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Building peace in Mali: the case for ‘track III’ interventions

Peacebuilding can be defined as the promotion of conditions, institutions and structures that enable and sustain cooperative relationships among former opponents so that they can work together towards lasting peace. Most peacebuilding efforts seeking to address the current conflict in Mali concentrate on the Malian Government and the various rebel groups. However, the creation of sustained peace in Mali also depends on 'track III' interventions: initiatives carried out by civil society organizations and other non-state actors to support the emergence of a conducive environment for the settling of conflicts.


The current state of the peace process in Mali

The most visible conflict in Mali is between the Malian Government and armed groups in northern Mali. Two of the main rebel groups—the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA)—are signatories to the preliminary peace agreement signed on 18 June 2013. However, the preliminary agreement also states that the peace process is ‘open for adhesion [accession] by other existing Malian armed groups under the condition that they unconditionally respect all its dispositions’.

Other armed groups currently active in Mali include the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and a number of self-defence groups that have emerged among the sedentary population to defend the rights of their communities against attacks by rebel groups such as the MNLA. These self-defence groups are not necessarily aligned with the Malian Government and wish to see their own grievances addressed through the ongoing negotiations towards a conclusive peace agreement.

The preliminary character of the June 2013 agreement is due to the fact that it was signed by a transitional, unelected government which therefore lacked the power to negotiate a conclusive peace agreement. Furthermore, the signing of such a conclusive peace agreement depends on an inclusive dialogue that can guarantee a proper understanding of all parties’ issues and grievances.

One year after the signing of the preliminary agreement, significant progress has been made, including the democratic election of a new government in September 2013 under President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and the launch of a series of inclusive dialogues that aim to identify appropriate pathways to resolving the recurrent rebellions in Mali and build sustainable peace. Nevertheless, the peace process can be further strengthened.


Setbacks and achievements  

The outbreak of violence in May 2014 between Malian Government forces and rebel groups in Kidal constituted a setback in trust building and progress towards an agreement. However, at the same time, significant dialogue initiatives have taken place under the auspices of the government and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). For example, in October 2013 the government organized a three-day national forum on the decentralization process in Mali, and in November 2013 another three-day forum on the northern regions of Mali allowed citizens to express their views and influence government strategies, especially in relation to the resolution of existing conflicts.

In April 2014 the UN Security Council reported that MINUSMA had organized four workshops bringing together representatives of the Malian Government and armed groups to discuss disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, development plans for northern Mali, and evaluation of the implementation of the preliminary agreement. While the Security Council report expressed concerns about the slow progress of the peace talks, there is an obvious need for broad national dialogues, both between the government and rebel groups, and between the various armed groups, whose agendas do not necessarily align with the needs of the local population.


Track I and track II interventions

The importance of dialogue between armed groups is illustrated by the Algerian Government’s ongoing efforts to set up explorative consultations between the armed groups currently active in Mali in an attempt to help them develop a shared platform before their next negotiation meetings with the Malian Government. This kind of mediation, usually carried out by external public officials intervening in order to bring conflicting parties to a negotiated settlement, is known as a ‘track I’ intervention. Diplomatic initiatives, including those undertaken by the UN special representative and regional organizations, also fall within this category.

‘Track II’ interventions operate at the same level of immediate conflict parties, with the exception that they are carried out by influential individuals, operating in non-formal, non-official manner to help establish communication and dialogue, and motivate protagonists to solve their problems without further violence. Presently, in Mali, there is broad domestic support for traditional authorities acting in this role.


The case for ‘track III’ interventions

While the majority of international interventions in Mali have focused on high-level initiatives, ‘track III’ interventions also have the potential to positively influence progress towards a conclusive peace agreement. This type of intervention includes activities carried out by grassroots or civil society groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and development agencies which contribute to the resolution of conflict. Such interventions involve raising awareness on the core issues of the conflict, building capacity for peaceful relationships among communities, and carrying out humanitarian and development work.

Given the recurrent nature of the rebellions in northern Mali and the pending conclusion of a final agreement on the 2012 crisis, a clear understanding of the core issues at the heart of the conflict is needed on both sides of the conflict, including the fact that those issues cannot be settled by military means alone. While MINUSMA and the French forces acting under Operation Serval have helped ensure the non-escalation of armed violence, a change of attitudes and behaviour among conflicting parties is nonetheless necessary in order to enable a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

Discussions facilitated by civil society groups, NGOs and development organizations can lead to the possibility of inducing a change of attitudes and behaviour, increased restraint and the recognition of other actors. The emergence of community-based self-defence groups distancing themselves from the rebel groups and claiming inclusion in the ongoing peace negotiations in Mali is a clear example of the need for broader discussions of issues and the recognition of all relevant actors.

Both ordinary Malian citizens and public officials have been critical of previous agreements, which were often concluded in haste without sufficient consideration of issues or inclusion of all relevant stakeholders. This precedent should serve as a lesson and help ensure that space, time and resources are made available in the ongoing process towards a truly inclusive and participatory peace process. In addition to track I and II interventions, there is a great opportunity to build on the achievements of the October and November 2013 forums and invite civil society groups, NGOs and development organizations to continue to deepen the dialogue in Mali.



Dr Gaudence Nyirabikali was a Senior Researcher in the Mali Civil Society and Peacebuilding Project.