More and people are talking about federalism. Some of the victims of the current conflict agree.
Federalism need not mean separation or independence. But it does mean a shift from a unitary state to one in which provinces have real power to govern themselves.
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The status quo is not working; the polarisation of groups within Mali over the last 50 years has led to instability and semi-permanent revolt. The time has come to engage seriously with those debating the establishment of a federal state in Mali. Part of that will mean addressing the thousands of Malians who are not in Mali. More than , refugees remain in countries neighbouring Mali, including Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Algeria and Niger, victims of the recent conflict.
The few Tuareg who have returned have generally not gone back to their homes in the north but stayed in Bamako, fearing reprisals. Many have been accused of supporting the enemy, and risk being stigmatised. Other worrying stories have been reported, such as the death threats made to a young Arab man after his arrest and then released by the armed forces. Ethnic and community tension in Assongo are the symbol of deep community cleavages. Fostering social cohesion is going to be one of the major challenges, in Mali in general and the north in particular.
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Violence in Kidal in May has highlighted the fact that situation is still volatile and fragile. Banditry, sporadic attacks and ambushes around key northern cities like Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal continue. Traders and famers face difficulties. The return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their communities remains a big challenge for civil society, the government and the international community.
Without their proper reintegration there could be serious consequences. And even before that, refugees must actually cover the distance. Tibuktu, Gao and Kidal are very underdeveloped. There are no good roads, and infrastructure including clean water and access to health care barely exists.
People in the north think that the government in Bamako does not care about them. The lack of communications means the region has been near completely isolated, and the people there feel like the government has abandoned them. This is why they have little attachment to the concept of the Malian state. There are many obstacles on the road to peace in Mali. Political instability has led to issues of security being privileged over other developmental needs. The return and successful reintegration of refugees and IDPs is vital to restarting community life.
It should be clearly understood that the major obstacles to building a sustainable peace in Mali are the political turmoil in the south and semi-permanent revolt in the north. But these are symptoms of a wider problem. There needs to be a culture of inclusive, participatory and constructive dialogue between all segments of society, in north and south, instead of the language of guns. Daniel Ozoukou is a Political Analyst.
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