Refusal by some separatist groups to attend the national unity conference hosted by the Malian government is the latest obstacle for peace. Failure by the government to enforce law and order has meant that armed violence and ethnic conflict have persisted, especially in northern Mali. A Peace Accord signed in 2015, the aim of which was to end the conflict between the government in Bamako and the nomadic Tuareg people in northern Mali, has had many setbacks. Those boycotting the unity conference are Tuareg rebels who, according to Al Jazeera News, insist the potential for the division is too great. Many of them want self-determination for northern Mali, which they call Azawad. Almou Ag Mohamed, a spokesperson for the Azawad Coordination Movement, explained that, “We are heading straight for a national disagreement conference.”
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali opened the conference on 27 March 2017 and extended an invitation to those who were not present to join in at a later time. There has been no formal response from the Malian government to the Tuareg boycott. Other groups, especially those using peaceful means to assist civilians, have not been invited to attend this conference. The Civilian Resistance Movement, formed in 2012, is one such group and its spokesperson feels aggrieved that only armed groups have a voice. Dealing with the future of Mali is important to all factions, particularly if consensus on unity is to be reached and maintained. Those who use non-violent approaches will have much to offer, especially to others whose narrow view does not extend beyond violence. Groups which promote world harmony or those who have had contact with the groups in Mali will be watching with interest. The United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, and the African Union have all chosen to make no formal statement.
Many factions make up Mali, and so unity can only be achieved through dialogue in a non-judgemental environment where other viewpoints are accepted and understood. By establishing new and positive relationships, repairing old ones, and working collaboratively communities can be rebuilt and grow together. The government of Mali needs to produce a more focused interest in northern towns in order to rebuild infrastructure and improve the economic status of the citizens who reside there. Such action would contribute to breaking down the negative views many in the north have towards the Bamako government and would make those living in northern Mali feel valued. Although many obstacles and delays have plagued the peace process in Mali, it is important the process continues so civilians can experience less poverty.
Instability in Mali has contributed to the continuing violence, notably in the northern regions where United Nation peacekeeping forces patrol the city centre streets to create security. Streets beyond the city centres are used by underground marketers who are involved in crime and corruption. For instance, Moussa Souma Miaga, a traditional leader of the Songhai in Gao says “Security just isn’t working here. We cannot move freely around.” Many Tuareg people in the north feel the government has, in the past, not cared about them or their needs. This has been fuelled by the actions of privileged people who have prevented the northern population from gaining benefit from government decisions. Lack of trust between different groups has grown from this and has hampered peace initiatives. The marginalization of the Tuareg people has occurred because their traditional, nomadic, and pastoralist lifestyle has been curtailed by land reforms and desertification. Living in towns with very poor conditions and experiencing severe economic hardship has made many of them desire independence from Mali. Immediate ongoing government assistance is needed in order to ease the plight of the Tuareg people. Such practical action would right past wrongs and generate full engagement from these people so unity and peace can be achieved.