4.1 Introduction

In January 2012, armed insurgencies in northern Mali plunged the country into a spiral of conflict and instability. More than four years after the signing of the 2015 Peace Agreement, the northern regions of Ménaka[178] and Kidal remain controlled by non-state armed actors. While the region of Kidal is controlled by the pro-autonomy coalition Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA – Coordination of the Azawad Movements), the dominant forces in the region of Ménaka are the pro-state militias that have grouped under the Platform coalition. Both regions, especially Ménaka, are caught in a dynamic of protracted inter- and intra-communal conflict against a backdrop of the menacing presence of radical armed groups. Basic service provision, such as education, healthcare and formal justice provision, has deteriorated in the face of continued insecurity and the retreat of state actors from the regions following their occupation by radical armed groups in 2012. Against this backdrop, communities are dependent on traditional authorities and non-state armed actors for basic governance provision.

As discussed at length in Chapter 2, the presence of traditional authorities as both governance providers and intermediaries between society and the state is nothing new. Nonetheless, their role has only been formalised in the process of decentralisation that began with democratisation in the 1990s. Despite its formalisation, the designation of traditional leaders remains determined by local customs and traditions, different in each village, fraction or district.[179] As representatives of these localities, traditional authorities perform the services of public management, for example collecting tax and assembling information on the security context,[180] while similarly conducting dispute resolution and conflict mediation for social reconciliation.[181] In the northern regions of Mali, these latter activities are examples of the primary role that customary justice provision has historically played. Against the absence of formal justice provision in large parts of the country, customary justice systems revolving around the authority of a Qadi, have often acted as the main provider of justice.[182]

These extensive roles and responsibilities of traditional authorities in the pre-2012 era led to the issue of their revaluation (i.e., the strengthening of their position as governance actors in the state) becoming a prominent claim in a 2013 national forum on decentralisation, and was particularly highlighted by CMA representatives throughout the peace negotiations. Article 46 of the 2015 Algiers (Peace) Agreement formalises this through the provision of a roadmap for the reform of the justice system with regard to traditional authorities. In addition, Article 6 calls for the creation of a senate to institute representation of territories – next to traditional authorities, and also representative of women and young people – in a second chamber. As a prerequisite, a revision plan for the constitution is currently being developed.

Yet little is known about how the functioning and legitimacy of traditional authorities has been affected by the shift to armed governance that has taken place in northern Mali since the beginning of the 2012 crisis. This chapter shows that high-level traditional elites in northern Mali have become entrenched in armed governance structures, either as founders of non-state armed groups or as allies of these groups.[183] At the lower level of village and fraction chiefs, the study finds that, while still seeking to exercise their traditional governance functions, traditional authorities are in many cases hampered, sidelined and even threatened against the backdrop of a volatile security situation, their lack of enforcement power and the impact of armed governance on their legitimacy.

The chapter’s final section discusses the implications of these findings for the revaluation strategies currently being developed. It argues that attempts to re-evaluate the position of traditional authorities should:

depart from a clear, almost individualised, understanding of the dynamics in which traditional authorities are embedded

provide measures to protect the physical safety of the civilian population of which they are a part

facilitate exchanges between traditional authorities to enable their mobilisation as local actors for reconciliation

provide training and capacity building, including for Qadis as customary justice actors

establish communication channels to those Qadis in order to support their re-valuation vis-à-vis non-state armed groups as envisioned in the 2015 Algiers Agreement

implement existing legal frameworks that would support the work of traditional authorities while addressing the issue of their declining legitimacy.

The conclusion provides tangible suggestions that would allow each of these recommendations to be put into practice to enable traditional authorities to re-claim their legitimacy as (one of the) representatives of territories.

