Where is Mali going? Evolution scenarios

By Nicolas Normand

In 2017, the Center for Studies and Reflection in Mali (CERM) and Friedrich Ebert Stifung (FES) published four detailed scenarios for the possible evolution of Mali for 2030 : 1 / The permanent crisis; 2 / Mali on the move; 3 / Modest recovery; 4 / Chaos. The main determinant of these scenarios was the mode of governance in Bamako and in the regions that eventually became autonomous. The legitimacy of the leaders – and therefore the adhesion of the populations to a collective project – was a decisive variable, as was national and social cohesion, while also taking into account possible variations in international support.

Since then, it appears that the growing impact of jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, little taken into account in previous scenarios, could become another major determinant. The CERM and FES scenarios also did not consider the possibility of negotiations with the jihadists, which are now topical or at least mentioned.

Also, four types of scenarios seem schematically conceivable in the medium long term, from best to worst: an end to the crisis, an extension of the internal conflict in a relative status quo or slow decay, a partial peace by negotiation with some of the jihadists and, finally, a Mali dominated and transformed into a terrorist center by Daesh or even delivered to chaos.

It goes without saying that everything must be done in favor of scenario 1 to end the crisis. Only partial application of the necessary measures would result in a scenario 1a of “modest recovery” which we have not detailed (although very possible), but which would be a mitigation of scenario 1.

Scenario 1: exit from the crisis

It would result the success, after years of fighting against armed extremist groups, of major reforms to address the local and national roots of the insurgency.

This would imply in particular:

    • a national army having overcome its initial flaws and weaknesses, through energetic leadership, with integrity and with assistance (equipment, technical support, intelligence) better suited to the international community.
    • the deployment by the State in rural areas of public services (security, justice, education, infrastructure, health centers, economic projects) that are efficient, honest and appreciated by the populations; development aid would support this transformation; state authority would be restored.
    • marginalization of jihadist groups and a program for the demobilization / reintegration of former jihadists, with de-radicalization, as well as the supervision of religious abuses through actions and programs to be defined.
    • exemplary governance in Bamako to meet these challenges and be appreciated by the population. In addition to the fight against corruption and the end of impunity, major reforms would be necessary, including against the gray economy in order to broaden the tax base and budgetary resources, currently below 15% of GDP. .
    • Consensual application of the Algiers agreement making it possible to set up largely autonomous regions, with legitimate authorities in the eyes of the populations, while respecting the territorial integrity of Mali.
    • international aid, finally coordinated in earnest, having accepted that the bulk of its resources should be used in a trust fund which should be managed like an investment budget by a joint Malian / donor college.
    • finally, a demographic transition (with a proactive program to control the birth rate), so that education and job creation can eventually keep pace with population growth.

The international community now realizes that this is a long-term program. President Macron has thus defined a four-pillar strategy: fight against terrorism, reinforcement of armies, governance, development and return of the state. But this strategy should be supported over the long term by a very strong quantitative and qualitative international effort to avoid the following degradation scenarios.

Scenario 2: Extending the Status Quo and Rotting

This scenario would be characterized by the absence of a saving burst, first in Bamako, where the political class and the upper military hierarchy would continue their predation on the State, its administrations and the army, but also at the level of the international community, who would continue not to take the measures corresponding to the gravity of the situation. International aid would remain characterized by disorder and a serious lack of coordination.

The international force Takuba, in this hypothesis, would fail in particular to demonstrate the operational effectiveness expected of it, and the same would apply to the G5 Sahel joint force. MINUSMA would remain static and would be marginalized. Major difficulties would persist on the security, political, social and economic levels.

It would also be likely that the current transition at the head of the country led by Colonel Goïta will continue well beyond the 18 months theoretically planned, but without the State being able to initiate a real overhaul, which would also slow down support. international. The peace and reconciliation agreement resulting from the Algiers process would not see any significant progress, due to lack of consensus in Bamako on its application and due to mistrust between the signatories of the said agreement. The signatory armed groups would share control of the territory in the north with the jihadists. The areas controlled by these and other armed groups would tend to expand, as well as the number of victims of violence. State officials would now only be present in the largest cities.

Note that this scenario 2 is unstable and would be likely to slide towards scenarios 3 or 4 unless there is a real national upturn.

Scenario 3: negotiation with some jihadists for partial peace

This temptation is already strongly expressed in the face of the current impasse, in particular by the conclusions of the “inclusive national dialogue” (2019) to negotiate with Iyad Ag Ghali, the Tuareg leader of the GSIM , a support group for Islam and Muslims, affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Amadou Koufa, the head imam of the katiba of Macina (in central Mali, affiliated with GSIM). The idea is that it would be preferable or necessary to agree “between Malian brothers”.

