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Mali: Listening without Drones

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 26, 2013 (130326)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Mali is neither Somalia, nor Afghanistan, nor an 'Africanistan.' ... We hope President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are wise enough not to let analogy do the work of analysis. ... The problems bedeviling Mali are long-running and multi-faceted. They cannot be droned out of existence. The best way the U.S. government can help Malians realize their aspiration for substantive-- not just formal--democracy is to listen carefully, and let them take the lead." - Gregory Mann and Bruce Whitehouse

While the intervention by French and African troops has restored a minimum of stability to the North of Mali, few would disagree that the fundamental problems remain unresolved and will not be resolved by international military forces, whatever their configuration. The French are reportedly eager to draw down their contingent, but the shape of what will replace it is uncertain. And measures ostensibly designed to restore democratic governance, such as elections now planned for July, seem likely to heighten rather to decrease the weaknesses of the Malian state.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains (1) a joint opinion piece by Gregory Mann and Bruce Whitehouse, cautioning against mistakes such as an overemphasis on early elections, (2) a statement from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its affiliate in Mali, (3) a background analysis by Bruce Whitehouse on the 1-year anniversary of the coup, and, in the web version of this Bulletin only (4) an English translation of the executive summary of a recent public opinion poll in Mali, covering residents of the district of Bamako.

Other sources of interest.

"Des sites et des comptes Twitter pour suivre le Mali et l'Algérie,"
January 14, 2013 / direct URL:

"Mali's Bad Trip: Field Notes From The West African Drug Trade" By Andrew Lebovich, African Arguments, March 19, 2013

Interview with singer Baba Sallah /

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Mali: Listening Without Drones

By Gregory Mann and Bruce Whitehouse

African Arguments (

March 13, 2013

National dialogue on Mali's future is essential and must include both armed groups and those who did not participate in uprisings.

Recent and still unconfirmed reports of the killings of top leaders of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb underscore tangible advances made by French and African forces in rolling back the violent jihadist onslaught that began in Mali over a year ago. Yet the hardest task lies ahead: setting up a viable political system that all Malians can live with. From vital partners like the US, which has just deployed drones to neighboring Niger, this task will require not high-tech solutions, but low-tech listening to the Malian people.

U.S. policy to date--particularly a tone-deaf privileging of counter-terrorism over good governance--has arguably done more harm than good in Mali over the last decade. In the context of the current crisis, we suggest three ways that the US government can help. They require not boots on the ground, but fine-tuned diplomacy.

First, don't rush elections.

The US government, bound by legislation barring aid to any regime that ousted an elected predecessor, has long been pressing for fresh elections, even while half of Mali was under rebel occupation. Now that the country's northern regions have been wrested--if incompletely--from jihadist control, Mali's interim government has scheduled polls for July. The country will not be ready, and inhabitants of its vast northern regions will almost certainly be disenfranchised. True, elections must eventually be held, but doing so prematurely will confer an uncertain mandate from a fractured electorate, paper over deep rifts in the Malian state, and pave the way for another crisis.

Any election creates winners and losers. Rapid elections propelled by outside, institutional interests, rather than by Mali's own political actors, are likely to create more problems than they solve. What Malians need now is cooperation, not competition.

Second, insist on national dialogue.

A space must be created in which Malians of all backgrounds can discuss a way forward. Only respected and familiar leaders will be able to negotiate with and work in the interest of disaffected communities throughout the whole country, but such a dialogue must be as inclusive as possible. The table must truly be round: those who did not take up arms need to have an equal place with those who did.

As well as rebel leaders of various northern factions, peace talks should include civil society leaders from north and south alike. Like it or not, rebel leaders who are not accused of crimes against humanity will have to be included in such negotiations. By insisting on that point, outside powers can give the government in Bamako the political cover it needs to talk with its opponents who are fellow citizens. Lasting peace in the Sahara depends on addressing their legitimate grievances, particularly those of nomads.

Third, support the government's initiative for truth and reconciliation.

