The ongoing conflict in northern Mali between radical armed groups and Malian and French security forces has become a source of concern to its neighboring countries and beyond. Mali’s instability and fragility is attributed primarily to the scarcity of resources, a weak state and bad governance where understaffed institutions and rampant corruption have contributed to a state of disarray. Just as the security apparatus cannot maintain the government’s sovereignty and authority, state institutions are unable to provide justice, education, and healthcare to Mali’s citizens.
Recently, I participated in a roundtable seminar in Barcelona, Spain on the Malian conflict and its ramifications in North Africa. The event was jointly organized by the Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB), the Stimson Center, and the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF). A group of international experts discussed a range of issues related to Mali’s security crisis. The Malian conflict has triggered dormant grievances and changed the security calculus of the Sahel and North Africa.
The flow of fighters and arms in and out of Mali has threatened stability in other vulnerable Maghreb countries which are experiencing their own challenging political transitions. Tunisia and Libya face a myriad of intertwined internal and cross-border security threats just as they are rebuilding their political institutions and legitimacy as well as restructuring their security apparatuses. Other Maghreb countries that have survived the wave of revolution and upheavals of the past two years are no less vulnerable. Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco are wary of the security and geopolitical repercussions of Mali’s ongoing conflict.
Despite the common challenges, the Maghreb countries have not yet managed to build a regional security cooperation forum, partly because of the rivalry between Algeria and Morocco regarding regional leadership; but also because, with the exception of Algeria, these countries have limited human and material resources to gather intelligence and patrol borders. The current bilateral and trilateral security cooperation initiatives among Algeria and other North African and Sahel countries have not addressed the region’s many challenges.
Notwithstanding the current difficulties, the benefits of regional stability are potentially significant. The conflict in Mali presents an opportunity, particularly for Morocco and Algeria, to reevaluate foreign policy priorities and improve regional cooperation to restore peace and stability in Mali and in the greater region.
Dr. Mohammed El-Katiri is a former Senior Researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice.