Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Alliance for Mali

The Alliance for Mali welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Foreign Affairs select committee’s enquiry on the UK’s response to extremism and political instability in North and West Africa. The Alliance for Mali is a coalition of individuals, not for profit organisations and for profit organisations whose work focuses on Mali; Joliba Trust, Jump4Timbuktu, Living Earth Foundation and the Mali Development Group. These organisations have worked in diverse regions across the country and have built up a range of contacts, and knowledge of Mali. As such, this submission focuses on Britain’s response to extremism and instability in Mali primarily, but we do also acknowledge and affirm the interdependence of action across the region both having an impact on and reacting to the situation in Mali.

Britain’s role in North West Africa, in particular in Mali should focus on addressing the root causes of the current instability by promoting good governance, social cohesion and economic development and supporting regionally-led programmes to tackle regional issues. Britain is well placed to act as an impartial facilitator and mediator in Mali due to its neutrality in the country, its international standing and its strong presence in the wider sub-region, in particular in Nigeria. There is need for the British government to adopt a strong supportive role to enable Malians to tackle their own problems and to play a role in bringing stability to the region through Mali.

The effectiveness of UK co-operation with France and other Western allies to secure UK interests in the region, and lessons to be learned from the French-led intervention in Mali

1. It is clear that Britain’s logistical support for the French-led intervention in Mali helped enable a rapid deployment and ongoing flexibility of French forces within Mali.

2. Britain played a leading role within this coalition in the instigation, and ongoing provision of human rights training in Mali for the Malian military forces. The UN resolution 20711 stated that it, “Demands that all groups in the north of Mali cease all abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including targeted attacks against the civilian population, sexual violence, recruitments of child soldiers and forced displacements, and recalls in this regard all its relevant resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, on Children and armed conflicts and on Protection of civilians in armed conflicts;”, giving clear mandate to stop any abuses in Mali, from any armed group, which would include the Malian Army.

3. Despite the work of the UK Government, there have been a range of human rights abuses undertaken by the Malian army both during and since the intervention, many of which the Alliance heard of directly. Many more abuses have been extensively reported in the media and by other organisations,2 and cause concern about the long-term prospects in Mali of democratic stability and a functioning cohesive society. There were clear signals from the media, decision makers and communities in Bamako that a clear division was developing and being promoted between Malians in the south and Malians in the North, and between diverse ethnic groups in the North, which threatened retribution on those in Northern Mali, regardless of the extent of their involvement in the crisis. It is worth questioning whether the British Government’s role could have gone beyond training on human rights for soldiers to monitoring the full realisation of human rights in the recapturing of Northern Mali.

4. Despite the positive role that Britain played in the military intervention, it is important not to overplay the military successes and to recognise the significant challenges that remain. There is an overriding concern, cited by our Malian partners, that “the French may win their war whilst Mali loses ours”. There is real concern that the withdrawal of troops may be premature; and that human rights abuses may increase in the coming months given the poor levels of discipline in the army. The British government must recognise that to facilitate Mali’s transformation into a stable country, its support cannot halt at military intervention. Long-term commitment is required in providing technical support to the army; playing a role in monitoring human rights abuse; and providing support to actions that promote intra-community dialogue and opportunities for reconciliation.

The factors contributing to the power of religious extremists in the region, how they can most realistically be dealt with, and whether they amount to a significant threat to UK interests or are primarily a regional concern

5. There are a number of key factors which have contributed to the power of religious extremists in the region. These factors are both historical, as a result of government policy, and a result of previous British policy in the region as noted below. These factors are interlinked; they are numbered below in no particular order.

6. The first factor is that of a failure by the Malian Government to effectively implement decentralisation which resulted in weak capacity at local government level in the North; limited government investment in, and support for, basic services and subsequent poor service delivery, and which contributed to a feeling of marginalisation and resentment amongst many groups. It is our opinion that any perspectives from Bamako or the South are unlikely to consider the problems faced by the North of Mali and further expertise and consideration of the whole of Mali should be sought.

7. The second factor is the lack of control mechanisms in place to address the burgeoning drugs trade in the region which provides lucrative profits to those involved and represents an economic opportunity to impoverished people living in the area. In particular revenue from the drugs trade are used by vested interests to maintain and increase their power.

8. The third factor is the lack of economic opportunity for local people which provides a fertile breeding ground for extremism. In particular young people become involved with religious extremist groups due to economic need. This was the case overwhelmingly in Gao where the MUJAO were able to provide stipends to new recruits as a result of their successful links to the lucrative drugs and hostage-taking trades. This lack of economic opportunity has been caused by a lack of investment and the stifling of previously successful income streams, in particular the tourist industry. In particular blanket travel bans, including that imposed by the UK Government on the whole of Northern Mali have had a severely negative impact on the economic activity in the city of Timbuktu whose primary revenue had been tourism.

