The independent resource on global security

Beyond the peace agreement: How can civil society contribute to peace in Mali?

The Ségou Region in south-central Mali
The Ségou Region in south-central Mali is the fifth largest commune in the country, with a population of approximately 130,000 according to the 2009 census. Photo: Flickr / Eric Ferrier

The 2012 crisis in Mali triggered a strong response from regional, international, national and non-state actors in a country that, until then, had been considered an example of democratic stability in the unstable Sahel region. Crucially, civil society also mobilized to support peace negotiations and conflict resolution efforts at the community level.

Groups of citizens demonstrated against the military coup in the capital, Bamako, and they alerted the public to the poor conditions of Malian soldiers fighting in the North. Solidarity movements conveyed medical supplies and equipment to the conflict-affected regions. While under enormous constraints, civil society organizations in north Mali worked to counterbalance the absence of the state and ensure the delivery of vital services to the population.

In 2015, inter-Malian negotiations resulted in a peace agreement between the Government and two coalitions of armed groups (the Coordination of Azawad Movements, CMA, and the Platform of armed groups, the Platform). The agreement was supplemented with military operations that enabled the formal restoration of state institutions in areas previously under the control of these groups. Despite the severity of the crisis, and as a consequence of the mobilization, quick progress has been made in restoring constitutional order and achieving some level of stability.

The 2012 crisis triggered a public debate to explore the severity and the far-reaching roots of insecurity and fragility of the Malian state—not just in the north, but over the entire territory. Issues of governance, availability and delivery of public services, effectiveness of the security architecture, local participation in decision-making and power-sharing at the national and local levels are now openly discussed in public forums. The perceived role of development aid in enabling or hindering prospects of peace is also a topic of conversation in Mali’s public spaces.

The conflict demonstrated the capacity and readiness of civil society to contribute to the resilience of the Malian society.  If progress is to be made towards a sustainable peace in Mali, civil society has to remain actively involved.


The root causes of the conflict

Despite the brokering of a negotiated peace agreement in 2015, violence is still part of the daily life of many people in Mali. While the fighting was predominantly contained within three main regions in the north of Mali, new violent groups have emerged in the central part of the country. Worryingly, while the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and other international and regional security actors still struggle to stabilize the most affected areas of the country, little has been achieved in tackling the root causes of the conflict.

The 2012 events were the result of structural issues within the Malian state, which have still not been comprehensively addressed: the legitimacy of state institutions is contested and the decentralization process has not made any significant progress, long-term community tensions have not been resolved, the political representation of different groups of the population is strongly debated, the role of women in the public sphere remains greatly constrained, and youth struggle to find a place and a voice in a changing society.

If these issues are to be addressed, they will need a long-term approach and a clear political commitment. They directly affect the prospects for sustainable peace and could even bring into question Malians’ historic sense of togetherness. Studies and surveys—such as the Afrobarometer, a research project that measures public attitudes in sub-Saharan Africa, or the self-portrait of Mali conducted by the Malian Institute of Action Research for Peace—have demonstrated a strong willingness of the Malian population to engage in a nationwide dialogue on Mali’s future. These studies also show that the population’s concerns and needs reach far beyond the immediate stabilization agenda and cessation of hostilities between armed groups.


New SIPRI–CONASCIPAL project to further support civil society

In an effort to contribute to sustainable peace in Mali, SIPRI and its Malian partner the Coalition Nationale de la Société Civile pour la Paix et la Lutte contre la Prolifération des Armes Légères (CONASCIPAL, National Coalition of Civil Society for Peace and the Fight against the Proliferation of Small Arms) have launched a new project to analyse the immediate security needs of the Malian population in a holistic manner and identify avenues for longer-term contributions of civil society to peace and state-building.

The project works with civil society groups in 35 communes (selected from nine out of the ten regions of Mali and the District of Bamako) to work from the ground up to build a sustainable peace. In each of these communes, the project has established a ‘Monitoring Group for Peace and Security’ composed of local actors representing three segments of civil society: youth, women and local community leaders. In collaboration with these Monitoring Groups, SIPRI and CONASCIPAL will identify and contextualize the most relevant security issues for the population, in terms of both risks and resilience. Findings from these local groups will be consolidated through debates at the national level and will then be published and shared with national, regional and international audiences. The publication—which gives voices to a broad range of Malians across the country—will serve as a vehicle for civil society to inform and influence policies and programmes related to the safety and security of people in Mali.


Launch of the project in Bamako, Mali in October 2016.
The Ambassador of Sweden to Mali, the Malian Minister of Security and SIPRI's Deputy Director at the launch of the project in Bamako, Mali in October 2016.


This project has the potential to have a far-reaching impact through four main goals.

First, the project will test the justification underlying current interventions in the country against the perception of need on the ground. In a context marked by overlapping security interventions by diverse actors, it is crucial to assess whether the stated objectives of security policies and their implementation reflect the needs and expectations of the population, both in terms of security and development. This could improve the legitimacy of the interventions and provide people with responses to the needs that they have identified themselves.

Second, the project will contribute to asserting civil society’s capacity and skills for contributing to security policies, which will promote the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement. As the peace agreement emphasises the role of local institutions in the provision of services to the population and decentralized decision-making, supporting the involvement of local communities in the design and implementation of security strategies is paramount to the effective delivery of this agreement.

Third, the project’s findings could shed new light on issues that are already under discussion and add useful insights into the key security priorities and policies that have been adopted at the national level. While priorities for peace and statebuilding are generally agreed on and reflected in the many international strategies for the Sahel—such as the fight against violent extremism, illicit trafficking or the strengthening of state capacity at the local level—this project will focus on important local community perspectives.

Finally, exploring and documenting the role of civil society actors in the peace process can highlight the resilience of Malian society, and the capacity of local communities to mobilize in order to address problems that directly affect them. This is particularly useful in the context of weak-state capacity to provide services.

Throughout this project, the objective is to engage Malian civil society to reflect on their perceptions of security and on their role in laying the foundation for sustainable peace in Mali.


Aurélien Tobie was a Senior Researcher and Activity Coordinator for the SIPRI Mali Civil Society and Peacebuilding Project.