With the international community continuing to respond to the ongoing crisis in Mali, the United States of America today revealed the four underlying challenges Mali continues to face.
In his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson enumerates the challenges Mali continues to face: al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) continued presence in northern Mali, the restoration of democracy, the need to begin negotiations with northern groups that renounce terrorism and recognize the unity of the Malian state, and a significant ongoing humanitarian crisis.
“Failure to address these challenges comprehensively and simultaneously risks perpetuating the cycle of violence and insecurity that has plagued northern Mali for decades and threatened stability across the Sahel.” – Mr. Carson
According to Mr. Carson, the evolving crisis in Mali is one of the most difficult, complex, and urgent problems West Africa has faced in decades.
Mr. Carson says Mali’s problems reflect the fragility of governance in the region, the lack of economic development especially in northern Mali where the absence of meaningful opportunities for people to engage with their governments, and the widespread desperation that exists in an unforgiving, arid region with chronic food insecurity.
“Poor governance, weak democratic institutions, and a lack of development and economic opportunity create fertile ground for terrorism and instability.” – Mr. Carson
Threats from Terrorists in Mali and Beyond
Mr. Carson cites that the presence of extremists in northern Mali poses a threat to the entire Sahel region and beyond.
He points out that while the security situation in northern Mali has changed over the last month due to French intervention, the US remains concerned about the continued presence of terrorist and extremist groups, including AQIM and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
The French are disrupting and dislodging terrorist enclaves, and liberating northern towns and populations after more than a year of terrorist occupation, he said.
Neutralizing the full scope of the terrorist threat in Mali, however, is a long-term effort, Mr. Carson highlighted.
“We also must remember that terrorism is a threat that knows no boundaries.” – Mr. Carson
Efforts to address the surge of extremism
The US is partnering with countries throughout the region to support their efforts to strengthen border security and their capacity to respond to threats. Our regional counterterrorism support is coordinated through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP).
According to Mr. Carson, the primary goal of this program is to address the threat of AQIM. As AQIM has expanded its reach through the flow of arms, supplies, and fighters from North Africa into the region, US assistance and support through the partnership continues to evolve to meet the changing threat.
2. Restoring Democratically Elected Government
Mr. Carson underlines that the gains achieved by French and African forces on the battlefield in northern Mali will be short-lived if not accompanied by elections, strengthened institutions, and national reconciliation to restore Mali’s tradition of democratic governance.
According to Mr. Carson, democratic elections will give the Malian Government the credibility it needs to effectively partner with regional militaries, negotiate with northern populations, and reassert civilian rule.
“We welcomed the Malian National Assembly’s January 29 unanimous approval of a political road map to restore democracy and promote national reconciliation.” – Mr. Carson
The US welcomes interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore’s commitment to implement this roadmap and hold presidential elections by July 31, 2013.
“The road map is a critical first step towards legitimate and inclusive governance; an absolute necessity for any durable solution.” – Mr. Carson
The US urges the interim Malian Government to implement the plan seriously and expeditiously.
In addition, Mr. Carson says elections must be conducted free from intimidation and interference by military and security forces.
The US continues to unequivocally state that coup leader Captain Sanogo and the rest of the military junta members must remove themselves – completely and permanently – from Malian politics.
US response to the challenge
The US has imposed targeted travel sanctions on 87 individuals who were involved in the coup, who supported its authors, or who continue to impede the restoration of democracy.
Mr. Carson says any continued interference in Mali’s progress towards the restoration of democracy is unacceptable and risks the imposition of further sanctions from the United States, partner counties, and international organizations.
“We have strongly condemned all human rights abuses in Mali by any group and call for the perpetrators to be held accountable.” – Mr. Carson
3. Negotiations with the North
The US also condemns those in northern Mali who continue to align themselves with terrorists.
According to Mr. Carson, there can be no dialogue with those who support terrorism.
The US also recognizes that the indigenous populations of northern Mali, who have a history of resisting foreign Islamic extremists and have welcomed the arrival of French forces, have legitimate political, social, and economic grievances.
He cites that the Tuareg rebellion that started in northern Mali in January 2012 is part of a longstanding cycle of rebellion and failed attempts to address these grievances.
Mr. Carson explains that stopping northern Mali’s cycle of instability will require a serious and sustained effort by Malian authorities, non-extremist northern groups, regional actors, and international partners to address the legitimate political and economic grievances of non-extremist northern groups from Timbuktu to Gao to Kidal.
