Just as we thought the situation in Mali couldn’t get worse, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg group that historically sought to liberate northern Mali, and Ansar al-Din, an Islamic group seeking impose Sharia law, have formed a union and declared northern Mali their own.
However, the two groups are still working through their disagreements, particularly on the implementation of Sharia law. The MNLA is calling for a “tolerant” and “moderate” brand of Islam, while Ansar al-Din, which has notable affiliations with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, seeks to impose a severe version of Sharia and “would be willing to cut off hands and heads if the Koran required it.” Locals are now fleeing the region as they fear this form of extreme Sharia law will be imposed.
Political stability in Mali has quickly spiraled out of control. Since March, more than 300,000 people have been displaced, the interim president was bloodied by disgruntled civilians, and the north is now under control of rebel groups with malevolent intentions. The Malian interim government, the United States, and the Economic Community of West African States have all rejected Azawad as an independent state and want to reunify the country. But progress is slow, and extremism is asserting regional influence.
Since 2005, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy for Mali has been based on the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Created under the Bush Administration, the TSCTP is a two-pronged strategy that builds security capacity and trains the Malian military while also taking steps to stem extremism amongst the civilian population.
TSCTP was in effect, a strategy to prevent the current crisis from erupting. At an event at The Heritage Foundation last month, the State Department’s Manoela Borges reassured the audience that State is aware of the problem and taking it seriously but offered little indication of how the Administration intends to improve the strategy.
With no leadership in Mali’s capital city of Bamako and clashing interests in the north, there are few signs that the crisis will be resolved any time soon.
Prudence Ukwishatse contributed to this blog post.