from 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2013 | Foreign Policy
by Louise Arbour
Sahel: Mali, Nigeria, and beyond
Instability in the Sahel region of Africa increased on a number of fronts in 2012, and attempts to stem that trend will be high on many countries’ agendas in 2013. Mali — where a military coup toppled the government in March, while separatists and al Qaeda-linked fundamentalists took over the country’s north — tops the list of regional troubles.
The coming year will see both the rollout of a necessary international intervention in Mali, and possibly more important, a political process to reunify the country. On the former, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union have already approved a mission of 3,300 soldiers to help the Malian state wrest control of the northern part of the country from Islamist fighters, pending international endorsement of such a move by the U.N. Security Council.
Fear of an intervention without end has led to reluctance in many quarters about deploying an international force in the vast northern desert. But the risks of inaction are just as great. Getting boots on the ground will take some time, as will the desperately needed restructuring and training of Malian units by a separate EU mission.
On the political side, it is necessary to make sure that the process of reuniting the country is truly inclusive. Some of the groups controlling the north are clearly beyond the pale — they are terrorists, and they are not interested in coming to the negotiation table. Others may be more amenable to a deal. But much depends on the Malian government’s political and military leadership, which remains shaky after the interim prime minister was forced to resign by the military in December. The new and ostensibly more consensual prime minister might facilitate a national dialogue aimed at designing a roadmap to resolve Mali’s political crisis and organizing for elections in 2013. However, with the military coup leaders showing a worrying propensity to remain enmeshed in civilian political life, the country’s future remains uncertain.
The Sahel region also has another deeply worrying conflict in northern Nigeria, where the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths in recent years. The government’s response has been an uneven mix of confused talk about possible negotiations and heavy-handed, often indiscriminate, security efforts that may have aggravated the violence and sent more recruits into the hands of the extremists. Without concerted attention and a dramatic about-face in government policy, look for 2013 to be another bloody year in northern Nigeria.
FULL ARTICLE (Foreign Policy)
Photo: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/Flickr