02 July 2014 by Simon Allison, ISS Africa Consultant
In 2014, Mali has fallen off most news agendas, replaced by more urgent and potentially more devastating conflicts in South Sudan and Central African Republic.
For Mali, however, there is some comfort in the relative obscurity, which is also a recognition that things maybe aren’t so bad anymore. The dire predictions made in 2012 and early 2013 about what would become of Mali have not come to pass. There is a democratically elected government in place, once again; a ceasefire still holds in the restive north, albeit only just; and the humanitarian situation, while still poor, is not actively deteriorating.
After 2012’s rebellion, civil war, military coup and de facto secession of the north – it truly was Mali’s annus horribilis – the country has achieved some form of stability. Yes, it is tenuous. Yes, it is only maintained thanks to the presence of thousands of French, European and African peacekeepers. But it exists – and for this Mali has the French to thank.
Vive la France! Operation Serval, the unilateral French military intervention launched in January 2013 as Islamist rebels were advancing on Bamako, was well-timed. It almost certainly prevented the collapse of Mali’s central government, and the consequent imposition of strict Islamic law on most of Mali’s population. It also staved off the probability of even more conflict between the various Islamist groups jostling for power, and ensured access for aid agencies working to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Malian authorities were so grateful for France’s efforts that they gave French President Francois Hollande a prize camel to show their appreciation – and even replaced it a year later, after the original found its way into a delicious tagine.
Since the intervention, there have been several encouraging developments. Although still active, none of the three major Islamist groups are anything near as influential in Mali as they were two years ago. Forced out of major towns, they have been reduced to hit-and-run attacks or, in the case of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have decided to focus instead on other targets in the region.
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