9. The fourth factor is that of corruption and lack of accountability at the level of the Malian State, which has served to amplify these issues. The policy of centralised accountability and the trend for central political elites to concentrate on self-aggrandisement through activities such as kidnapping and drug trafficking are a key factor behind the strengthening and development of Jihadist networks in Mali and the surrounding region. Extremists and criminals have been able to operate within Mali with relative impunity. The international community should lobby for greater accountability of the political elite, particularly of the new government that may emerge from the forecast elections in July 2013.

10. There have been elements of nationalistic militancy in Mali since independence in the 1960s. This has prospered in the economic situation in Mali where poverty has arisen due to state policies, particularly under Amadou Toumani Touré, and international policies, ie limiting tourism in Northern Mali. It is not the case in Northern Mali that Islam has created militancy: the form of Islam practised in Northern Mali is very tolerant. It is rather that religious extremists have been able to use the strengths of radical Islam, such as introducing a form of effective judiciary and security in the implementation of Sharia to bring a form of order in areas of disorder and create common cause with the disaffected populace.3

11. The factors contributing to the power of religious extremists in the region amount to a threat to UK interests. The regional dimension of terrorist groups has an impact on UK priority countries such as Nigeria and Somalia (there are reported links between Boko Haram, Al Shabab and Islamist training camps in Northern Mali). As many of these groups use drug trading and their operations in this regional to fund actions globally there is a clear threat to UK interests if little is done to support Mali and help it become a functioning state.

The extent to which gangsterism and crime contribute to regional instability and how this is best tackled

12. ‘…It is obvious that the combination of long-standing and deep-seated vulnerabilities and the growing presence of terrorist groups and criminals is creating a crescent of crisis which extends from one ocean to the other, from the African shores of the Atlantic to Somalia.4 Historic networks and routes established by nomadic families across the Sahel-Sahara region are utilised for the trafficking and transiting of high-profit goods, such as arms, drugs, and cigarettes.5 The trafficking of illicit goods provides high-sum revenues for regional terrorist groups, national rebel movements and corrupted government officials.

13. Recent conflicts in West Africa have led to the development of arms trafficking.6 Most recently, small arms have been brought into to Mali by fighters returning from Libya and through trade from across Africa.7 Research in 2007 claimed that there were at least 81,000 Kalashnikovs circulating in the Sahel region.8 The number today is likely to be more. In Mali, significant arsenals were found by Operation Serval forces not just in the northern mountainous areas in the AQIM stronghold in the Tighargahr Massif, but also in urban areas such as a cemetery in Timbuktu.9 The proliferation of inexpensive, small arms contributes to insecurity in the north of Mali. It is worth questioning whether the UK considered the potential spillover effect of its intervention in Libya on the wider region. The links between Gaddafi’s regime, Tuareg fighters in Libya and Northern Mali were widely known and commented upon amongst communities and actors in Mali; the subsequent spillover impact should not have come as a surprise and should have been addressed by a responsible and coherent UK policy for the region. This is an important learning point for UK Government.

14. Cocaine was added to the trafficking network portfolios around 2000. According to the 2013 UNODC Threat Assessment on Transnational Crime, 18 tons of cocaine transits through West Africa per year. This is worth around USD1.25 billion at wholesale in Europe.10 The UNODC in Dakar calculated that in 2012, around $500 million of this trade was either laundered or spent in West Africa.11 The real figure, however, is likely to be much higher, given that the amount of cocaine entering Europe has not changed.12 The trade in contraband tobacco or counterfeit brands is worth around USD 750 million per year’.13 Turf wars are common, with AQIM factions competing with each other, with different segments of Tuareg tribes and with corrupt army and government officials. Both AQIM and MUJAO agents offer armed escorts to drug convoys through the North, charging between 10–15% of the value of cocaine—hard currency that they use to buy arms and fund their recruitment program.14 The UK should work with the EU to impose regional efforts to combat organised crime, especially as reports have shown that this cannot be solved on a national basis and requires international co-operation. As such consideration should be given to the influence and impact on Mali of national actors outside of ECOWAS, like Algeria, and UK Government’s influence on these actors.15

15. The monies available from drugs have attracted the interest of government officials. There are plenty of examples of members of the political elite profiting from the trade.16 This does untold damage to public confidence in public institutions and will present challenges in terms of strengthening a democracy and rule of law that has legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate. The UK government should support the Malian Government to implement robust monitoring mechanisms of all government department budgets at national, regional and local level. The government should consider aid conditions being attached to the pursuit and punishment of high-profile actors involved in the drugs trade.

16. Ironically, a significant source of revenues for AQIM and MUJAO comes from the West. Stratfor, an intelligence consultancy, estimates that AQIM has collected at least $90million (£57million) in ransom payments since 2003.17 We agree with the UK Policy of not paying ransom demands. The UK should look for agreement to unanimously to end ransom payments.

The UK’s support for regional co-operation by ECOWAS and others

17. While we note the importance of supporting regional institutions including ECOWAS, it is vital to acknowledge the competing interests of the key countries within ECOWAS, particularly with regard to the question of Tuareg independence. ECOWAS should not be viewed as a neutral stakeholder.

