What happened in Mali

Domestic conflicts

Christian Klatt

Christian Klatt heads the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's office in Bamako, Mali. The political scientist previously worked for the FES in Senegal and Germany (e.g. North Rhine-Westphalia).

The conflict in Mali is a combination of the uprising of the Tuareg in the north, a socio-economic crisis and the jihadist expansion in the entire Sahel zone. Despite the 2015 peace agreement, the destabilization is spreading more and more from the north to the center of the country.

Opposition supporters during a rally in Bamako, Mali. (& copy picture-alliance, AA | Stringer)

Current conflict situation

For three years the situation in the center of the country has deteriorated dramatically. The Mopti and Ségou regions in particular are unstable and characterized by armed conflict. Again and again nomadic cattle breeders and sedentary farmers clash. With the destabilization, Islamic fundamentalists have also established themselves in the center of the country, which further complicates the way out of the Malian crisis. The connection of the religious leader Amadou Kouffa with the Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly and their networking with Islamist and other extremist actors and groups as far as Burkina Faso are a threat to peace and stability not only for Mali, but for the entire Sahel region.

Following the elections for the National Assembly in March and April 2020, there was widespread protest against the re-elected President Keita. According to Malian law, the Constitutional Court (the Cour Constitutionelle) the final confirmation of the final election results. Even if the intervention in the distribution of seats, which is problematic in terms of democracy theory, is not new and often takes place to the advantage of the ruling parties, this time the difference between the first provisional results and the later final results was so great that the population rebelled. The ruling party Rassemblement pour Mali (RPM) of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (known as IBK) won significantly more seats compared to the first count. The "June 5th Movement" (Movement de 5 June, M5), named after the date of the first major demonstration, had made the main demand for the removal of President Keita. Around 20,000 people attended several large demonstrations in Bamako. State security forces use live ammunition in clashes in July. At least 14 people lost their lives. [1]

After the Malian military initially held back, a coup against the government of Keita broke out on August 18, 2020. President Keita resigned that evening and ordered the dissolution of the National Assembly. Subsequently, the putschists appointed the Committee to Save the People (Comité national pour le Salut du Peuple, CNSP) as a new government body. The Malian people welcomed the disempowerment of President Keita. After negotiations with the West African community of states ECOWAS on the conditions for a transition phase to democratically legitimized structures, the transitional government under the former defense minister, Bah N’Daw, promised new elections within eighteen months and the consistent implementation of the 2015 peace treaty. [2]

Since mid-2020, the "Takuba" task force has been created to support the "Barkhane" operation. It includes not only French special forces, but also other European partners. Its purpose is to combat jihadist groups in the Liptako border region between Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger. [3]

Causes and Background

North Mali has never been fully controlled by the state since independence (1960). [4] Outside the capital and in the provincial capitals, the state is only partially present. The state institutions in many parts of the country are still unable to guarantee basic services in the areas of health, education, water and electricity. The widespread frustration in the face of the failure of the state at all levels favors the spread of armed groups who generate income through smuggling and drug and arms trafficking, among other things.

Terrorists displaced from Algeria found refuge in the Kidal and Timbuktu regions, where they were able to establish themselves through food supplies, cash payments and marriage alliances. From Algeria and - after the fall of Gaddafi - also from Libya, not only weapons but also the Salafist interpretation of Islam came to northern Mali. The problems have been exacerbated by regional droughts that have deprived many herdsmen of their livelihoods.

The government under Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, which was in office from 2013 until the coup in August 2020, failed to regain popular confidence. Rather, the political class of Mali has moved even further away from the citizens of the country since 2012. The results of the latest opinion poll by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Mali show that despite all the security problems in the country, individual economic development continues to be seen as one of the main problems. [5] Rising food prices, persistently high unemployment and the continuing stagnation of socio-economic development as a whole led to growing frustration among the population. Conflicts between the working population and the government have seldom been resolved through dialogue; the number of registered and unannounced strikes rose steadily.

