Accepted paper:

Incomplete political arrangements in Northern Mali: From the Malian Gourma to Central Mali


Ole Martin Gaasholt

Paper short abstract:

Northern Mali has been characterised by incomplete political arrangements because of limited state capacity. Contributing to conflicts, such patterns have also been characteristic of the political control exercised during conflicts, as by Islamists. Certain local dynamics partly invert this pattern.

Paper long abstract:

The recent conflict in Northern Mali, with its expansion to Central Mali, makes apparent political arrangements predominating in the area for several decades. In spite of democratisation, conflict and external intervention, political activity exhibits certain patterns of considerable continuity. Essentially, no power-holder since decolonisation has established integral political control in the area. The Malian state relied on local chiefs as relays, being itself of limited capacity. The peace process after the rebellion of the 1990s and the decentralisation accompanying it maintained an arrangement of local chiefs entertaining links with local state representatives. This failed to provide integral state services or security in Northern Mali. Struggles for access to resources from the state, and rivalry among Northern Malian elites, have fed into two subsequent conflicts. With the participation of Islamists in 2012, territorial control was achieved. In reality, the control of Islamists relied on comparable mechanisms of indirect control. After external military intervention, political control remains limited to the main agglomerations. Insecurity, including Islamists activity, is most pronounced in rural areas of limited priority. Opportunistically, Islamists mobilise local people in Central Mali and increasingly in Burkina Faso through their dissatisfaction with the state and local elites. Ironically, the influence of Islamists depends on the use of local relays like others before them. As political relations fluctuate, they are at times more enabling, as will be shown with examples from the Gourma area in Northern Mali. Such incomplete political arrangements may sometimes partially work if they reflect local concerns.

panel Pol24
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