4.2 Traditional authorities between rebellion and the state

The contemporary role of traditional authorities in northern Mali cannot be understood without reference to the various Tuareg rebellions (1963, 1990, 2006 and 2012). As described in Chapter 2, the Kidal-based Kel Adagh[184] resented their integration into a new Malian state that gained independence from France in 1960. They quickly found themselves at odds with the new Malian government that sought to curb their freedom.[185] Next to complaints about the central government, however, the Tuareg rebellions and their aftermaths also reflected internal power dynamics dating back to colonial alliances and hostilities,[186] as well as internal political conflicts pitting tribal traditionalists against the leaders of lower social strata and politically subordinate tribes in favour of more progressive egalitarian society. These conflict lines explain the Tuareg’s continuous inability to present a united front against the Malian state. Rebel movements and armed governance are marked by strong fragmentation among tribal and social caste lines.[187] These dynamics became particularly pronounced from the 1990 rebellion onwards.[188]

4.2.1 The 1990 rebellion

The dynamics of the 1990-1996 rebellion were very much characterised by power struggles within Tuareg confederations and across ethnic lines. One main cleavage was the one between the noble Ifoghas caste of the Kel Adagh and the lower-tier Imghad caste. The Ifoghas-dominated MPLA engaged in peace negotiations and reached a peace agreement with the Malian government in 1991. A key outcome of this accord was the creation of the Kidal region as an administrative entity of the Malian state (as well as economic concessions for the north). Other rebel representatives, particularly the Imghad and those outside of the Kidal region, felt excluded and resented the Ifoghas rebel leaders and notables for abandoning their demands for independence in favour of their own interests. This resulted in the fragmentation of the rebel movement (see Table 7) and the continuation of the insurgency.[189]

Table 7
Main actors active in the 1990-1996 rebellion[190]

Year of formation


Main organisational principal[191]


Mouvement Populaire pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MPLA)[192]

Initially Tuareg autonomy, later Ifoghas that strove for (and gained) political supremacy within the tribal hierarchy


Front Islamique Arabe de l’Azawad (FIAA)

Arabic nomadic groups

1990 (1991)

Front Populaire pour la Libération de l’Azawad (FPLA) – split from MPLA

Those who had suffered most at the hands of the army + lower social strata and politically subordinate tribes

1990 (1991)

Armée Révolutionaire pour la Libération de l’Azawad (ARLA) – split from MPLA

Lower social strata and politically subordinate tribes (Imghad and Idnan)


Ganda Koy

Songhai population – in response to uncontrolled raids by former Tuareg rebels (backed by the state)

It was not until 1996 that a peace initiative led by traditional leaders of Songhai communities and Tuareg tribal and religious leaders resulted in reconciliatory meetings between all ethnic groups of northern Mali and, eventually, the Bourem (Peace) Pact.[193] Yet the primary leadership of the various armed groups would remain in the fore in later rebellions.[194]

4.2.2 The 2006 rebellion and its aftermath

A process of democratisation, administrative decentralisation, implementation of local democracy, and the integration of former rebels into the Malian armed forces marked the years between the 1990 and the 2006 rebellion. These developments created new arenas where conflicts over pastures and tribal hierarchy were played out. As had been the case during the 1990-1996 rebellion, such local fault lines also defined the shape of the 2006 rebel movement. Indeed, while the 2006 rebels’ demands vaguely resembled those of the 1990s, it is noteworthy that all of the main protagonists of the rebel movement (see Table 8) had been overtly or less overtly engaged in struggles to (re)gain independence and political power.[195] Its main leadership belonged to the Irayahan tribe – who had long contested for the position of leading Ifoghas tribe in the Kidal region – and to the Iforgoumoussen clan/tribe, who had begun to move from an Ifoghas clan to an independent tribe from the colonial period onwards. Absent among the rebels were the Kel Effele – the ruling Ifoghas clan in the Kidal region.[196]

The rebellion also rekindled violence between the Ifoghas and the lower-tier Imghad caste. Lieutenant-Colonel Elhajji Ag Gamou, an Imghad ex-rebel who had been integrated into the Malian armed forces, was co-opted by the Malian state to quash the rebels on the battlefield.[197] Ag Gamou recruited other Imghad to fight the rebels, thereby ‘injecting in [the conflict] local rivalries, typically rooted in disputed access to grazing land, cattle theft or competition over trafficking routes’.[198] The trafficking dimension would continue to remain relevant in understanding local conflict lines in northern Mali, as this era was also characterised by the increased competition over licit and illicit trafficking (that first appeared in the early 1990s), which intensified tensions over control of smuggling routes between different tribes and clans.[199] For example, the Ifoghas Tuareg aligned themselves with the Arabs of Kounta tribe, while Imghad Tuareg joined forces with the Arabs of Lemhar tribe to expand areas of control and influence.[200] Local rivalries were thus not limited to a political agenda but also involved economic interests, as different tribes repeatedly clashed over drug trafficking routes.[201]

