By: Sam Trudeau
The ongoing situation in Mali seems to encompass many of the most pressing challenges facing DDR programs around the world. The United Nations peacekeeping force deployed to help stabilize the country is still basically operating in a conflict zone, despite attempts to enforce a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. State-building and peace-building operations like DDR are therefore undertaken in extremely volatile environments prone to sporadic surges of violence that threaten reversing initial DDR initiatives like setting up cantonment sites for former fighters and training and supervising mixed-patrols. Mali’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) involves three main although relatively fragmented groups: the Malian government, the pro-Tuareg separatist Coordination of Azawad Movement (CMA), and the pro-Government “Platform” which consist of Tuareg and Arab militias. Although radicalized actors such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, various local Al Qaeda offshoots such as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar Al Dine as well as scores of foreign fighters were initially defeated and pushed out of Northern Mali by a French military operation, these armed actors have to some extent been able to regroup and resume operations. Criminal groups vying for smuggling routes have also participated in the violence. Favoring a military approach towards radical groups and excluding their combatants from DDR initiatives creates difficult dynamics on ground. Excluded from Mali’s CPA, they still retain the capability to act as spoilers to peace-building efforts. Besides the presence of radicalized fighters, the secessionist aspirations of the CMA and the central government’s apparent refusal to accept autonomous Tuareg governance in parts of the North have led to a political deadlock regarding the future of the CPA and efforts at reconciliation. The contested legitimacy of the political components of the peace plan seem to create real limitations to what DDR efforts might actually be able accomplish. From this perspective, the peace-building mandate enacted by the United Nations Security Council might to a certain extent be too ambitious given the realities on the ground and ultimately set DDR efforts up to fail. The United Nations Secretary General’s latest report on Mali already outlines some of the difficulties faced by DDR initiatives. Efforts to estimate the number of fighters on all sides eligible for demobilization into cantonment have been slowed down by a lack of cooperation as well as the large number of fighters. Although the number of belligerents designated for cantonment by all sides was initially expected to account for 6 000 combatants, the CMA has itself presented a list of more than 18 000 fighters. The pro-government Platform meanwhile had by the spring of 2016 still not provided its own list of fighters. Another important impediment to DDR efforts in Mali has been the state and international community’s inability to foster development in northern parts of the country. Economic disenfranchisement and a dire lack of basic services through Northern Mali is often identified in public opinion surveys as important driver of the conflict. The success DDR efforts, especially its longterm objectives, are therefore very much dependent on the state and international community’s ability to meet the needs of the populations in the North and create opportunities for sustainable development.