For generations tensions between nomadic Tuareg and other ethnic groups have caused deep wounds that can only be healed through a truth and reconciliation process. The scope of this process should not be restricted to events in northern Mali, but should encompass misdeeds committed throughout the country, including by the previous government and by the soldiers who overthrew it a year ago. Culprits left out of this process may be targeted by the International Criminal Court, which is now pursuing its own investigations into crimes committed in the country, but justice and forgiveness cannot be outsourced.

Other things can be. Rebuilding Mali will require more than just the restoration of electoral democracy. As one of the poorest countries in the world, post-conflict Mali will need economic assistance. Smart investments might include roads and bridges that would better connect the country internally and to its neighbors. In the North especially, better infrastructure would reduce the cost of living, improve food security, allow the state to deliver services, and enable the region to export its most valuable commodity, livestock. Renewable energy installations would also help Mali to grow on its own.

The first step might be the hardest: to recognize that Mali is Mali, and approach the crisis there on its own terms, especially regarding peace, justice, and governance. Mali is neither Somalia, nor Afghanistan, nor an "Africanistan." After generations of human investment, notably by Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright fellows, the US government is in a good position to know this. We hope President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are wise enough not to let analogy do the work of analysis.

We hope too that sending in the drones does not represent another instance of privileging cheap, technically sophisticated, and often violent interventions by remote control over the longer, harder work of listening to and engaging in dialogue. The problems bedeviling Mali are long-running and multi-faceted. They cannot be droned out of existence. The best way the U.S. government can help Malians realize their aspiration for substantive--not just formal--democracy is to listen carefully, and let them take the lead.

Gregory Mann, historian, Columbia University
Bruce Whitehouse, anthropologist, Lehigh University

Additional comments by Gregory Mann, "Africa is a Country," March 22, 2013

Brief excerpt:

"Whatever the case may be, for an exceptional moment in January, French and Malian interests converged, and the enduring popular support for the intervention suggests that many people here agree with that assessment.

The two governments had shared enemies and — at least in the short-term — shared interests. They fought an alliance of jihadi Salafist fighters made up of AQMI, MUJAO, Ansar Dine. For reasons internal and external, Mali's army could not face them alone, in spite of a common and comforting fairytale claiming that it could. But if they shared enemies, the two countries did not share the same objectives, much less the same war. The question in the wake of French advances is how dramatically those objectives will diverge.

Read full commentary

For additional comments by Bruce Whitehouse, see excerpt below as well as other postings on his blog Bridges from Bamako

Africa: Mali - for an Articulated Intervention Based On and in Favour of the Respect for Human Rights

18 March 2013

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Press Release

Since the adoption on 20 December 2012 of United Nations Security Council's resolution 2085, approving the deployment of an international support mission in Mali (AFISMA) and the training on human rights of Malian security forces, the situation has evolved. French and Malian armies have engaged a military intervention and have widely deployed in Northern Mali.

This evolution has involved reflection and debates within United Nations Security Council, ECOWAS and African Union, on the adaptation of mechanisms provided by resolution 2085 to determine the procedure and the structure of the various security forces and mechanisms planned to support Malian authorities in the current crisis.

Amongst the first decisions, States members of the African Union, complying with ECOWAS' decision, approved the sending of more military forces and the deployment of human rights observers, in coordination with the African Commission for Human and People's Rights (ACHPR).

In the meantime, Malian authorities adopted a roadmap for the transition, scheduling in particular the holding of general elections on 31 July 2013.

The donors' conference held in Addis-Abeba on 29 January has agreed granting over 455 million dollars that will be used to cover AFISMA's spending, restructure Malian military and provide for humanitarian aspect of this crisis. This amounts to half of the budget calculated by ECOWAS for this occasion.

The European Union has committed to deliver humanitarian assistance and deploy a mission in charge of contributing to the training of Malian military, including on international humanitarian law, civilians protection and human rights. Furthermore, EU has planned financial and logistical support for the deployment of AFISMA, the gradual recovery of development aid, paired up with concrete measures of assistance in the implementation of the roadmap.

