- Drug Trafficking, Violence and Politics in Northern Mali | Crisis Group
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Hide Footnote It was up to the main traffickers or their relatives, members of official delegations, to ensure that their interests were not threatened and that those of their rivals were not favoured.
Drug Trafficking, Violence and Politics in Northern Mali | Crisis Group
This has made a connection possible, albeit discreet and limited, between the inter-Malian political process supervised from Bamako and local initiatives that can be complementary. Representatives of armed groups who signed the peace agreement have sought to isolate the clashes between traffickers so that they no longer involve either the CMA or the Platform coalition.
Much of the discussions bore on issues of justice and reparation after the CMA strongly condemned attacks on civilians in Kidal by a GATIA military leader in the spring of For its part, the Qadis Commission did not respond to complaints filed by traffickers whose cargo had been intercepted. There is no guarantee, however, that this local conflict management mechanism would survive renewed tensions between the CMA and the Platform coalition, or intense clashes between traffickers, especially since many trafficking networks are beyond the control of CMA and Platform coalition representatives. Nevertheless, at this stage it is the only means accepted by the signatory groups for reducing the violence associated with drug trafficking.
Measures to fight drug trafficking in Mali remain limited in scope and effect. Most national and international public actors recognise the need to combat organised crime, but many of them abdicate responsibility for doing so, on the grounds that it is not within their competence.
At its inception, the OCS had representatives in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, but suffered from a lack of resources that prevented it from carrying out large-scale operations. It recently reappointed several agents to the north, but the bulk of its staff and operations are now concentrated in the south. The OCS has made most of its seizures in the south and particularly in Bamako.
A certain number of seizures can also be credited to the Malian customs particularly in the Kayes region, in the south west of the country , mainly of Indian hemp produced in Ghana or Nigeria and destined for Senegal, as well as cocaine.
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Hide Footnote The last major cocaine seizure in the south took place in at Nara Koulikoro region , close to the border with Mauritania; the confiscated drugs then went missing. For example, a Nigerien police operation last June led to the incineration of 2. This operation, however, may be simply the result of a settling of scores between Nigerien trafficking networks. If the fight against drugs became an instrument of rivalries between trafficking networks, it could increase the violence associated with trafficking.
Crisis Group interviews and email correspondence, Nigerien army officer, official of an international agency combating organised crime, Bamako, April and June These rumours persist though the authorities deny any such connections. In the north of the country, seizures are rare and the fight against drugs is often the subject of local political manipulation. In , Colonel Gamou, then commander of army operations and strongman of the Imrad community, on which the Malian presidency relied, carried out a major cocaine seizure in Kidal.
It led to the arrest of several traffickers from Ifogha and Kounta communities, who were then rivals of the Imrad community and of the Tilemsi Arabs, who were supported by the state.
Crisis Group interviews and email correspondence, Kidal elected representative, member of an armed group, Bamako, March and July Hide Footnote Since , no major drug seizure has taken place in the north, other than a few seizures of tramadol, a potent analgesic, partly intended for local consumption. Hide Footnote No major seizure of hashish has reportedly been carried out in northern Mali since the end of the s, or possibly even before. State defence and security services officials will be ineffective as long as they are not fully redeployed to the north, the balance of power remains with trafficking groups that have enough political influence to hinder investigations.
Hide Footnote Several cases of pressure on state agents in Gao and Timbuktu, particularly between and , have been reported. No seizures have taken place there recently despite the gradual deployment of close to security and defence personnel since Most international actors in the Sahel make fighting organised crime a priority.
Hide Footnote For its part, the G5-Sahel, a joint initiative of five countries in the region Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger , has in its mandate fighting cross-border organised crime, of which drug trafficking is an essential component. Yet there is a significant gap between strategic ambitions and operational reality.
Hide Footnote In Mali, it ranks well below implementation of the peace agreement, anti-terrorist operations and trying to stop clandestine migration. Hide Footnote Its activities mainly concern strategic advice, training and coordination between security actors. As such, it can play a useful role in general reorganisation of internal security services driven by the Ministry of Security. But in the field, its action, mainly concentrated in Bamako, has up to now done little to curb drug trafficking in the north of the country, where Malian forces are redeployed very weakly.
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Hide Footnote These links, often suggested but hard to bring to light, make police interventions particularly delicate. Hide Footnote Most international actors say they do not know who to depend on within the Malian state apparatus to act against drug trafficking. Hide Footnote Without more willingness on the part of governments to fight drug trafficking, it will remain unsuccessful. Hide Footnote In Mali, Barkhane operations targeting the logistics flows of jihadist groups sometimes enable incidental interception of drug shipments.
Hide Footnote In northern Niger, Barkhane has already intercepted shipments of hashish during operations that did not have fighting trafficking as a goal. Hide Footnote But the French military operation is not intended, at least for the moment, to replicate such seizures. International forces are, however, in ambiguous situations when they collaborate for the purposes of counter-terrorism with armed groups that they know are also linked to trafficking networks.
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Hide Footnote while others, including diplomats, even believe that if these flows can not be interrupted it is better to help direct them to allies rather than to groups linked to jihadists or to other countries in the sub-region. Hide Footnote It is difficult to know if these positions are only personal predilections or if they reflect an unofficial political strategy.
