'Beyond Mali: Understanding the Sources and Prospects of Instability in Northern Africa'. Experts Roundtable Seminar

SECURITY - May 8, 2013

On April 26th, CIDOB and the Stimson Center, with the collaboration of NOREF, organized a one-day experts roundtable seminar named “Beyond Mali: Understanding the Sources and Prospects of Instability in Northern Africa”, in the city of Barcelona. The aim of this seminar was to gather together leading experts from the Sahel, Maghreb, the United States and Europe, in order to analyze the sources of instability in the Sahel, how such instability is affecting the evolution of the Maghreb countries and how regional and international actors can develop comprehensive responses to face this instability in the region.


On April 26th, CIDOB and the Stimson Center, with the collaboration of NOREF, organized a one-day experts roundtable seminar named “Beyond Mali: Understanding the Sources and Prospects of Instability in Northern Africa”, in the city of Barcelona. The aim of this seminar was to gather together leading experts from the Sahel, Maghreb, the United States and Europe, in order to analyze the sources of instability in the Sahel, how such instability is affecting the evolution of the Maghreb countries and how regional and international actors can develop comprehensive responses to face this instability in the region.

The increasing insecurity situation in the region in the last two years – with the war in Mali and the effects of the French intervention- are only part of the issue. In this sense, the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in Libya in October of 2011 highlighted the broad North Africa security continuum that links the Sahel and the Maghreb regions. Since then, the inflow of returnees and arms from Libya, the presence of Islamist, terrorist and criminal organizations, the reinforcement of armed insurgency in northern Mali and the lack of capacity that regional governmental institutions have to control their territory and cover the developmental need of their population, are among the sources of instability that this seminar analyzed.

The first part of the seminar was dedicated to the weak institutions and under-development situation of the region. The participants agreed that the climate related problems, the increasing transnational migration, the impoverishment of the population and the high rates of institutional corruption are some of the reasons that explain the instability in the region. Nevertheless, the participants also noted that these factors are deeply related to the governance problems of the Sahel countries and the lack of state capacity to manage these challenges in a context of scarcity of resources. Thus, all the participants agreed that there is a need for a different development approach in order to reinforce the effective capacity building efforts in these countries and to reduce the problem of institutional corruption without destabilizing even more the situation in the Sahel.

The second part of the seminar analyzed the presence and interactions of terrorist, jihadist, criminal organizations and National Liberation Movements; and its role as a destabilizing force in the region. Participants agreed that the influence of these groups in a context of weak governance can cause a series of challenges for the region and the international community as a whole. For example, the difficulty of the international community to decide which actors are legitimate as interlocutors in any political dialogue (since they are constantly changing and vary by city or region); how should stakeholders deal with the relations between these groups and their use of criminal practices; and, the risk that the French intervention in Mali will increase ethnic tensions that could entrench Salafi Islamism in the region.

The participants also discussed the position of the Maghreb states in relation instability in the Sahel and showed concern about the unstable situation in Algeria and its inability to assume its role as a regional power. This situation was considered the result of increasing social internal discontent; the national insecurity perception of the country (in relation with the conflict of Mali and last January’s attack on the gas plant of Amenas), the delicate health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the prospects of the upcoming 2014 elections.

In the case of Morocco, the participants agreed that the current situation in the region represents an opportunity for the country to gain regional influence (especially after Malian crisis management from Algeria). However, they also emphasized the concern that Morocco has in relation with the flows of populations, arms, drug and trafficking, the radicalization of the Tindouf camps, as well as the possible threat of the Azawad precedent for national sovereignty in the region.

Given this regional context, participants posed provocative questions that should be taken into account regarding future scenarios that could emerge in the Maghreb and the Sahel region. Particularly about what could state collapse in Algeria mean for the Sahel region and what results could be of increasing arms being bought by Algeria and Morocco.

To close the seminar, the experts analyzed the international responses to instability in northern Africa and raised concern about the United Nations Security Council authorization of a UN multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). They expressed their scepticism about the multidimensional dimension nature of the mandate by which the mission will have to cover a wide spectrum of activities (including the deliver of security, peacebuilding and protection of civilian activities) given the low successful record that UN missions have in this kind of mandate. Second, because the “Stabilization” concept used by the UN Security Council to define the mission in Mali could imply a greater use of force to secure unstable areas. Third, the possible responses of non-state actors to the military component of MINUSMA and the Counter-terrorism operations of the French army which could put in risk the security of UN agencies and other non-governmental organizations. And finally, the lack of capacity of the UN to train the troops that will be part of the mission and the impact that these poorly trained regional troops with certain problems of accountability records might have on the ground.

The participants agreed that that the international community should find the way to encourage an inclusive political dialogue, develop an international development approach (that focus on the identification of local needs, the use of local resources and includes the local ownership of the strategy) and, finally, promote international forums to ensure donor coordination.

What happens in the following months and years will be crucial for the development and security of the region and the international community as a whole. International seminars, like the one held by CIDOB and Stimson Center, should strengthen and foster a dialogue between regional and international scholars and policy makers. All of it with the work towards the long-term understanding of the human, national and regional security environments that is needed in order to support programs and policies that can ameliorate the most pressing challenges of the region.

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