At this stage, dozens of local agreements have already been concluded between jihadists and community leaders or village militias, some under the aegis of foreign organizations (notably the Swiss NGO “Center for Humanitarian Dialogue”), among others in the circles of Niono and Koro (central Mali). In general, it involves imposing Sharia law, veiling women, removing state representatives, replacing public schools with a madrasah and the French language with Arabic, in exchange for security allowing residents to continue their agricultural or other activities. This securing of the territory by extension of a radical Islamism and disappearance of the State could continue, the control of Bamako on its territory being reduced to the minimum portion.

In addition, Iyad Ag Ghali let it be known that he would accept a dialogue subject to the withdrawal of “foreign forces”, which would clearly ensure his domination, while Koufa rejected a priori the idea (“God does not negotiate, victory or death ”), but is however hierarchically subject to Iyad Ag Ghali.

The consequences of a possible negotiation with Iyad would probably be as follows: first of all a necessary rupture of Iyad with AQIM (not open to a compromise), hence the persistence of a terrorism inspired by Al-Qaeda, even if that – this would obviously be very weakened by the withdrawal of Iyad, which would a priori pacify part of Mali. In the rest of the territory, the question of the rival jihadist movement EIGS (Islamic State in the greater Sahara) would remain unresolved. EIGS could even recover all the disappointments of Iyad’s turnaround.

Iyad would undoubtedly ask, in addition to an amnesty for him and his associates, the control of the region of Kidal (in the north of Mali). There would then be a possible unblocking of the Algiers agreement, but to its benefit as regards this region, which would become almost an independent emirate (Kidal is already de facto very autonomous), dominated by the Tuareg Ifoghas reunified by Iyad (the majority of Ifoghas are on the side of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), an armed group signatory to the Algiers Agreement). Kidal would remain officially attached to Mali as long as the Malian state pays him its share of national resources provided for by the Algiers agreement (30% for the regions). Iyad would also ask, out of fidelity to his ideas, the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Bamako, but this would undoubtedly be partly negotiable region by region, with some respect for local opinion or reactions. Locally, this could be a moderate model, little different, excluding regionalization, from the case of Mauritania.

The example of Kidal would nevertheless orient Mali towards a federal model of region-states (as anticipated by the Algiers agreement) possibly risking a break-up.

In addition, within the autonomous regions (especially in Kidal), inter-community clashes could also occur, between different categories of Tuaregs in the north (Ifoghas versus imghads, etc.) or between communities, in particular in the event of Arab-Tuareg domination over the sedentary populations in the north.

To pacify an unstable region on their southern border, the Algerian authorities would no doubt be led to exercise de facto supervision over northern Mali.

If the situation worsens, scenario 3 may well slip into scenario 4.

Such a scenario 3 would however come up against obstacles: Bamako could hardly accentuate its loss of control of Kidal without raising strong national objections. On the other hand, the Tuareg Imghads would resist the domination of Iyad in Kidal.

Scenario 4: chaos or the domination of the EIGS

This last scenario would be the chaos or the final domination of the EIGS on Mali or on a significant part of its territory, Bamako and other cities in the south perhaps escaping. be to this fate.

It could be a situation similar to that experienced by Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019, the Daesh caliphate having locally provoked massacres and organized or inspired terrorist acts elsewhere, until the massive military intervention by the international community.

For their part, the CERM and the FES had imagined in 2017 in their scenario entitled “Chaos” another possibility than the domination of Daesh, that of a “Mali divided into two or more entities, themselves weakened by risks major socio-political implosion. The population has dispersed, following inter and intra-community conflicts and repeated politico-military crises ”. In the latter type of scenario, “the population no longer recognizes its national army, but factions which secure different regions”.

The common point of these variants of chaos would be instability, insecurity and precariousness probably installed in a lasting way. The risk that Daesh will exploit this situation and also threaten other regions from the Sahel, in particular Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, and including France where there is a large diaspora of Sahelian origin, does not should not be overlooked.

Finally, a possible regrouping of the northern regions in the name of a pseudo independent “Azawad”, Islamic or not, would be particularly unstable, because undermined by inter-Tuareg and inter-community clashes.

This worst-case scenario is undoubtedly improbable or at least unstable, because neither Algeria, nor the Western international community, nor AQIM would accept its establishment over time. Fighting would then have every chance to develop between GSIM and EIGS and with foreign intervention forces.


The risks of scenarios 2, 3, at worst 4, and of a shift from scenario 2 to scenarios 3 or 4 which could ultimately result from a downward trend that has been observed in Mali for several years, can be avoided by mobilizing national Malian and international that must be undertaken and encouraged, for a recovery (scenario 1 or at least 1 bis) of general interest.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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