Andrew Lebovich


Mapping Armed Groups in Mali and the Sahel

Violence is tearing Mali and the Sahel apart. But who are the armed groups behind the bloodshed? Where are international actors stationed in the region? And what motivates them all? This project maps jihadist and non-jihadist groups and pinpoints the presence of external actors in the region as of May 2019.

Since 2012, Mali has faced a succession of violent conflicts. The Tuareg rebellion and subsequent jihadist occupation of northern Mali in that year revealed several cleavages in society and governance that, while not new, have grown worse with time. The departure of the government from more than half of the country’s landmass and the pressure placed on local areas by resource competition, weapons proliferation, and clashing ideologies have all exacerbated Mali’s internal conflicts, patterns that have also played out elsewhere.

The French intervention under the guise of Operation Serval in January 2013 dislodged the jihadist groups from Mali’s cities, but did not eliminate them. They slipped away and reorganised, coming back to attack the United Nations peacekeeping mission established in Mali, MINUSMA, as well as Malian and French forces and civilian targets in the capital Bamako and even beyond Mali’s borders. The signing of peace accords in Algiers in June 2015 did not appreciably improve the situation. MINUSMA is the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world but efforts to restore state authority have faltered, jihadist groups have grown and spread into Burkina Faso and parts of Niger, and local conflicts have also erupted in new and deadly ways.

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Policy and Research Papers

Mali’s impunity problem and growing security crisis

On June 13 Malian soldiers and security forces were responsible for killing more than 30 civilians throughout the country - the government and international forces have been unable to reverse the trend

Since 2012, Mali has experienced a procession of horrors, from the slaughter of soldiers to the mutilation and murder of civilians, to the destruction of treasured world heritage sites. The Tuareg rebellion, the subsequent jihadist takeover of northern Mali, and the 2013 French intervention to oust jihadist groups has focused regional and international attention on the country in an unprecedented way. Despite this attention and the hundreds of millions of euros that have poured into Mali’s government and security services, the security situation continues to deteriorate. International actors often attribute this rising instability to a failure to fully implement the 2015 peace accords signed in Algiers. 

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Stabilising Mali - why Europe must look beyond technicalities

To foster long-term stability in Mali, the international community must not content itself with the implementation of technicalities.

France’s new president Emmanuel Macron sought to send a clear message with his arrival in Mali on Friday, on his first official voyage as chief of state. In visiting Gao, the main base of the Sahel-wide Operation Barkhane and the largest French operational base abroad, Macron no doubt intended to show his support for French soldiers and continue his forceful stance against terrorist groups – whether in France, in the Levant, or in this case in the Sahel. 

As RFI noted, Macron’s agenda had three components: an increased mobilization of Barkhane forces in northern Mali, an accelerated effort to apply the June 2015 Algiers Accords meant to settle the conflict unleashed by the 2012 Tuareg rebellion, and deepened efforts to support the G5 Sahel, the grouping of five Sahelian countries that includes Mali and is intended to spur security and development cooperation in the region.

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Halting Ambition: EU Migration and Security Policy in the Sahel

Stretching from Senegal to Chad, the European Union’s growing presence in the Sahel runs through a security environment that the upheaval of recent years has dramatically reshaped.Yet while its efforts to stabilise the Sahel have had some limited successes, the EU’s attempts to integrate security and development initiatives there may prove costly, unsustainable, and incomplete in the long term.

This policy brief assesses EU programmes in the Sahel and aspects of the G5 Sahel, focusing on CSDP missions and other security-related initiatives in Mali and Niger. It is particularly important to re-examine the merits and evolution of these programmes, and the EU’s pursuit of an integrated regional approach, in the current environment, given Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s recent re-election – and the departure of two long-serving EU chiefs of mission in Niger and Mali, as well as several other senior EU officials.

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