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Roland Marchal

Roland Marchal is a senior research fellow at the National Centre for Scientific Research based at the Centre for International Studies and Researches (CERI/Sciences-Po, Paris). He was the chief editor of the French academic quarterly Politique africaine from 2002 to 2006, and has been research...
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The coup in Mali: the result of a long-term crisis or spillover from the Libyan civil war?

This paper was produced for the Nordic International Support (NIS) Foundation and is published by NOREF in co-operation with NIS.

Roland Marchal, 15 May 2012

The current crisis in Mali was not unexpected, although most national and international players were eager to maintain an unrealistic view of political developments in this Sahelian country. This crisis reflects the decay of state institutions and practices: the Malian army collapsed and patronage does not mean democracy. Its crisis is built on four dynamics that have their own effects: the debatable implementation of previous peace settlements with the Tuareg insurgency; the growing economic importance of AQIM activities in the Sahelian region; the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya; and the inability or unwillingness of Algeria to play the role of regional hegemon now that its rival (Libya) has stopped doing so.

While the Tuareg rebellion has been able to gain from the collapse of the Malian army in the north, it should be noted that the many armed groups have different agendas, and position themselves differently towards the local population and the Malian state. What is unclear is whether they will be able to co-exist on the same territory while trafficking and a protection economy are the only sustainable resources.

The jihadi aspect of some components of the insurgency has to be understood in context and should not be seen as erasing social and economic differences in a heterogeneous northern Mali. It proves the successful demonstration effect that small groups such as AQIM and Ansar ed-Din can have. It should also draw more attention to a regional context that could provide radicals with a wider audience and credibility by building opportunistic coalitions.

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