Table 8
Main actors in the 2006-2009 rebellion[202]

Year of formation


Main organisational principal[203]


Alliance Démocratique du 23 Mai pour le Changement (ADC)[204]

Ifoghas (Irayakan and Iforgoumoussen tribe) –contenders for political supremacy within the tribal hierarchy


Delta Force (Tuareg army unit fighting the new movements)

Pro-central state Imghad

4.2.3 The 2012 rebellion and its aftermath

Young Tuareg revolutionaries – together with Tuareg fighters who had returned from Libya after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011 – laid the foundations for the 2012 rebellion. Initially part of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), a ‘Tuareg-led but multi-caste and even (aspirationally, at least) multi-ethnic organization’ fighting for an independent state,[205] the Tuareg rebel movement quickly fell prey to fragmentation along ethnic, caste, tribal and generational lines (see Table 9). In addition, although the MNLA’s initial military success was based on a murky alliance with radical armed groups, the latter quickly turned on their allies and took over key northern cities such as Kidal, Gao and Ménaka in mid-2012. This sparked the French intervention ‘Operation Serval’,[206] which conquered the major northern cities with the support of Malian army units under the command of the Imghad Lieutenant-Colonel Elhajji Ag Gamou – thereby strengthening the Imghad’s position vis-à-vis the Ifoghas and Idnan tribe allied with separatist and radical extremist groups.[207]

Table 9
Main actors in the 2012 rebellion[208]

Year of formation


Main organisational principal[209]


Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC) (1998),[210] then al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (2007)

Al-Qaeda brigades consisted of local brigades led by local militants, in Kidal e.g., by a Tuareg militant.


Mouvement National Pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA)[211]

Initially multi-caste, multi-ethnic, later on secular Ifoghas


Mouvement pour l’Unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) – split from AQIM

MUJAO was distinct from AQIM, which was accused of being too influenced by Arab commanders; allied itself with members of Songhai, Fulani, Arab communities. Fulani communities


Ansar Dine

Ighoas Tuareg close to Iyad Ag Ghali


Malian army units assisting the French/Chadian ‘Operation Serval’ against AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine

Pro-central state Imghad


Haut Conseil pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA)[212]

Ethno-religious Ifoghas


Groupe Autodéfense Touareg Imghad et Alliés (GATIA)[213]

Pro-central state Imghad (backed by the state)


Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad (MSA) – split from MNLA/HCUA/MAA

Daoussak and Chamanamas before the split between MSA-C (Chamanamas) and MSA-D).


Jama’t Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimeen (JNIM) – merger of AQIM, al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine and Macina Liberation Front (MLF)

Radical groups

A number of clashes that have taken place between these groups – as well as some fragmentation of groups – are the result of political, ideological and religious differences. Nevertheless, the actor landscape in northern Mali is also determined to a substantial extent by ‘macro-incentives’ (offers to join counter-terrorism efforts along with foreign power, ‘dividends of peace’ accessible through participation in formal peace processes backed by the UN) as well as micro-socially embedded incentives (local business interests, personal or communal rivalries, pressure from tribal constituency).’[214] Armed groups dissolve and recompose themselves to capture these incentives and end up mobilising their communities along ethnic and kinship lines – thereby standing in the way of a unified vision for a stable northern Mali. As the following section will show, these developments have had important consequences for the position of traditional authorities –in terms of their ability both to govern and to present themselves as conflict mediators who can work across vertical and spatial boundaries between armed groups.

4.3 Armed governance as an adaptation mechanism

In the repeated cycle of rebellions since Mali’s independence, the taking up of arms has developed into a local political activity, and hence has increasingly linked traditional authority structures to armed forces. In the context of the 2012-crisis, a logic of armed politics has captured the regions of Kidal and Ménaka, in which non-state armed actors of both the pro-autonomy alliance Coordination des movement de l’Azawad (CMA) in Kidal and the pro-central state Platform coalition in Ménaka have successfully extended their leverage vis-à-vis modern state authorities and traditional authorities. Actors engaged in armed governance have become increasingly inseparable from traditional authorities in both the Kidal and Ménaka regions. This is particularly the case in the Kidal region, where the majority of rebellions originated[215] and where traditional authority has become increasingly inseparable from armed governance. The following sections discuss the role of traditional authorities in armed governance structures in both regions.