The problems primarily require a political and socio-economic answer. The discontent among the ranks of Malian youth is particularly great and potentially explosive, and this discontent is increasingly articulated both on social media and on the street. Young people are also particularly hard hit by unemployment. On the one hand, there is the energy for a change here, provided that these groups can be included. On the other hand, there is a considerable risk of stability if this energy cannot be channeled into constructive paths.

In Mali today there is the paradoxical situation that the implementation of the peace process threatens to fail precisely because of the problems that are actually supposed to be addressed and overcome by the process. At the national understanding conference (Conference d'Entente Nationale) At the beginning of 2017, which was supposed to bring new momentum to the peace process with broad political and civil society participation, the reasons for the outbreak of the crisis were debated:
  • poor governance, especially poor management of state resources,
  • unequal access to natural resources and the profits generated from them,
  • growing discrepancy and lack of redistribution between rich and poor,
  • Corruption and the lack of the rule of law.
The danger of a division of Mali has not been averted, although all the conflicting parties, even the rebels, are in favor of national unity, territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the Malian state as well as maintaining the republican political system and secularism (Art. 1). The absence of the state in many regions of the country has resulted in functions such as jurisdiction and security being taken over by extra-state actors. In some cases, this behavior can also be found among Islamist groups, above all the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslim (JNIM) led by Kouffa, which has undertaken several mediation efforts between rival villages in recent months. [6]

Processing and solution approaches

The Malian peace process is currently only taking place on paper, even if the government claims otherwise. [7] Although the administrative prerequisites for the implementation of the peace agreement are now in place and some reforms have been prepared, the opportunity for rapid political implementation has been wasted. Little progress has been made in promoting good governance and in the fight against corruption, which are provided for in the peace treaty. This also applies to the reform of the dysfunctional state administration and the judiciary. As a result, impunity [8] for criminal offenses is becoming ever more drastic.

Finally, the constitutional reform was also put on hold. This was already apparent in 2017 when the referendum on the new constitution was being planned. The subject of the reform should have included the creation of a second chamber. The reform was rejected due to pressure from civil society and a large extra-parliamentary opposition as well as the lack of trust of the population, who only sensed further enrichment of the political elite.

The following factors pose serious obstacles to the implementation of the peace treaty:
  • Acts of violence and insecurity as well as the presence of terrorist groups in the northern regions and in the center,
  • the constantly changing composition of armed groups (since the signing of the peace agreement, it has been necessary to react again and again to splits or changes in the composition of armed groups),
  • the lack of involvement of political parties and civil society in the bodies responsible for implementing the peace agreement and the lack of transparency in the implementation process,
  • the slow and inadequate financing of the peace agreement (despite commitments by the international community, funds are always only available to a limited extent, also due to administrative hurdles).
A complex mechanism was created to accompany and implement the peace process. These include, in particular, the office of the high representative of the state president for the implementation of the peace agreement, the national monitoring committee (CSA) and four sub-committees for the cornerstones of the peace treaty. Representatives of the government and armed groups sit on these bodies. In the meantime, the two commissions for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters (GDR) provided for in the peace treaty have been formally established. [9] The GDR process, which is so essential for the peace process, was fraught with great difficulties from the start. For example, new territorial disputes broke out between the former or still armed groups around the issue of the location of military bases, which erupted in a wave of violence in the north immediately after the peace agreement.

The CSA and some sub-committees are headed by representatives of the international community. Nevertheless, it is not possible to calm the unstable security situation. Criminal attacks, attacks and landmines limit the freedom of movement of the population and international actors extremely. In the center and north of Mali, attempts are made again and again to curb the influence of criminal and terrorist groups by banning motorbikes and pick-up vehicles. The deployment of the Malian military, especially in the center, has so far only been partially successful despite internationally organized training.

