As I explore further, I have begun to find that failed states like Mali that attract jihadists and armed rebels, are inevitably similar in nature. All these states have similar characteristics that help to foster anarchy, a safe haven for terrorists, and the need for international aid. These characteristics include: a vast and ungovernable territory, usually comprised partially of inaccessible terrain (in this case desert); a weak government with a history of attempted rebellions, different kinds of leadership, weak democracy and rampant corruption; a history of ethnic tensions between two or more groups; and finally, a struggling economy, with a lack of international investment. In examining history, you will find that failed states will often be subject to many of these characteristics, which contributes to their ability to foster illicit activities.
In Mali’s case, all these traits are applicable and allowed rebel and jihadist organizations to proliferate in northern Mali as soon as the government collapsed in March 2012. The collapse created a security vacuum allowing jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and Ansar Dine to migrate to northern Mali and easily capture virtually defenseless cities, such as Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Upon capturing these cities and towns, the extremists imposed strict fundamental Islamic rule, also known as sharia law. In the process committing grave human rights violations and forcing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in southern Mali or neighboring countries. The Islamic groups also allied with a northern Malian ethnic group, the Tuaregs, who had formed the MNLA (National Movement to Liberate the Azawad) in an attempt to gain independence of the northern regions of Mali (also known as the Azawad). Between the MNLA and the jihadist organizations, the northern regions of Mali fell easily and government influence to the region was subsequently severed.
The coup d’état led by Captain Sanogo of the Malian military allowed for these groups to easily take control of the north. What’s worse is that the coup’s objective was to take control of the government because many believed they were being too lenient with MNLA activities in the north. However what ended up happening was a complete collapse of command and authority, which allowed the MNLA more operability and provided the jihadists with a safe haven.
Hopefully this blog articulated the level of absolute disaster that is present in Mali, between the threat of terrorism, ongoing civil war and strife, lack of stable government, and problems with refugees and internally displaced persons, just to name a few. Although international forces (mainly France) intervened, more international support is required in order to help fund state building activities and reestablish a more stable democratic government. I also hope that this blog succeeded in showing how some of the characteristics of a failed state (that I suggested in the introduction), can be applied when examining the conflict in Mali. Going forward I will keep these characteristics in mind and stay attuned to any states that show any of these traits and see if they collapse in the same manner as Mali.