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The Unforeseen 2012 Crisis in Mali: The Diverging Outcomes of Risk and Threat Analyses

The 2012 crisis in Mali, where the state collapsed and terrorist groups took over the north, came as a surprise to many. Mali had been considered a poster-child for democracy and was judged as considerably more stable than its neighbors by leading quantitative indices of state fragility. This article explores how quantitative risk and qualitative threat approaches led to incomplete analyses, and how bureaucratic processes stifled a holistic diagnosis of the situation in Mali. French and Dutch government views are analyzed, adding new empirical information on how ministries and embassies were unwilling to call out disconcerting developments in Mali.

Sergei Boeke & Giliam de Valk
01 April 2019
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism

The crisis that engulfed Mali in early 2012 surprised many policymakers and analysts alike. Within several months a separatist Tuareg uprising had violently evicted the security forces from the north of the country, a handful of junior officers and noncommissioned officers had launched a coup d’état, and subsequently the Tuareg rebels saw their uprising hijacked by three Salafi-jihadist groups. Mali had abruptly turned from a poor but relatively peaceful and stable West-African country to one where an appointed interim government attempted to govern the southern remnant of the country (and keep the influence of the junta limited), with the north—two thirds of the country—de facto an Islamic state controlled by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its partners. As perceived by its neighbors and expressed by UN resolutions and reports, the situation entailed a humanitarian crisis and a threat to international peace and security.1 When the Salafi-jihadist groups unexpectedly attacked southern Mali in January 2013, France intervened and used a large military force to evict the terrorist groups from the north. In July/August 2013 presidential elections were held, and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) of nearly 12.000 peacekeepers was established to help the government reassert its authority in the north and assist the peace process. A May 2013 international donor conference held in Brussels, Belgium, raised €3,25 billion in pledges for aid and reconstruction projects. The costs of the 2012 crisis, in human suffering, have been enormous and Mali is currently characterized by a fragile peace accord and a deteriorating security situation.

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