The United Nations has been providing a peace mission since 2013 (Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilization au Mali - MINUSMA). The mission includes both military and civilian units and programs. The European Union is present in the country with two missions: the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali) [10] and the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali). [11]

At the end of 2019, two important steps for a reconciliation and adjustment process in the country were created with the national truth commission and the inclusive national dialogue. Past and existing conflicts are dealt with through public and closed hearings. The inclusive national dialogue aimed to comprehensively present the various interests in Malian society so that solutions could then be worked out. If the national dialogue was criticized because of its limited scope, it did provide important impulses. The implementation of the elections to the National Assembly in spring 2020, which had been postponed since 2018, was one of the demands.

History of the current conflict

Several peace agreements have attempted to create the basis for a peace process with the Tuareg in the north and to bring the different parts of the country and population groups closer together - but so far without much success. The Tuareg rebellions that began in 1963 occurred repeatedly in cycles (1990, 1994-2000, 2006 and 2012) and especially when the Malian state went through a crisis or a process of transformation. [12]

On March 21, 2012, units of the Malian army carried out a coup against the government of Amadou Toumani Touré in the capital Bamako. This was preceded by another revolt in which the Tuareg used weapons that they had stolen from Libyan weapons depots after Gaddafi was overthrown. The National Movement for the Liberation of the Awazad (MNLA) used the power vacuum created after the coup to proclaim the independent Tuareg state in the northernmost region of Mali on April 6, 2012. Within a very short time the MNLA conquered Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu - the important cities of the north. The more secular MNLA quickly lost its influence to the Islamist-jihadist groups "Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine" ("Defenders of the Faith") and withdrew to their stronghold of Kidal.

At the insistence of France, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2085 on December 20, 2012, which provided for an African-led military mission from autumn 2013. However, as Islamist groups - AQMI and that Mouvement pour l’Unité et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest[13] - advanced to the south of Mali and threatened the capital Bamako, the French military operation "Serval" intervened in January 2013 at the request of interim president Traoré. French associations and Chadian elite troops liberated the occupied cities, killed many Islamist fighters or drove them to the mountains of the north or to neighboring countries. However, they did not succeed in defeating them permanently. In addition to MINUSMA, the French anti-terrorist operation "Barkhane" [14] has been present in northern Mali since August 2014.


Baker, Aiden (2017): Mali, Political Leadership and Democratic Governance, Abidjan: Dany Beck.

Baines, Isla (2017): Mali Political Conflict, the Origin of the Crises and Division Intention, Abidjan: Bobby Digital.

Bleck, Jaimie / Michelitch, Kristin (2015): The 2012 Crisis in Mali - Ongoing Empirical State Failure, in: African Affairs, Vol. 457, pp. 598-623.

Brüne, Stefan et al. (Ed.) (2015): France, Germany and the EU in Mali. Opportunities, risks and challenges, Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Dicko, Abdourhamane (2017): La stabilité du Mali, tributaire du succès de la réforme du secteur de la securité. Cas de la ville de Gao.

Lacher, Wolfram / Tull, Denis (2013): Mali: Beyond Counterterrorism.

Kane, Ousmane Oumar (2017): Beyond Timbuktu, an intellectual history of Muslim West-Africa, London: Harvard University Press.

Keita, Naffet (2017): L’Accord pour la paix et la réconciliation au Mali issu du processus d’Alger: entre euphorie ou doute, la paix en signe de traces! Friedrich Ebert Foundation Mali.

Klatt, Christian (2020): After the Coup d'Etat. Hopes and challenges in Mali, Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Lober, Johanna (2015): On the way to a new form of coexistence - the internal discourse on national reconciliation and expectations of the design of a national reconciliation process.

Tull, Denis (2017): Mali and G5: Enhancing the Security Sector.

Tull, Denis (2016): Mali: Peace Process Without Stabilization.


Reports and analyzes of the International Crisis Group on Mali.

Reports and broadcasts from Deutschlandfunk on Mali and the Sahel zone.

Contribution to Mali on the country information portal of the Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ).

Mali Metré XI (2019): Annual opinion poll of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Mali.

"Sahelblog" by Alex Thurston