FIDH, its member organisation in Mali, AMDH, and UIDH welcome commitments made by Mali and international community for a solution to the crisis in Mali and call them for the implementation of a genuine and effective coordination of their interventions for the purpose of ensuring the respect of international humanitarian law and human rights, helping the strengthening of those rights and contributing to the fight against impunity.

Resolving the conflict

FIDH, AMDH and UIDH call for the utmost vigilance on still-existing risks of terrorist or acts of destabilisation coming from armed groups, perpetration of human rights' violations or political instability as a result of these potential attacks in Mali and the subregion. Our organisations call upon all stakeholders in the region and international bodies to ensure that their fight against terrorism complies with the respect of human rights, launches democratic processes and goes along with development politics able to combat. extremisms


Our organisations welcome the results that came out of the donors' conference. We call upon the international community to quickly decide of the structure for the coordination of their financial support to Mali. We also encourage them to secure the remaining funds needed to ensure a complete support to the stabilisation of Mali.

Composition, mandate and coordination of armed interventions

As part of the deployment of military forces of many countries and authorities, our organisations call for:

the implementation of a vetting mechanism to ensure that no individual responsible for human rights violations is incorporated in this framework;

an effective mandate and necessary operational means are established to ensure the protection of civilian population and human rights defenders;

a clear and unified command structure, integrating a direct communication with civilian population to ensure access of humanitarians and independent observers coming from civil society to conflict-affected areas.

Training of military forces to human rights

Our organisations welcome decisions taken by Malian authorities, and supported by the United Nations Security Council, allowing the training of Malian military forces on human rights and international humanitarian law. We also welcome as the commitment made by the European Union to contribute to this training through the deployment of an EU Training Mission (EUTM). In this context our organisations call for:

the United Nations, the African Union and the ECOWAS to ensure that all troops deployed receive a training on the protection of human rights and international humanitarian law;

trainers to be legal experts with field experience of prevention, monitoring or treatment of human rights violations in time of armed conflict;

trainings to actually contribute, at each step of interventions (planning, commanding, running and monitoring); the establishment of guarantees allowing prevention, monitoring, remediation and reporting of violations human rights violations;

trainings to go along with regular public reporting (with short intervals between reports to allow an effective monitoring of operations) on training activities carried out, measures taken and results achieved on human rights' protection.

Human rights' observers

Our organisations welcome the announcement of the deployment of United Nations and African Union observers on the ground, in charge of investigating on the evolution of the human rights situation in Mali. We particularly call for these observers to:

be deployed in a sufficient number to cover the entire territory and all operations;

work under a common management, in close cooperation with trainers of military forces;

monitor, document and, if required, denounce human rights' violations committed by all parties;

be able to investigate on human rights' violations that occurred on the entire Malian territory, beyond provisions made by resolution 2085;

accompany Malian authorities in their work of prevention, documentation, repression and redress of human rights' violations and in the preparation of the justice, truth and reconciliation process as determined in the roadmap, in close cooperation with the International Criminal Court ;

grant a particular attention to gender-based crimes ;

work in close cooperation with civil society, in particular Malian human rights' organisations.


To complete the battery of measures defining missions granted to military forces involved in operations and in order to reduce the risk of human rights violations, our organisations call upon the United Nations Security Council to announce that actors alleged to be responsible for human rights violations and who would refuse to cooperate with authorities and mechanisms for fighting impunity, may be subject to individual sanctions.

Political roadmap

Our organisations welcome the adoption by Malian authorities of a roadmap for the transition and the commitment made to hold general elections in the near future. We also welcome the support allowed by the multidisciplinary presence of the United Nations in Bamako and bilateral engagements taken by other States of the international community, in favour of the establishment of the rule of law and the implementation of the roadmap for the transition.