4.3.1 Kidal: HCUA creation as an attempt to monopolise force

Over the course of the last decades, the Kel Effele – the ruling Ifoghas clan in the Kidal region – saw their supremacy within the tribal hierarchy threatened in both political and rebel arenas. Although the Kel Effele firmly controlled the new democratic institutions, the much more numerous Idnan and Imghad castes had begun to form an electoral challenge at local level.[216] Throughout the 2006 and 2012 rebellions, the Imghad Lieutenant-Colonel Elhajji Ag Gamou had similarly solidified his position in the region, as well as his relationship with the Malian state, by organising a band of Imghad armed fighters to counter the Ifoghas’ rebel forces. The National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) similarly posed a threat to the Kel Effele’s position, as they did not control the leadership of this armed group responsible for starting the 2012 revolution. The MNLA was led by the young Idnan politician Bilal Ag Acherif, who represented a younger and more cosmopolitan generation threatening the established traditional order.[217]

As opposed to the 2006 rebellion, however, which was similarly kick-started by forces outside of their sphere of influence, the Kel Effele nobles did not remain on the sidelines of the new rebellion. Intallah Ag Attaher, the amenokal (tribal chief/executive authority) of the Ifoghas declared his open support for the MNLA.[218] His son Alghabass Ag Intalla became the number two figure in Ansar Dine – an extremist group that received financial and military backing from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose military success initially supported (directly or indirectly) the MNLA’s take-over of the north. Yet these alliances lasted only as long as no other opportunity to gain control over the rebel effort presented itself. As discussed above, Ansar Dine and its hard-line radical allies quickly turned on the MNLA in April 2012 and gradually took over control of the northern cities.[219]

In 2013, when the French Operation Serval overturned jihadist control of these cities, sometimes with the help of MNLA units, which now presented themselves as counterterrorist forces, the Ag Intalla wing of Ansar Dine distanced itself from the militant group and rebranded itself as Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) in February 2013 then as the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) in April 2013.[220] Several interlocutors argue that the creation of the HCUA was a strategic move to prevent the sidelining of Ifoghas traditional elites vis-à-vis the youth-led and more secular MNLA – which had regained control over Kidal – as well as Imghad forces led by Elhajj Ag Gamou.[221] In this sense, the creation of a non-state armed group linked to the amenokal family in Kidal formed a continued adaptation of traditional governance structures in the context of armed politics and in the face of societal challenges to their dominant hold over governance. It would turn out to be a successful move.

In 2014, the HCUA reached a political agreement with the MNLA and MAA to form the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA). As noted by Thurston (2018), ‘The CMA represented something of an Ifoghas-Arab front that could face down challenges from Ag Gamou and the Imghad while negotiating with the Malian government.’[222] Further divisions within the MNLA allowed the HCUA to become the CMA’s dominant military force – thereby reinforcing the Kel Effele’s dominant position, at least within the city of Kidal.[223] Armed governance in Kidal has therefore become characterised by a tightly knit and highly structured relationship between high-level traditional authorities and the HCUA (CMA) that upholds the local status quo.[224]

As a consequence, respondents from the Kidal region (both Kidal municipality and Anéfis) describe the relationship between traditional authorities and armed groups as one of mutual respect. One respondent compares the relationship to the one existing between family members: ‘Relations between these two groups of actors are good and they maintain the relationship as a father and son would’,[225] and ‘As for the signatory groups, it should be recalled that they come from the same authorities of which they are the sons.[226] Another stated that ‘The signatory groups relied heavily on us to govern the area.’[227] At the same time, armed group representatives have been described as key leaders of the community, to which certain traditional authorities will act as advisers.[228]

4.3.2 Ménaka: military alliances as a counter-balance

Whereas the relationship between traditional elites and armed groups in the HCUA (CMA) is very much characterised by attempts of Ifoghas traditional elites to maintain their power base, the dynamic between traditional authorities and armed groups in Ménaka is less intertwined. It is best explained as different armed leaders (and their tribal constituencies) trying to achieve representation in the peace process by countering the dominant hold over armed groups of those higher up the tribal hierarchies. As opposed to the situation in Kidal, the fusion of traditional authority figures and armed group leaders is therefore less clear-cut in Ménaka– with the fragmentation of armed groups being more the result of those wielding arms seeking to stake a claim in the peace process than of traditional leaders trying to control armed group leaderships.

