Saouda Keita holds her mother's CRS cash distribution card.

Three year-old Saouda Keita holds her mother's CRS cash distribution. Saouda and her mother, along with 15 more members of their family, are living in rented rooms in Bamako after fleeing their home to escape the rebels. Photo by Helen Blakesley/CRS


Conflict in the north is not new to Mali. For decades Malian government regimes dominated by Sub-Saharan ethnic groups in southern Mali have oppressed the Tuareg and Moorish peoples in the north. The governments failed to implement development and political reform programs in the north due to mismanagement and corruption. These governments also used violent and destabilizing divide-and-rule tactics among northern groups.

In January 2012, Tuareg (an ethnic group indigenous to northern Mali and Niger) militia, united under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), attacked Malian military forces and in three months took over the less populated northern two-thirds of the country. The civil war and the establishment of Sharia law by radical Muslim groups in the north forced about 265,000 people to flee northern Mali to neighboring countries while another 185,800 fled to southern Mali.

Armed conflict is subsiding and the Northern provinces are returning to Malian control, although violent attacks and banditry continue and AQIM terrorist forces still remain in Malian territory. The conditions in northern Mali do not make for a sustainable peace, a state of affairs that has persisted since independence. Even during Mali's twenty year period of democratic rule, the government failed to establish a legitimate, decentralized local government in the northern provinces, and failed to provide reasonable local autonomy and protection of civil and human rights. Thus a return to the status antebellum will not resolve the root causes of the crisis.

CRS Policy Position

  1. National Unity: If Mali is to build a sustainable peace, the government and people of Mali will have to build national unity based on justice and reconciliation. To build peace, the people of Mali need continuing assistance from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN, the EU, France and the United States. In line with the ECOWAS and Mali Framework Agreement of April 6, 2012, assistance to Mali should focus on establishing and strengthening a stable, legitimate interim government that conducts a national dialogue with civil society and religious leaders to build national unity, religious freedom, a roadmap towards free and fair elections and a return to full constitutional, democratic rule.
  2. Dialogue: CRS supports reform of the Malian military to re-establish full subordination to civilian leaders and a unified, disciplined force of officers and soldiers trained in their responsibility to protect life and the human dignity of all Malians. As a vital complement to the national dialogue foreseen in Framework Agreement, Mali, with the help of its international partners, should promote sustained, long term dialogue among civil society representatives of the different regions of the country. This dialogue would support national negotiations towards a sustainable peace, disarmament of militias, commitments to cut links to AQIM and national unity under the conditions set out in the National Accord of 1991 and the Algiers Accord of 2006.
  3. Humanitarian Assistance: Malian authorities and international partners should support the engagement and participation of religious leaders in rebuilding civil society and continuing their peacebuilding and reconciliation. Humanitarian support is critical during this time and CRS continues to provide support to victims of the violence.

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