In this context, FIDH, AMDH and UIDH urge Malian authorities, with the support of the international community, to immediately start the necessary preparations for the organisation, observation and certification of the announced general elections, in order to hold free, independent and transparent elections that would ensure the inclusive participation of the Malian population, including refugees and displaced people. These preparations particularly involve the overhaul of the electoral register and the training of independent observers.

Our organisations acknowledge, as written in the roadmap, that a necessary part of the political transition in Mali is the dialogue between parties in conflict. We call upon authorities to establish a dialogue framework with all legitimate representatives of Northern populations and non-terrorist armed groups, in addition with local elected officials and civil society.

We also call international community to support the establishment of the Dialogue and Reconciliation National Commission as provided for in the roadmap, giving expertise and technical support to ensure that this commission shall be representative, transparent and inclusive.

International and independent monitoring of the evolution of the human rights' situation

Lastly, our organisations call upon the United Nations Security Council and Human Rghts Council, to establish an international and independent monitoring on the evolution of human rights in Mali. This mechanism would ensure a follow-up of recommendations addressed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to Malian authorities, coordinate recommendations of all observers deployed on the ground, support the Malian government in the implementation of the roadmap and report to the Security Council and Human Rights Council.

Mali's coup, one year on

Bruce Whitehouse

March 22, 2013

[Excerpts only. For full text, including in-line links and figures, as well as other recent commentaries by Bruce Whithouse, see]

It was a year ago this morning that we woke up in Bamako to a changed reality. Soldiers at a barracks outside the city had mutinied against their commanders, taken over state broadcasting and the presidential palace, and toppled the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré.

Yesterday a journalist with France24 asked me whether, at the time of the coup, I had anticipated the depth of the crisis that would follow. My answer was no. I remember what it felt like, listening to gunfire breaking out across the Niger River, a few hours later watching those first images of soldiers in the ORTM studio announcing the suspension of Mali's 1992 constitution. At the time many of us hoped this episode would prove a short-lived "hiccup" in Mali's democratic transition, followed by a speedy return to normalcy. I don't believe I would have predicted that Malians would largely acquiesce to the junta; that 60 percent of Mali's territory would soon fall to a coalition of separatist MNLA and Islamist rebels; that the Islamists would later overpower their secular allies and make northern Mali synonymous with barbarity; that the Malian state and its leaders would prove utterly impotent to protect their citizens or reunify the country; or ultimately that France would dispatch thousands of troops to Mali's soil.

None of this is to say, however, that Mali's coup arrived out of the blue. The political crisis that has shaken the Malian state to its foundations began long before those soldiers mutinied and, in hindsight, warning signs suggesting the failing health of Mali's democratic experiment were visible all along.

Consider voter turnout. If Mali's democracy was so vibrant, why did more than 60 percent of eligible voters consistently stay away from the process? It's true that a large part of Mali's population is rural and illiterate, but this doesn't explain why voter turnout in Mali's elections since 1992 was consistently the lowest in West Africa. At a fundamental level, most Malians didn't feel represented by their elected officials, and the problem was growing worse. According to the Afrobarometer survey, public satisfaction with Mali's democracy had been falling for a decade by the time the coup took place.

Another warning sign was the spike in deadly vigilante violence in Bamako, from mid-2011, as a growing number of urban residents lost faith in the ability or willingness of some of the state's most fundamental institutions — the police and the justice system — to protect them from criminals. I mentioned this phenomenon in a post a couple of months before the coup, and returned to the subject in greater detail last April.

As for the rebellion, insecurity is nothing new in northern Mali. The latest insurgency (officially dubbed "the renewal of armed struggle" by the MNLA) was launched in mid-January 2012, but had been brewing long beforehand, even prior to the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya the previous October and the subsequent return of heavily armed Tuareg fighters to Mali.

Mali's coup and the chaos that followed were by no means inevitable. President Touré's government was weak in early 2012 — as events have proved — but it just might have been able to limp through scheduled elections and hand power to a successor. That successor might have been able to contain the rebellion and reverse the Malian state's decline. Of course, there's little use speculating over how things might have played out differently. My point is that the political crisis of the last 12 months should not have come as a surprise, and might possibly have been averted if Mali-watchers (myself included) had been more attuned to the signs of trouble. For 20 years we viewed Mali as a success story, and became so heavily invested in that optimistic narrative that we failed to make an accurate assessment of the disappointments and risks.