Indeed, the case of the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) shows how the interests of armed group leaders and local security concerns are often a driving force of armed group formation. The MSA was formed in September 2016 to represent the Tuareg populations from Gao and Ménaka, with a leadership tightly linked to the Daoussak and Chamanamas Tuareg confederations in the region. The MSA’s main leaders – Moussa Ag Acharatoumane and Col. Assalat Ag Habi – were founding members of the MNLA, but they ‘increasingly came to resent the predominance of Kidal and Ifoghas Tuareg within the CMA’.[229] In addition, and amidst (unfounded) speculations about renewed peace negotiations, this move could also be read as a pre-emptive strike by Daoussak and Chamanamas fighters and communities to capture the (material) benefits of a new peace process.[230]

The Douassak-Chamanamas coalition would only last for two months, as in November 2016 conflict over the movement’s leadership subsequently resulted in a split between the Chamanamas MSA (MSA-C) and Douassak MSA (MSA-D).[231] In the face of continued violent attacks at the hands of extremist groups, as well as violent conflict between the Douassak and Fulani herders in Mali-Niger borderlands (see Box 12), the MSA-D allied itself with the pro-state GATIA (see Box 12), the Malian Armed Forces and French counterterrorist forces, and organised joint patrols.[232] In 2019, this resulted in the MSA-D formally joining the Platform coalition – thereby reconfiguring itself into a participant of the peace process.[233]

Box 12
Role of ethnic-based armed groups in the Tuareg-Fulani conflict in the Mali-Niger borderland[234]

As ethnic-based non-state armed actors/militias, GATIA and MSA have played a key role in spiralling the inter-communal conflict dynamic that has been shaping the Mali-Niger borderland. Fulani civilians have not only been repeatedly targeted following allegations of cooperation with jihadist groups,[235] but also been repeatedly attacked by GATIA and MSA. Since the start of the operation led by the MSA-GATIA coalition in early February 2018, MINUSMA[236] and local organisations have accused the armed groups of executing at least 95 alleged terrorists and bandits in the border region, mostly of Fulani origin.[237] As such, the reliance of traditional authorities on the policing role of the MSA-GATIA alliance in the absence of reliable state structures in the region reinforces a dangerous spiral of inter-communal conflict.

The MSA leadership’s decision to mobilise a new armed group – although informed by consultations with, and pressure from, local notables[238] – was hence more independent from the traditional authority structure than was the case in Kidal. This is not to say that the traditional authorities and armed groups work independently from one another. The political bureau of the MSA regularly exchanges with a consultative board composed of around 20-30 traditional authorities and other notables. These are consulted to advise the MSA elite on decisions concerning the population.[239] In a similar vein, in the community of Alata, quarterly meetings between armed group representatives and traditional authorities act as a framework to organise protection in the community and to accommodate the exchange of information,[240] resulting, for example, in the organisation of escorts for traditional authorities.[241] Consequently, several traditional authorities express a feeling of being taken seriously by armed representatives, some of them contrasting it with their relation vis-à-vis state authorities: ‘the customary chiefs are advisers to key figures in the movements, they also help their leaders to make the right decisions’.[242]

The second pro-state armed group in Ménaka, the Self-Defense Group for Imghad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA), exemplifies a similar dynamic. Formed in 2014 by the Imghad Lieutenant-Colonel Elhajji Ag Gamou, GATIA would become the main face of loyalist militias in opposition to northern secessionism.[243] It is part of the pro-state Platform coalition, in which Ag Gamou is a dominant figure. As noted by Thurston (2018), ‘amid Ifoghas-Imghad rivalries, the CMA and Ag Gamou [thereby] remain major poles of political power amid a fragmented north’.[244] Ag Gamou’s powerful position resulted in his nomination as a traditional leader of the Imghad in 2014/15.[245] This allowed him to unify his official position as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Malian army, leader of a pro-unity militia and traditional tribal leader in one person. Yet ties between GATIA and the main traditional leadership in the Ménaka region have not been formalised. Although the amenokal of the Iwillimmidan – the main Tuareg confederation in the region – has allied himself with GATIA, he has not become a formal member of the group.[246]

