Northerners need to be worked into Mali’s post-conflict security plan. It is evident that southerners, when confronted by threats in the north, feel their best plan is to retreat back home to the south. Northerners have a stake in defending their homes, know the terrain, know the climate, know the local actors, and would be more invested and better suited to maintain a stable north. In light of the collaborative statement “Appeal from the Holy Land to Spare Blood” issued in Mecca from the Sheiks and Imams of Mali, Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina, Nigeria and Chad; and the unified retreat of Ansar Dine from Timbuctou and Gao, there are openings up in the tensions for dialogue.
Ag Gahly, the master opportunist, has change his hat again (just when the hot seat was getting too hot), and is calling for peace with Mali and with the MNLA, and proposing efforts to clear out partners MUJAO and AQIM, together. First they open Pandora’s box, then they’re offering to help close it.
If the Malian government chooses to take this fig leaf, there needs to be critical strategizing as to how the southern power can integrate and establish relationships of trust for the long-term with northern rebellion-prone leaders like Ag Gahly. The government cannot afford to play naïve and create yet another un-inclusive, unenforceable peace treaty. Northerners are fatigued by the southern government, that says but does not do. As international eyes our on Mali and anxious to see how these tensions become resolved, the Malian government has a unique opportunity. The government should include in the peace treaty measures of support (community development initiatives, local security restructuring and job creation especially for youth) for the disenfranchised northern groups within its bounds and work to create more collaboration and communication between peoples of the north and south – not just with the bureaucratic heads, but between citizens, to establish a climate of trust and understanding. What Mali decides to do, other nations will witness, and their actions can change the course of how divided states resolve their conflicts; acting with foresight and understanding is much more effective than the shortsighted, closed-door peace treaty. Whatever gets put down on paper needs to go beyond the paper. Mali has for too long been living as if in a divided state, the northern and the southern, and calling it whole. Malian leaders should not perpetuate the myth any longer, its time to be accountable for all Malians. After all, the majority of northerners want to see a united Mali, and they hope their government is there with them.