the past. There are several ways that this problem could be dealt with, disarmament, increased resilience against drought, and more development of ways to deal with conflict before it turns violent: judicial structures at the local level. First of all, disarmament isn’t going to happen in this region. Militias, vigilante groups, militants, and average people are far more armed now than they were 10 years ago. If arms are going to be removed from the region, it will have to be after stability has returned to the region. Unfortunately, the large presence of weapons is part of the problem, but it also encourages people to buy guns when other people have guns.
Increasing resilience against drought would be one of the best ways to prevent conflict at the local level in the first place. The Sahara Desert is growing every year and this diminishes what pastoralists and farmers can produce. This often leads to increased banditry and conflict over water. Many herders throughout the region felt that their complaints to local authorities were not being taken seriously. Creating systems to use water more efficiently can reduce the strain of drought on communities in the north but this won’t solve the water problems in the north. The population is growing and the amount of water is reducing. There isn’t a way to effectively address the effects of climate change and drought in the region, building more wells in the region could provide more water to these communities.
Poverty is a long-term problem for the region and will likely continue to be so. Stability is crucial for economic prosperity. Mali used to have a large tourism industry before the Jihadists started kidnapping tourists and foreigners and the region is now filled with many empty hotels. Economic growth will only return to the region once its other problems are dealt with. In the meantime, emphasis should be placed on the elimination of groups both Jihadist and bandit who profit from kidnapping for ransom. Poverty was a factor in many youths joining up with militant groups. Lack of opportunities for many of these young men would prove to be a valuable recruitment tool for militant groups. Fighting for AQIM or other terrorist groups proved to be a steadier source of income for combatants following the economic collapse in the region.
One of the causes of poverty is the lack of education in the north. Many of the schools in the north are no longer open or were closed for long periods of time during the occupation. In many places, the only option is to attend madrasas or Islamic schools. In this environment, students are taught to memorize the Quran by heart rather than learn to read and are not exposed to critical thinking. The funding for these Madrasas schools often comes from “wealthy members of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect from Saudi Arabia.” These imams teach a radical form of Islam different from dominant Sufi Islam in Mali. Malian Sufism tends to mix traditional beliefs with those in the Quran. These Madrasas don’t provide sufficient education for youth and make it more likely for graduates to become extremists in the future. The US government should allocate additional funding towards educational institutions in Mali that teach students literacy and skills. Aid relief and educational programs to northern Mali funded by the west would provide additional opportunities and diminish reliance on Madrasas preaching fundamentalism.
Ethnic conflict has been at an all-time high in Mali since the rebellion began and the killings by various groups during the height of the conflict leave great resentment between ethnic groups. There have been stories of police and vigilantes killing of Tuaregs in southern Mali who had nothing to do with the rebellion. , There are many ways to try and address these grievances, through public forum, exchange programs between tribes, and sports diplomacy. The US State Department believes sports programs can help heal wounds between divided communities because, “Sports diplomacy uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences and bring people together.” Many of these communities wouldn’t speak to each other after the conflict but spots allows people to come together in a non-political and have perhaps one of the most human interactions with one another. I won’t claim that sports programs can heal all wounds but getting people to talk with one another again so they can see that despite the terrible things some communities have done to other communities, we’re all still human. The United States should expand upon sports diplomacy programs in conflict affected areas.
Malian Tuaregs returning form fighting in Libya left without jobs or homes has created great instability, job insecurity and insurrection in the region since their return. They should be reintegrated into the Malian military if possible. They have great institutional experience, excellent military capacity and could help root out jihadists who they worked alongside during the rebellion. Any efforts to disarm they will be met with distrust of the government and have the potential to spark violence. They are more familiar with the northern part of the country and would be protecting their communities. It would allow them to begin trusting the government once again if they were working for the government. Granting amnesty and reintegration of Malian Tuaregs into the military gives these fighters a path back into society.
The issue of Jihadists in the region is another issue entirely. The UN mission in Mali is currently the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission in the world largely because of terrorist attacks on UN troops. While having 11,231 soldiers and 1,745 police officers present in Mali will help stabilize the country long term efforts must be made to increase local law enforcement and military capacities. The UN mission can’t last forever, and insurgencies can go on for decades. Building capacities of local law enforcement, governance and justice is crucial to the long-term stability of the region. There are a variety of programs that provide training and education to locals who work for the benefit of their own communities. These programs can come in the form of US special forces trainers who have been working in Mali since at least 2009 to the Young African Leaders initiative which focuses on civilian leadership. Following the military coup, a section of the Malian army trained by the US attempted a counter coup to restore the democracy in the country. While this attempt to restore the democracy failed, these soldiers trained by the US gave their lives to uphold democratic values. I believe investing in the people is one of the best long-term strategies the United States and the West in general can employ.
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