In contrast to the situation in Kidal, in the region of Ménaka the relationship between armed governance and high-level traditional authorities is more that of an alliance than of overlap – and perhaps one more of pragmatism than proactive protection of the status quo. Amid protracted insecurity and state absence, traditional authorities strategically allied themselves with armed actors. As noted by a 2018 UN Panel of Experts report, the region is prone to a host of violent conflicts that have also become increasingly intertwined with the ongoing offensive of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) – the local Islamic State branch – and counterterrorist operations supported by GATIA and the MSA.[247] In this context, where non-state armed groups hold a monopoly over violence, and where communities’ alliances with pro-state armed forces have increasingly made them subject to extremist attacks,[248] the importance of armed group leaders vis-à-vis traditional authorities has risen significantly. As stated by one representative of GATIA: ‘Those who take up arms become chiefs. There is no traditional chiefdom. Each community has its own movement, and its leader is not the village nor the fraction chief – it’s the military leader.’[249]

Box 13
The relationship between traditional authorities and extremist groups

Given the threatening presence of radical groups in both regions under study, and the rising number of extremist attacks in the Ménaka region as a response to the counter-terrorism alliance that GATIA and MSA have entered into with Barkhane,[250] our local researchers did not ask questions about extremist groups. Nevertheless, the traditional authorities we interviewed indicated that they have little room other than to submit to the power that controls the ground. As formulated by one respondent: ‘The relations here are such that the one that is weak has to adapt to the one that is strong. Traditional authorities are cautious not to create any problems.’[251] Yet others added that radical extremist actors did not look favourably upon traditional authorities: ‘The radical groups oppose our authority, they consider it unjust and pagan in character.’[252]

4.3.3 Limits to tribal-based explanations

On a final note, and to illustrate that not all armed group alliances are ethnic-based, Table 10 provides an overview of the main fault lines of the most relevant tribes in each of the communities under study.[253] It shows how, as a consequence of the wide range of security threats in the Ménaka and Kidal region, cleavages have multiplied across various fault lines, and with it, tribal communities themselves have split over their support for different armed actors. For example, the contribution to the counter-terror fight with Barkhane has resulted in some rifts within Iwillimmidan and Idoguiritane (Ménaka). Some of the latter have recently joined HCUA in response to the increased pressure of the ISGS on their communities.[254]

Table 10
Tribal alliances with armed groups in the communities under study[255]

Geographic location






Split between CMA and MSA-D



















Kel Iket 



Kel Bardagh




Kel Tabankort 

Kel Afalla



Split between different actors of CMA: HCUA; MNLA; MAA


Kel Ahilwat 






Kal Takalot





Taghat Malet (Chèvre blanche)

Kal Telabit,



Tribus Taghat Malet






Ahel sidi Amar1,

Ahel sidi Amar2,

Ahel baye,

Ahel sidi Alamine,

Ahel Sidi Abdourhamane

Split between MNLA and GATIA









Oulad Almoulat

Allied to MAA – Platform branch


Chamanamasikar baghanane,

Chamanamas 1,

Chamanamas 2

Split between MNLA and HCUA (biggest part)




From the above, it follows that high-level traditional authorities and armed group representatives in Kidal and Ménaka collaborate in their governance efforts. Although it would be too simplistic to say that ethnic lines determine all affiliation to armed groups, the major armed groups in both regions anchor their power base on alliances with fraction chiefs of the different ethnicities. To deal with state absence, high-level traditional authorities have either founded their own military force (like the HCUA in Kidal), or collaborated with military actors that can provide security for themselves and their communities. As the following section will show, however, this same dynamic does not necessarily apply to traditional authority positions on the lower end of the hierarchical ladder, such as village chiefs and fraction chiefs. Those traditional leaders who are not in such a strong brokerage position have continuously lost their power. Their position has – and continues to be – sidelined by non-state armed groups – a dynamic that can be observed among pro-autonomy (Kidal) and pro-government (Ménaka) signatories alike.