An interesting poll conducted in Bamako last month by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (link to poll, in French, at; for an English translation of the executive summary of the poll report, see below) points to further evidence of popular alienation from the political process. An overwhelming majority of respondents feel that the country's political parties pursue only selfish interests (table 4) ... Maybe the only surprising finding here is that around sixty percent of respondents actually trust their interim president and prime minister (figures 1 and 2).

The same poll examines Bamako residents' attitudes toward events in northern Mali. 98 percent of respondents approve of France's ongoing military intervention (figure 10). They largely distrust the MNLA, and view the exclusion of Malian troops from Kidal as "unacceptable" (tables 11 and 12); moreover, 68 percent are completely opposed to negotiating with rebels for peace (table 18), though they do appear to support some kind of talks with other representatives of northern populations (tables 19 and 21). They maintain strong support for the Malian army (figure 13) and tend to be skeptical of accusations that Malian troops have committed human rights abuses (table 13). More than three-quarters favor a permanent French military presence in Mali (figure 17), and about twothirds express favorable views toward a "permanent American presence" in Mali (figure 16). By contrast, opposition toward a UN peacekeeping operation runs fairly high (tables 15 and 16).


On the eve of my departure from Mali last year, three months after the coup, I posted a grim assessment of its impact, writing that "the last 90 days suggest that whatever problems Mali was facing on March 21, a putsch was not the answer to them." Nine months later, my view has not changed. But I have a little more hope now than I did then for the country's future. If Mali's leaders can use this crisis to confront the problems that brought down the previous democratic experiment, if they can include more of their fellow citizens in the process of rebuilding the Malian state, they might just be able to put their country back together and keep it together. Such an outcome is certainly not inevitable, but it's possible.

Mali-Poll 13-20 February 2013

March 12, 2013

For French original see /

[unofficial translation by AfricaFocus. Note that the poll was limited to the capital district of Bamako]


The coup d'état in March 2012 opened a period of political and institutional security crisis in Mali intervals marked by strong political tensions and a search for durable solutions. Among these solutions the country has transitionl institutions with two main tasks: freeing the occupied northern regions and the organization of elections. The results of a survey conducted in November 2012 by the same institution indicate among other things that the citizens of the District of Bamako mostly trust certain transitional institutions such as the Government of National Unity. Opinions are rather mixed for the President and the Interim National Assembly.

Since the completion of this survey, the political situation has changed and the lines have moved on many issues, including through military intervention and the implementation of the military reconquest of the northern regions, the cabinet reshuffle, the state of emergency, and the ban on activism of political organizations created after March 22, 2012. Certain options put forward by citizens were confirmed.

The objectives of this second survey are: (1) to confirm or repute some observations from the first survey, (2) deepen the content of certain concepts such as national unity, secularism of the state, (3) integrate new parameters in the survey such as the causes of low turnout, the conditions for reconstruction, etc..

Perception of crisis management and politico-institutional security

Transitional institutions and provisions

The President of the Republic and the Acting Government Acting enjoy the confidence of the majority of the population. Two out of three citizens say they trust the acting President of the Republic compared to a third in November 2012, 61% of respondents say they trust the Prime Minister and 60% the governmental team. In contrast, less than a quarter of citizens know the names of Deputies elected in their constituencies and more than half of them say they are not satisfied with their work at the National Assembly. Perception of the current role of the former junta is mixed. A little over a third of respondents think it is does not have responsibility for anything currently; while less than half believe it deals with military issues such as the reconquest of North and one fifth think it is concerned with the the interests of the junta itself.

For the vast majority of the population, political parties are not involved in managing the crisis, and the activities of political groups formed after March 2012 are intended only to create anarchy in the country, satisfy personal interests and/or to oppose Malians.

