Image Source: U.S. Department of State
Fall 2017
REGION: Sub-Saharan Africa

In Armed Rebellion, Violent Extremism, and the Challenges of International Intervention in Mali, Mathieu Bere argues that peacebuilding interventions in Mali will need to move beyond military engagement in order to address the complex historical, political, religious, and economic factors that underlie the government of Mali’s respective conflicts with Tuareg secessionists and jihadi groups. The Tuareg minority in Mali has been marginalized since the 1990s and has waged multiple insurgencies, most recently in 2012. In addition, Mali is now home to at least five Islamist extremist organizations, who fund their fight in part through trafficking in arms, drugs, and people in northern Mali.

Bere posits that the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral actors must address the Tuaregs’ and jihadists’ identity issues in order to sustain peace, as well as to prevent further radicalization and recruitment of jihadi groups. Among what Bere calls “identity issues” are the desire of the Tuaregs to fight marginalization, the jihadist group goal to establish an Islamist government, and the importance both groups place on their own cultural, ideological, and religious values.

Bere notes that there were small successes for military interventions, but that overall both military and non-military interventions have failed to be effective. The UN launched the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in 2013, to ensure security and stability, protect civilians, oversee human rights, and prompt reconciliation efforts through national dialogue. MINUSMA lacked a counter-terrorism mandate, leaving the mission under-resourced and unable to protect citizens or peacekeepers from armed groups. MINUSMA also faced difficulty in addressing the grievances of the Tuareg secessionists and the jihadi groups, as the discordant desires between the groups were unable to be reconciled. The groups primarily disagree on whether a newly created government should be secular or Islamic, and whether it should be created as a federal region within Mali or as an independent state.

Shifts in economic, political, and rule of law conditions have also improved the situation in Mali. The French, African, and UN-led interventions reunified the central government in Bamako, allowing presidential elections to take place in 2013. Additionally, human rights interventions staved off the implementation of the jihadists’ vision of governance. While these changes have provided markers of accomplishment, the success in the fight against jihadi terrorism has been very limited. Bere suggests that this conflict will require cooperation by states, the private sector, and civic organizations who are better positioned to address the root causes of the violence, and which would serve to deter jihadist radicalization through the creation of platforms for dialogue and understanding, as well as religious freedom and tolerance. Additional non-military strategies Bere suggests to counter radicalization are the use of counter-narratives to challenge media influence, engaging religious leaders in a critical analysis of their interpretation of sacred texts, and disrupting the networks extremist organizations use to recruit and mobilize.

Bere concludes that a resolution of the conflict will need to be strategic and not simply tactical. Future interventions will need to include non-military strategies aimed closely at combating radicalization and jihadi recruitment. Additionally, further mandates should be designed with the needs of the local population in mind and oriented toward securing the government in local hands, making reconciliation and further negotiations between people-groups possible by way of managing “diversity and conflicts among them constructively” with the capacity of a strengthened “political and economic governance.”


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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