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Mali security nightmare: Why foreign intervention alone won't stop the chaos

A divided Mali could become a haven for armed groups and a security nightmare for the whole of West Africa and far beyond. But foreign military intervention alone will be insufficient to address the turmoil. External troops will need the help of local and regional civil society organizations.

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Members of a pro-government militia in Mali take part in a training session at their base in Sevare, Nov. 12. Op-ed contributor Peter van Tuijl says 'Military intervention in Mali has to be accompanied by a clear plan for dialogue and mediation to support political transition and stabilization of the South, with a similar plan to engage with different parties in the North.'

Adama Diarra/Reuters

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The West African nation of Mali is the subject of several crises at the same time. Against this backdrop, calls for a military intervention in Mali are getting stronger. An area the size of France becoming a free haven for uncontrolled armed groups is a security nightmare for the whole of West Africa and far beyond. But foreign military intervention in and of itself will be insufficient to effectively address the chaos there. External forces would need the cooperation of local and regional civil society organizations.

The legitimacy of what was once a strong democratic state in Africa has suffered from drug trafficking, corruption, a disregard for ethnic tensions, and other forms of weak governance. When armed groups spilled into Mali at the end of the war in Libya, they found a fertile ground of grievances among local communities. In a matter of weeks, the north of Mali was occupied by an ad hoc coalition of different factions.

Having conquered the North, these groups turned on each other. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad (MNLA), with its base in the endemic Tuareg communities, lost out from groups promoting an Islamic state. The North is now under an aggressive patchwork rule of non-state actors, with grave consequences for the safety and rights of local people, in particular women and children.

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