The Reiff Center Team with Judy Buelow of the U.S. State Department.

Following former Foreign Service Officer Judy Buelow’s lecture on Practical Peace Building in Mali, a few questions came to my mind. Can international intervention end a civil conflict effectively? How can outsiders bring peace to a nation ravaged by the total collapse of its government post-coup d’état, torn apart by Islamic militant groups? After pondering these questions for a while and connecting the dots, it seems to me that Mali serves as a notable example of how modern international intervention could work in the future.

Before delving into the policy and peace process of Mali, let’s start with some context. Mali is a nation landlocked in West Africa. It is arid and, unfortunately, quite poor. While Mali held democratic elections and regular transfers of power were the style since 1992, voter turnout had always been traditionally low. The nation’s electorate had always felt alienated from its political class. An estimated 90% of Malians identify as Muslim, yet many support the secular state. The African nation is ripe with ethnic groups, but most notably and pertinent to the 2012/13 conflict is the Taureg minority in the north portion of Mali. The Tuaregs have a history of marginalization and insurgency in the north.

The 2011 Libyan revolution acted as a catalyst for the events in Mali. After the culmination of the initial Libyan conflict, Tuareg mercenaries returned back to Mali, creating a huge influx of weapons in the northern part of the state. Leaders of the Tuareg began to vie for an independent Tuareg state and it did not take long before opportunistic Islamist and criminal groups joined the effort, including Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Before long, the armed groups occupied the northern half of the state. Amongst the turmoil, the south began to fall apart as well. The elected president fled the country and a junta seized control of the government in Bamako on March 22, 2012.

Ms. Judy Buelow from the U.S. State Department answering questions about Mali.
Judy Buelow answering questions about Mali.

Former Foreign Service Officer Judy Buelow categorizes the following intervention into four distinct phases: the immediate emergency response, implementation, offensive and counter-offensive, and commencement of the peace process. Following the coup d’état, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) opened an immediate dialogue with Mali with Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré and placed hefty economic sanctions on the landlocked nation (a crippling move by the coalition). Not long after, the military junta handed off power to a transitional government in the south which promised to organize a national dialogue with the Malian stakeholders in the conflict, conduct democratic elections, and to extend the mandate of Malian Parliament until those elections took place. Yet, in contraposition, the northern militants faced no serious challenge and continued their occupation.

The United Nations Security Council requested the African Union to refine its planning and goals for an African intervention force, and delayed authorizing the proposed force for several months while it sought to open a negotiation track. On the eve of negotiations in early 2013, Islamic extremists attacked many key areas in the midlands and south. The United States was barred by law from assisting the Malian military directly, because it had overthrown the elected Malian government in a coup. In response, France deploys 4,000 troops to Mali and launches a counter-offensive in a quest to keep international peace and security. The northern militant groups had only banned together long enough to take over the North, but they soon began to fight each other. The combined power of the French and ECOWAS intervention troops quickly took back the North from the militant groups. The success of the counter-offensive left the junta discredited and political alliances reconfigured.  Soon after, Parliament was able to unanimously approve the Roadmap for transition and the Malian Council of Ministers issued decrees establishing Council for National Dialogue. Peacekeeping troops and police forces under the command of the United Nations and a parallel French force are authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2100. Soon afterwards, peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections are conducted.

I find that the Mali model of international intervention is a recent example of what intervention can look like for the future. As we can see, no single entity saved Mali, it took multilateral action. There was a clear channel for negotiation through the facilitation of Burkinabe President Campaore; the parties involved with the conflict were not always ready to negotiate, but when they came to that point, they knew where to go. International organizations were key to the peace process. The coordination involved between organizations such as the African Union, ECOWAS, French, and UN promoted the process instead of stifling each other’s work. This trend of using regional coalitions who have a direct stake in the situation, who have gone through similar conflicts in the past, is a trend of the future. Every international intervention will end at some point. The success of these events is measured not in the amount of foreign aid to the peace process, but by the success of Malians as they begin to stand on their own two feet once again. Ultimately, it is up to the Malians to create peace in their state.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.