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But in practice, if not in intent, certain French military interventions are influencing the drug trafficking economy. The fight against drug trafficking has had few real successes and remains a challenge for all states engaged in it. Hide Footnote To be effective, it should be global and coordinated among the authorities in the countries of production, transit and destination.
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At the same time, strategies should be developed on a case-by-case basis according to regional and national contexts. In the Sahel, efforts must focus on the most destabilising consequences of drug trafficking for the region and Mali in particular. Other than the specific violence that drug trafficking produces in northern Mali, there is no reason to launch a stronger frontal attack than in the neighbouring countries that are also transit or even production areas. Most of the trafficking comes from a single product, cannabis resin, which a growing number of states are legalising for regulated use.
The most recent is Canada, in October Le dernier en date est le Canada en octobre In northern Mali, prohibition is unrealistic in the immediate future. Malian authorities and their international partners should first attempt to demilitarise drug trafficking and reduce the associated violence. To do this, they have to go beyond police repression and make use of a wide range of tools. At the end of this process, criminal groups will remain in northern Mali but their ability to generate destabilising violence would be drastically weakened. The goal may seem modest and offend police institutions that are uncomfortable with leaving criminal groups in the region.
Hide Footnote Yet in the short term, demilitarisation is perhaps the only realistic objective, especially since many major traffickers and leaders of politico-military groups have an interest in pacifying the circulation of goods, licit or not, in northern Mali. The peace agreement signed in Bamako in deliberately ignored the role of drug trafficking in armed violence. It was thereby deprived of the ability to put in place tools to limit its destabilising effects. This is all the more conceivable as most armed groups and traffickers are looking for local arbitration mechanisms.
The often informal rationale of these pacts is adapted to the practices of local actors but is more difficult to reconcile with the institutional logic of the Malian state and even more so that of international actors. Hide Footnote Yet all have a provisional interest in accommodating themselves to the local pacts: the deals must be conceived of as temporary tools, made necessary by the current extreme weakness of the Malian state in the north of the territory.
They constitute instances of dialogue, consultation and arbitration among the most influential local actors. The commissions set up by these pacts are not intended to be entrusted with policing duties. But they should be allowed to have recourse to the security bodies created by the peace agreement of June , starting with the Technical Security Commission CTS set up to supervise the implementation of the ceasefire and investigate violations.
They could report to the CTS clashes between traffickers that they are powerless to stop. But they should promote regional pacts, which are complementary to the inter-Malian peace process. Without supporting them officially or financially, they could encourage them to set up arbitration mechanisms in each of the five regions of northern Mali to reduce the violence caused by drug trafficking. Limiting access to arms, and in particular heavy weapons, which destabilise the north and feed militias that are able to compete with a weakened state, should be a priority for the Malian state and all international actors.
These armaments are mounted on pickup trucks to protect or attack convoys. In other words, forces such as the MINUSMA, Barkhane and the G5 Sahel have no choice but to work actively toward demilitarisation of drug trafficking in order to fulfil their mandate, whether or not it mentions fighting organised crime. These measures targeting signatory armed groups also have a significant impact on the military resources that the drug traffickers can mobilise.
But this CTS mission is not fully recognised by all the armed groups that are members of it. Though not explicitly targeting the drug traffickers, the DDR program will still have an effect on them by depriving them of the military resources available to the signatory groups. The DDR program has fallen far behind schedule, however, due to disagreements among signatories, particularly on the number and rank of the fighters to be reintegrated.
Resistance to the DDR program is also linked to the benefits that the owners of weapons derive from the work done for the drug traffickers.
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There again, the DDR program and drug trafficking issues cannot be separated. For this reason, to have any chance of success the DDR program must target simultaneously as many armed groups with interests in drug trafficking as possible.
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International forces, and Barkhane in particular, should resist the temptation to favour certain armed groups involved in trafficking because they are participating in the fight against jihadists. Hide Footnote If they are not careful, they risk repeating the mistake made by the Malian state in the s of favouring one coalition of armed groups linked to drug trafficking over another. This would have the effect of further militarising the trafficking components of these groups while dissuading rival groups from disarming, or even encouraging them to arm themselves more.
The solution will rather be demilitarisation of the largest number of trafficking networks. This will certainly not eradicate the problem of drugs circulating in the Sahel but it will limit its worst effects on the stability of northern Mali. The gradual demilitarisation of traffickers therefore relies, on one hand, on local arbitration mechanisms that associate drug traffickers and, on the other hand, on an effective DDR process. To this dual approach must be added to coercive means in order to sanction drug traffickers who refuse to commit to the path of demilitarisation.
The Technical Security Commission set up by the Inter-Malian peace agreement could impose sanctions to increase the pressure on these actors. It should condemn repeated violations of the rules for registration of convoys and confiscate the heavy weapons from unauthorised convoys that belong to signatory armed groups. This sanction, the only one provided for by the CTS, is hardly being implemented at the moment. In the past, signatory groups boycotted the CTS when it denounced their shortcomings or non-observance of the rules. Its involvement would be all the more useful that the international mediation that sits on it has gained a greater power of arbitration between the parties since the signing of the Peace Pact on 15 October , an additional document which is supposed to revive the implementation of the agreement.
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