This report builds on a combination of desk research and qualitative field study. The project was initiated in April 2018 by a desk research phase that contextualised the conflict dynamics and use of customary justice systems in the Mopti region in the past three years. This was achieved through a review of literature from academia as well as policy-oriented publications by UN agencies, NGOs, INGOs, governments, think tanks, conferences and workshops. In addition, we monitored relevant social media accounts and websites and created a database encompassing the most important events in the Mopti region. The desk research focused on characteristics of justice providers (composition, decision-making, procedures and so on), linkages between actors involved in conflict dynamics (the state, international actors, radical groups), and a selection of case studies that presented remarkable similarities to Mali.[342] This phase was built on CRU’s previous field research and expertise and generated an initial baseline for the field study. Desk research remained a continuous effort throughout the project aimed at updating constantly our understanding of the most relevant dynamics and topics that the report addresses.

The field study entailed having a CRU researcher on the ground in Mali, based in Bamako and Mopti for three weeks between April and May 2018. In collaboration with a local assistant, the CRU researcher scheduled interviews with relevant stakeholders and key informants. The researchers met with, among others, customary chiefs, imams, mayors, judges, members of the civil society as well as ministers and representatives of international partners and forces. The field study enabled insights that emerged from the desk research to be tested and sharpened, obtaining a more local sense of what is going on and allowing for new angles of analysis. The two researchers conducted fifty semi-structured interviews with individuals and fourteen focus groups in French, Bambara and Fulfude. All interviews were transcribed in French. The interviews took the form of semi-structured questionnaires, which allowed for comparison across geographic areas and stakeholders. This particular method was chosen because it is the best one for conducting in-depth interviews with individuals the researchers can meet only once.[343] To ensure reliable and comparable qualitative data, the two researchers agreed on clear instructions on how to conduct the interviews and followed the same questionnaire.

Figure 2
Location of interviews
Location of interviews

Although literature still debates the precise definition of ‘sensitive’ research topics, CRU deemed that the subject of this project could be defined as such because it ‘potentially poses for those involved a substantial threat, the emergence of which renders problematic for the researcher and/or the researched the collection, holding and/or the dissemination of research data’.[344] Although the interviewees were carefully selected with the support of a network of Malian researchers and informed about the nature of the interviews, many among them accepted despite having been subject to such substantial threats. To mitigate the risk of exposure to the renewal or concretisation of these threats, all interviews were conducted in relatively known, semi-public but safe locations to avoid attracting unnecessary attention. Further, we decided that throughout the report interviewees would be anonymous, with the exception of episodes in public domain. In these cases, references to locations and/or the function of the interview are made infra-text. Every individual interview is allocated a random number from one to fifty without specifying any personal details, location or precise date of the interview. Likewise, every focus group is coded with a number between one and thirteen. The author is available to provide more background information about specific interviews upon request and at her discretion.

The case studies included Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zimbabwe.
Russel Bernard, H. 1988. Research methods in cultural anthropology. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.
Lee, R. M., and Renzetti, C. M. 1990. ‘The problems of researching sensitive topics: An overview and introduction’, American Behavioral Scientist, 33(5), 512.