Non-combative Strategies Should Be On the Agenda Towards Mali Conflict

According to the announcement of the French defence ministry on December 23, seven Islamic extremists had been killed by the French first armed drone strike. Being a tough response to 13 French soldiers’ death by a helicopter collision during their Mali operation several weeks ago, the defence minister Florence Parly justified this action as “protect[ion] for French troops and effective against the enemy.” Being their former colonial power, France continuously sends troops to Mali for the Northern Mali conflict since early 2013. However, after 7-years, Malians are still threatened by extremist violence and radical jihadists. Such a sprawling crisis urges the Malian government to reconsider the validity of military force. Just as Ndoula Thiam, an MP of Keita’s ruling coalition said: ”the most important thing is [that] Malians talk[ed] to each other.”

With Northern Mali requiring independence and greater government in 2012, sharp conflicts broke out between two confederations with different ethnicities: Tuaregs and Islamists. A following military coup, motivated by underpayment, then exacerbated the rebellion and triggered widespread chaos to the whole country, causing a crushing blow to citizens. For example, Amadou Barry, a 55-year-old cattle herder and a member of the Fulani ethnic group suffering from unexpected militia attacks, was forced to flee from his hometown twice to the farther south. Though basic living resources are offered by aid organizations, numerous refugees, as well as banditry limiting access to land and water, pushed Barry and his families away from welfare.

Poignantly, the UN Refugee Agency reports that until mid-2019, 148,000 Malian were internally displaced like Barry, but these conditions have continued. 58% of this number are children. These vulnerable conditions directly led to massacres, malnutrition, and a shortage of education. On account of school closures, girls in Mali are forced into marriage while boys take the burden of physical work, even being recruited as child soldiers. Sadio, a 17-year-old girl with a little daughter, has travelled over 60 kilometers to Mauritania and was able to go back to school with the support of a local NGO.  She cherishes education as an opportunity to see the world differently. But not everyone can be assisted like Sadio. Cheikou Wane, a volunteer working for Unicef, indicated the stern fact with incredible data: “Over 4,600 students were enrolled in a primary school in the first few months of this school year. The numbers are lower in secondary school, with just over 300 enrolled.” Beyond that, lacking psychological persuasion can also be a severe problem for children being traumatized by what they had seen in Northern Mali.

The Malian government should take major responsibility for innocent residents and children. Rather than making progress on summary executions and arbitrary justice, which are used as a reason by extremists to recruit members, the government has long relied on external military support. A 2015 shaky peace accord between Malian and two northern armed group coalitions: the Coordination of Azawad Movements and the Platform, could be an instance. The diversity and complicacy of these armed group signatories eventually exacerbated the structural irregularities. With a multiethnic country, international assistance and federalism only work as palliatives. Additionally, on December 14, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita tended to lead a “national inclusive dialogue”. However, most opposition groups without trusting the president were reluctant to attend the meeting. With such an internal estrangement, all the stakeholders including France should reevaluate their current combative strategies, especially on behalf of the effects they may have on the Malian people, especially children, in the long term.

Yuexin Li
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