“We applaud the political roadmap’s support for long-term negotiations and its openness to dialogue with those groups that renounce armed struggle, adhere to the principles of democracy and the rule of law, and accept without condition Mali’s territorial integrity.” – Mr. Carson
The US calls on Malian authorities to follow through on this commitment to address the political and economic needs of northern populations that reject terrorism and accept Mali’s territorial integrity.
The US strongly supports the resumption of negotiations with all parties who have cut ties to terrorist organizations, have renounced violence, and who recognize, without conditions, the unity and territorial integrity of the Malian state.
US response to the challenges
The US is encouraging the Malian Government to quickly establish the Commission for Negotiations, as called for in the roadmap.
The US commends Burkinabe President Compaore, the ECOWAS-appointed mediator, for his leadership in the negotiation process and support his continued efforts in this regard. We are also working closely with neighboring countries and the international community to lend support to the negotiating process.
Mr. Carson says any successful process must address the short-term need to restore Mali’s territorial integrity, while at the same time laying the foundation for the long term, open dialogue needed to address legitimate grievances, and build trust between the northern populations and their government.
4. Humanitarian Crisis
Accordingt to Mr. Carson, Mali and the rest of the Sahel region have long suffered from chronic food insecurity.
“The conflict in Mali exacerbated an already difficult humanitarian situation caused by drought and poor harvests followed by flooding.” – Mr. Carson
He notes that since the start of the fighting in Mali, more than 400,000 people have become refugees or internally displaced.
This includes over 240,000 people displaced within Mali and nearly 170,000 refugees in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Algeria, he noted.
He says these numbers also include the more than 22,000 new refugees who have fled Mali and the more than 14,000 newly displaced persons within Mali since the extremist offensive and French counter operations began last month.
“We commend the neighboring countries that have welcomed Malian refugees despite their own food security challenges.” – Mr. Carson
US Response to the humanitarian crisis
Mr. Carson says the United States continues to work to mitigate the effects of this humanitarian crisis.
In fiscal year 2012 and to date in fiscal year 2013, the United States provided more than $120 million in humanitarian assistance to address the emergency in Mali, he reported.
“This is part of the more than $467 million in humanitarian assistance we have provided to the Sahel region in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.” – Mr. Carson
He says the humanitarian situation is and will likely remain very fluid, requiring strategies and programs to adapt in order to meet changing conditions on the ground.
The US continues to call on the international community to support a comprehensive humanitarian response, including assistance for the displaced and conflict-affected in Mali and in the broader region.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently issued its 2013 consolidated appeal, seeking more than $370 million to assist 4.3 million vulnerable Malians countrywide, Mr. Carson said.
The US is also urging the international community to respond comprehensively and adequately to the humanitarian needs across the whole Sahel region.
In closing, Mr. Carson points out that the world must remember that any military success will be fleeting without a democratic and credible government that is responsive to the needs of all Malians.
The US will continue to urge the interim Malian Government to implement the political road map seriously and expeditiously. We are asking our partners to urge the same.
Any military gains will be eroded if political instability and uncertainty return, Mr. Carson explained.
“By continuing to address Mali’s multiple challenges simultaneously and comprehensively, we aim to break the cycle of conflict in favor of a just, lasting, and prosperous peace.” – Mr. Carson
With the rise of extremism engulfing Mali, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said chaos and violence in Mali does threaten to undermine the stability of the entire region of Sahel.
In her remarks at a UN Secretary General Meeting on the Sahel, Ms. Clinton says in Mali there is an apparent danger posed by violent extremists imposing their brutal ideology, committing human rights abuses, destroying irreplaceable cultural heritage.
Ms. Clinton pointed out that it’s not only the violent extremists, drug traffickers and arms smugglers are also finding safe havens and porous borders, providing them a launching pad to extend their reach throughout not only the region, but beyond.
The violence in Mali has displaced nearly 500,000 people from their homes, and 4.5 million more are suffering from dwindling food supplies.
The United States has already provided more than $378 million to meet the escalating humanitarian needs in the Sahel.
The US asserts that only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in Northern Mali, end the rebellion, and restore the rule of law.
She adds it is imperative that the interim government meet the April deadline for holding elections that are fair, transparent, and free of influence by the military junta.
The outbreak of conflict in northern Mali was caused by clashes between Government forces and Tuareg rebels.
Tuareg rebels launched a new rebellion in the north on 17th of January. Since then, troops have clashed with rebels in several northern towns.
Tuareg nomads are present throughout the Sahel region of Africa. Both Mali and Niger have battled Tuareg uprisings in the last decade.
The Sahel has regularly been afflicted by food insecurity as drought, poor harvests and rising food prices have left the region on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
The Sahel belt of Africa stretches from Senegal to Eritrea.