In Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, the livelihoods of most people depend on agriculture and pastoralism. This is especially true in the Mopti region, where a variety of socio-professional groups – such as herders, farmers and fishers – coexist amidst the great natural richness of the inner Delta of the river Niger. Over recent years, poor resource management and subsequent conflict over access to these resources has threatened the livelihoods of virtually every Mopti community.

Many of these conflicts are cyclical: agriculturalists accuse pastoralists of not using designated paths for the movement of animals, resulting in ruined crops; herders accuse farmers of encroaching on their rights to passage; fishermen compete for access to waterways. All of these groups compete with outsiders – such as land investors – who add to the pressure on fragile local equilibriums.

Local governance mechanisms have not prevented the increased escalation of such conflicts. Colonisation and postcolonial decentralisation created a local resource governance system involving numerous authorities whose competing and overlapping mandates have often resulted in chaos rather than order. Formal and traditional justice mechanisms have each often proven incapable of mediating conflicts effectively and bringing justice to the victims. Formal justice is commonly perceived as expensive, lengthy, corrupt, unaware of local norms and dynamics, and abusive. Customary justice often lacks enforcement power and the necessary state support to implement decisions that could prevent conflict escalation.

Since 2015, the increase in communal conflicts in central Mali has created a fertile breeding ground for radical, armed groups – some of which have moved down from the country’s ungoverned and contested north. These groups have become actively involved in the regulation of access to natural resources, as well as in the mediation of related conflicts, to help create local legitimacy for their rule. So far, this dynamic has not resulted in full local acceptance of their governance because many central Malians reject both the imposition of new, conservative religious rules and the violent governance.

That these groups could exploit conflicts to consolidate their power demonstrates that fighting them will not be enough to stop destabilisation in the Mopti region. Only solutions that address the underlying drivers of instability will enable sustainable peace to emerge. This report explores the lack of governance as a structural driver of resource conflict in the region and identifies a mix of short- and long-term measures to increase the legitimacy of the Malian state.

The Mopti region faces multilayered challenges on at least three interrelated levels: humanitarian, security and governance. Addressing the humanitarian situation will require short-term efforts to ensure that resource conflicts do not escalate further. Moreover, medium-term efforts are needed to improve the security in the region as a precondition for the return of the state and to contribute to local reconciliation. In the long term, decentralisation needs to be completed and a hybrid form of governance established to provide security and manage resources to the satisfaction of the local communities. The report’s recommendations build on the needs expressed by local populations and provide concrete, conflict-sensitive steps that decision-makers could follow in their efforts to bring stability to the people of Mopti.