Promoting Peace in Mali

  • Carter Center staffers Ntole Kazadi (white shirt and glasses) and Deo Mbuto (blue jacket) meet with journalists in Gao to discuss obstacles blocking implementation of Mali’s 2015 peace agreement. (All photos: The Carter Center/ S. Ellison)

As the 5th Anniversary of Mali’s Peace Agreement Nears, Carter Center Continues to Monitor Its Implementation

When the Carter Center team arrived in the northern Mali town of Gao one warm, blustery afternoon in February, tensions were running high.

Two days earlier, a high-ranking general had been assassinated while tending his animals just outside of town. The killing cast a pall over a major achievement that took place earlier that morning: the deployment of the first 240 soldiers in the newly reconstituted Malian army, made up of combatants from three different elements that fought against each other during Mali’s civil war.

In meeting after meeting that day and the next, the Center's team noted two prevailing emotions: fear and frustration.

The Carter Center serves as the Independent Observer of the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement that ended the civil war, which began in 2012 when rebels took up arms in an unsuccessful attempt to win independence for the north, a vast but sparsely populated area in the Sahara Desert. The Independent Observer's job is to determine whether each of the agreement's 78 items has been completed – and if not, why not.

Snippets of life in the northern Mali town of Gao, shot by a Carter Center staffer through the window of an armored U.N. vehicle taking them from one meeting to the next.

The Center staffers who visited Gao in February were there to gather information for the team's latest report, released in April, which primarily focused on persistent disagreements and delays involving two key components of the agreement – the deployment of the new army and electoral and administrative redistricting.

At the time of their visit, the country was about six weeks from finally holding legislative elections that were supposed to have taken place in 2018, but whether those elections could or should be held was the topic of much debate.

"I doubt it is possible to hold elections in all locations," a woman named Mariam said during a meeting with civil society leaders. "Security is worrisome. Every day people are being killed. We are afraid."

Another woman said she believed the elections could take place if the military provided security: "Elections must take place. There is no country in the world where elections should not take place."

  • A little boy befriends a U.N. peacekeeper in Gao while another tries to sell a container of gasoline.

In the end, the election did occur, even after armed men kidnapped the longtime leader of the opposition while he was campaigning near Timbuktu. But turnout was exceedingly low. And it wasn't just fear that kept people from the polls; it was also a feeling of disenfranchisement.

"The peace agreement calls for creating new regions and districts so that people in the north can choose who represents them in the National Assembly," said Ntole Kazadi, who heads the Independent Observer's Bamako office and went on the February trip to Gao. "Nearly five years after the signing of the agreement, that hasn't happened. Underrepresentation was one of the issues at the heart of the conflict, and until it’s resolved, there’s not likely to be lasting peace."

When the Carter Center team met with military leaders in Gao, they heard about another long-festering frustration: the glacial pace of integrating former rebel fighters into the Malian army.

The men said that virtually all of 2018 and 2019 had been wasted as the government and former rebel leaders squabbled over the reintegration process. They described feeling neglected by the government and international community, even though they are risking their lives to do their jobs.

Said one commander, who lives near the border with Mauritania, "I can’t go to my home because I will be killed. I rent a house here, and I have no money for my family."

Since that meeting, another 750 or so soldiers have been integrated and deployed, but that number falls far short of the need.

"Both the government and the former rebels are to blame for these delays," said Kazadi. "They don't trust each other, and they don't have the same goals, so they’re calculating and maneuvering to try to get what they want at the expense of creating a strong and cohesive military, which Mali sorely needs to put down ever-increasing jihadists attacks and interethnic violence."

The fifth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement is June 20, and some are grumbling that given the limited progress in implementation, the agreement is becoming irrelevant.

"We hear discontented people saying the peace agreement is no longer valid, but they're wrong," said Kazadi. "The agreement gives the framework for justice, and that's always relevant. The agreement provides for decentralization, and that’s always relevant because people need to feel they play a part in their governance. The agreement provides for security. The agreement provides for stability. Implementing it is important for the future of Mali."

Related Resources

Learn more about Observing the 2015 Mali Peace Agreement »

Under the Malian Sun: The Carter Center Observes the Implementation of a Peace Agreement in Mali »

‘We Don’t Want War’ »
Leaders and everyday citizens in central Mali seek solutions to tribal and political conflict that has disrupted their lives.

Malian Mothers Want Peace So They Can See Their Children »

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