18. The British Government should note that as well as in Mali, there is a minority of Tuaregs in many of the nations in the region that make up ECOWAS. As many powerful northern African nations have similar concerns over Tuareg autonomy or independence, similar problems to those which occurred in Mali will continue to be an issue in the region. Any equitable solution should be based on some form of autonomy whereby Tuaregs can determine their own fate. The UK government should acknowledge that any inclusive regional response should ensure that the long-standing grievances and continuing marginalisation of the Tuareg populations are considered and dealt with.

The risk of “blowback” to UK interests if the UK takes a more interventionist foreign policy stance in the region;

19. At present a policy that focuses on military support at a time when development funding and projects are cut has a much greater risk of blowback. Any interventionist policy needs to be allied with development aid. It is crucial that this is not just humanitarian aid but is focused to target the long-term root causes as detailed throughout this submission.

20. Given the complex relationship that France has with Mali, as a result of both historical context and its significant business interests in the country, it is vital that the UK has its own clearly defined position which extends beyond simply allying itself to French policy. Whilst there is popular support for the French intervention at the moment, precipitate withdrawal could lead to increased instability which could have a significant impact on Malian public opinion. This risk is further illustrated by emerging reports of the first demonstrations against French military tactics in the North, particularly in relation to Kidal.18 Should a short and sharp western intervention be followed by a quick withdrawal it is likely that the state of affairs that led to the crisis will be renewed and an apportionment of blame will be attached to the UK Government.

The extent to which the UK Government’s long-term policy aims of building inclusive democracies, strengthening the rule of law, and tackling extremism in the region are realistic and achievable.

21. Firstly lessons need to be learned from the British government’s decision to withdraw direct development aid from Mali in 2011. Questions were raised over the methodology of the bi-lateral and multilateral aid review which saw long term development aid cancelled in Mali.19 Even accepting the methodology there were questions of why, when Mali fit many of the criteria for continuing and even increasing support, and given Mali’s vulnerability as a fragile State, the decision to cut aid to this country was taken.20 Increased engagement from the UK alone would not have averted the crisis, but it may have put Britain in a better place to act when the fragile state was toppled last year.

22. Strong engagement with civil society to build resilience is key for the future of Mali as a nation. This can be framed in two particular formats for engagement; economic resilience to allow the country to deal with financial and economic shocks, and democratic engagement, to ensure that decentralisation, can be fully realised and meets the needs of the varying groups in Mali. In particular there is a strong need to focus on addressing the economic vacuum that led to the high level of recruitment of local youths to the extremist movements. There is a need to take a long-term approach to building support for the development of markets, support to youth employment opportunities and youth-focused vocational training in the region. It is essential that UK Government support at this critical juncture works to address development needs of the local population and recognises that a policy of merely providing humanitarian support at this time fails to address the underlying causes of the crisis.

23. There are many parts to an inclusive democracy and with continuing high tensions, the lack of reconciliation and the likelihood that significant proportions of refugees, displaced people and the rural population will not vote,21 the timing of the elections seems precipitous. The elections seem to be scheduled for a point which suits political imperatives in France and the United States. Holding elections without full representation and reconciliation after the crisis will result in a newly elected government lacking the legitimacy to enact proper state control and accountability to the people. While the elections cannot be called off, it is imperative that they be as inclusive as possible. The international community and the UK Government have a responsibility to ensure that momentum towards democracy is not lost.

4 June 2013

1 United Nations, Adopting resolution 2071 (2012),

2 Mali conflict: UN “deeply disturbed” by army abuse claims, ; 2 February 2013 ; Human Rights Watch report; ; 26th March 2013 AFP: ; 5th April 2013

3 Guichaoua, Yvan. “From Tuareg Nationalism to Jihad: Changing patterns of Militancy in the Sahara”, (2013)

4 Ameline, N. “A crescent of Crisis on Europe’s Doorstep, A new North-South Strategic Partnership for the Sahel”, Draft Report, Nato Parliamentary Assembly, Defence and Security Committee, April 2013

5 Field Notes from the West African Drugs Trade, Lebovich, Andrew, May 2013

6 Security Management in Northern Mali, Sidibe, IDS Research Report no 77, April 2012,

7 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, cited,8599,2099549,00.html

8 According to a study by Mouna Izddine and cited in Security Management in Northern Mali, op cit. 27

9 Ameline, N. Op cit


11 cited in Lebovich, A. Mali’s Bad Trip

12 UNODC, statement by UNODC head Yury Fedotov, February 2012

13 pg 5

14 cited in Dreazen J.

15 Keenan, Jeremy, “The Dying Sahara” (2013)

16 e.g see Lacher, W. Organised Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region, 2013

17 cited

18 ; 30th May 2013

19 “DFID’s aid priorities and Africa” Royal African Society (2011)

20 “DFID review” Mali Development Group (2011)

21 Guiffrida, Alessandra. “Longing to go home? A view from Malian Tuareg refugees in Mauritania” (2013) Centre for African Studies, SOAS

Prepared 20th March 2014