Less than one in ten states surveyed were familiar with the broad outlines of the Government roadmap. They almost all approve its adoption before national consultations and think that its contribution will be positive to the management of the crisis.

The majority of respondents who say they know the outline of the roadmap are hesitant about the need to organize national consultations after the adoption of the roadmap.

About the upcoming elections, three quarters of respondents want them to be organized after the total liberation of the North and the return of displaced persons, refugees and security. However, half of the respondents thought holding electing was impossible for July 2013 and not the civil registration files reinforce this conclusion. .

The opinion of citizens on the Presidency of the national electoral commission is mixed. The majority of citizens disagree with the coupling of presidential and legislative elections.

Finally, two-thirds of respondents explain the low participation of people in elections by the lack of credibility of candidates and their belief that their vote has no effect on the improvement of their living conditions.

Management of the military and political security crisis

The French military intervention is judged positively by almost all of the population. This was also viewed positively by three-quarters of respondents in November 2012. Similarly, the majority is favorable to a permanent American or French presence in the northern region in Mali.

The current role of the army in national defense is viewed positively by the majority of respondents. The majority does not believe the charges of violation of human rights which are alleged against the army.

More than half of the citizens approve the role of militias (Ganda Koy, Ganda Izo, etc..) In their fight against the armed groups and for the security of northern populations.

The role played by ECOWAS in managing the crisis is considered positive by almost half of the surveyed population. This proportion of the population has increased significantly compared to the results of the survey in November 2012. In contrast, half the population disapproves of the failure to intervene in the management of the crisis by Mauritania or Algeria.

Presence of UN peacekeepers in Mali, before or after the liberation of the northern regions, is a subject of disagreement among respondents. Half the men who responded were opposed.

With respect to the international community, the expectations of the population are that it should be limited to to helping the Malian armed forces and security forces fight against terrorism, protect the borders, and fully free the North.

For a large part of Malian citizens, the activities of MNLA are only for to defend the the interests of its own members. Their rejection ([in agreement] with the MIA [Ansar Dine]) of the entry of Malian troops into Kidal is unacceptable.

Over two thirds of respondents are against negotiations for peace in the North and advocate instead the use of force. Proponents of negotiations were a little more than half of the population in November 2012. They wish them to be conducted directly with representatives of northern communities (and not with the armed movements) and to focus on the conditions for reconciliation of people and to accelerate the development of the northern regions. [For most respondents] the territorial integrity, national unity and to a lesser extent the secular character of the state are not negotiable.

Effects and impacts of the occupation of the North

The opinion of the majority of respondents is that the occupation of the northern regions had no effect on relations between the peoples of southern and northern Mali in general. It is rather mixed on the relationship between religious communities in Bamako (Muslim and Christian). In contrast, more than half of the population believe that the occupation has contributed to exacerbate sectarian tensions in the north.

Role of religious actors

The involvement of HCIM [High Islamic Council of Mali] in crisis management is much appreciated by people. Similarly, more than half of the citizens approve the role of the Ministry in charge of worship in the cohabitation between religions and religious orders in Mali.

Expected role of Technical and Financial Partners

The vast majority of citizens want a resumption of economic cooperation and the strengthening of humanitarian assistance. Nearly half expect assistance in the organization of elections and one third expect support for the return of refugees and displaced persons.

Role of civil society and media

Citizens expect civil society organizations to work for social peace and national unity. They expect media awareness of issues of the population affected by the crisis and defense above all of peace and national cohesion.

The majority of respondents believe that civil society organizations have not adopted this attitude desired, unlike the media, which has mostly been consistent with the expected role.

Solutions for a sustainable management of the crisis

Citizens, in their vast majority, advocate improving governance for sustainable management of institutional and political crisis, followed by the establishment of genuine democracy through the holding of transparent and credible elections. Concerning the security crisis, most recommended providing re4sourced to the armed forces and security forces, recruitment and military training, finally the reconciliation of the army with itself.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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