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The Malian conflict

Osservatorio Strategico - Alessandra Mulas

Roma,  4 aprile 2013

The conflict in Mali has its origins in the challenges that the whole Northern Africa and Near East regions are addressing since the outburst of the so called Arab Spring. The Tuareg have long been demanding the independence of Azawad, the territory north of Mali where their tribes settled and live today. This territory, which is part of a larger area known as “Sahel”, has become the center of a war that originated in Libya.

The Tuareg took part to the Libyan uprising fighting with the Ghadafi forces, thus getting training and weapons that they brought back to Mali. Their unanswered demands combined with the influence of jihadist movements (namely AQMI – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, MUJAO and Ansar al-Din) prompted the upsurge of the Tuareg movement (MNLA- National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) against the government of Bamako in the areas of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.

The poor military preparation and equipment of government forces paved the way for the conquest of Northern Mali by the rebels. After approving two resolutions, the international community decided to intervene, giving an official mandate to ECOWAS, the Economic Organization of Western African States. The EU also approved a training mission for the Malian army (EUTM), while France sent 2,500 troops to fight MNLA and the jihadists threatening Bamako.

Over the time, the French and Malian troops recovered part of the territory, but the situation on the ground remains uncertain. Indeed there is space of maneuvering for jihad ideology in rural areas, which represents an element of instability easily exported in other nearby critical areas. The fight against terrorism should include a more pragmatic approach that takes into consideration social, economic and education programs in order to counteract religious radicalism and the spreading of instability.