On November 30, a group of Al-Qaeda linked fighters launched several rockets at three French bases in Northern Mali. The attack is remarkable for the level of coordination required, and amount of force levied against foreign forces. A spokesperson for the French forces, which number over 5,000 in the Sahel region, clarified that there have been no deaths or injuries to report. The only source of real damage was to a United Nations base located next to a French base in Kidal.
In the past few years, Mali has been increasingly ravaged by terrorist groups, primarily those with ties to ISIS and Al-Qaeda. In addition to dealing with these threats, Mali is also dealing with tribal tensions and the fallout from a political coup that occurred in the summer of 2020. A transition government is still in place and plans to hold elections and choose a successor are elusive. As Mali and surrounding states continue to be rocked by the presence of terrorists, the rest of the world has taken measures to respond to the growing regional instability. France has had troops present since 2013, and United Nation (UN) peacekeepers are currently present. The UN is also undertaking a new mission involving 14,000 troops and 56 countries with Britain already deploying some of its soldiers to the region. It is not clear if the objective is to keep the peace and act as a stabilizing and deterring force, or if the troops are planning on directly engaging the terrorists.
In the past, increased military presence has served to further agitate terrorists. Additionally, many of the insurgents are members of local communities and terrorism, by its nature, is not a highly organized and recognizable opponent. The identification process will prove difficult and tedious and may not endear the Malians to their foreign allies. Rather, programs instituted to reform and empower already existing mechanisms in Mali may prove to be a better course of action. The EU, for example, is organizing an initiative designed to train the Malian police force to deal with threats. Initiatives such as these empower the people, rather than foster dependency on foreign forces which are not a permanent solution.
Rather than meet violence with violence, more could be done to ask why conditions in Mali are such that terrorism prospers. If developmental initiatives were undertaken, the Malian people would have a better chance at creating a more stable future for the country, as well as have a vested interest in keeping insurgency at bay. Higher levels of sustainable development would also naturally discourage people from joining these rebel groups.
It is encouraging to see so many countries united in their cause to address terrorism and better the lives of vulnerable populations. However, the help cannot stop there, nor can it merely involve violence and potential destruction. There must be greater suggestion of ways to aid the region and rehabilitate in such a way that a sense of agency is given to the population and they are able to become self-sufficient not only in matters of peace and security, but also in areas, like education, that can overall positively impact outcomes and opportunities.
Mali has been rocked this year by political turmoil, ethnic tensions, conflict, and a pandemic. The world has shown that it is watching and is putting forth an effort to stabilize the country as well as the Sahel region overall. But this crucial moment is the time to address not just the conflict in the region, but other developmental delays it has weathered. This could be a chance to influence and stabilize the region. Time will tell how actors like the UN will proceed and whether Mali is open to such aid.