4.4 A new reality: implications for traditional authorities

As is the case in Niger, Malian law regulates the designation of traditional authorities in a summary manner, stating that they should be selected in line with local custom. A local state representative subsequently confirms the candidates’ nomination. A majority of our respondents describe hereditary succession as the main modus of selection. Members of the village’s founding family, or the family of a deceased traditional authority, are eligible to access the position. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this right is solely reserved for male successors. Nevertheless, a regional difference was observed between the two regions. Whereas in the region of Ménaka, none of our respondents included a female traditional authority, two of our respondents in the region of Kidal where women.[256]

The respondents pointed to two main roles for traditional authorities in contemporary society, namely service provision and conflict resolution. Service provision primarily involves small acts of reconciliation, such as investigating theft of livestock, addressing water shortages, and disputes between families or spouses. In contrast, conflict resolution refers to both inter and intra communal disputes, and the level of response indicate the role played by traditional authorities in this regard. Respondents observed that traditional authorities used to have a more prominent role in the protection and security of local communities, but in recent years the proliferation of armed groups has diminished the effectiveness of traditional authorities with regard to this function.

Figure 4
Functions of traditional authorities interviewed in the four Malian municipalities
Functions of traditional authorities interviewed in the four Malian municipalities

Against the backdrop of a largely absent state, traditional authorities have experienced an increase in tasks expected of them, thus underlining their pertinence as local governance actors. This has specifically extended the scope of responsibilities for Qadis,[257] who traditionally occupy a role as customary justice actors. As one respondent from the community of Ménaka stated: ‘With the state being absent, all the work falls back on us. (…) Previously, we worked on religious matters only, but for a few years now our guidance has been much solicited.’ [258]

But in the context of proliferated crisis, these tasks have become increasingly challenging to handle: ‘The rebellion brought us many troubles (inter-community conflicts, theft and inheritance problems), which made the work of traditional authorities difficult and their tasks multiply.’[259]

The following section will address the question of how traditional authority functions under armed governance by looking at the relationships of traditional authorities with actors on the ground – including state actors and their communities – and the effect that armed governance has had on the legitimacy of traditional (religious) leaders.

4.4.1 Relationships with state actors

While state representatives are formally installed in both regions in all three administrative levels – regional, cercle, communal – state presence is de facto very limited. At regional level, governors are operating on site in both Ménaka and Kidal.[260] In addition, interim authorities have been put in place at regional and cercle levels in negotiation between the government and signatories to the peace agreement, and in Ménaka, also in cooperation with the MSA. However, their operationalisation remains limited so far.[261] Against this backdrop, most respondents in our interviews identified the mayor as the only relevant state authority.[262]

Perceived relations between traditional authorities and state representatives vary according to the community’s degree of urbanisation, as urban settings allow for more direct contact between state representatives and traditional authorities. In addition, urban settings generally provide a higher sense of security – making it less risky for traditional authorities to interact with state representatives without being targeted as state proxies by radical extremist groups. Indeed, as one interim authority representative from Ménaka explained: ‘Those who have remained in areas far from the reach of decision-making powers (in the bush, camps and areas outside of security forces control) are more suspicious and even hostile to modern authorities. This is due to their vulnerability and risks to radical and armed groups, generally hostile to the state.’[263]

By extension, respondents from Ménaka were more likely to describe their relationship with local state representatives as complementary than were respondents from Alata. As one Ménaka fraction chief described it, ‘The people bring their problems to the traditional authorities to find solutions; if there is no agreement, these problems are forwarded to the administration.’[264] Nevertheless, most respondents highlighted that non-state armed actors are more supportive of traditional authorities than the state administration, adding that state authorities were much more likely to use traditional authorities as a political tool: ‘Elected officials try to play the role of traditional authorities and attempt to manipulate them in the run-up to elections.’[265]

In smaller localities, such as Alata, traditional authorities are more removed from state authorities. The mayor of Alata resides in the community of Ménaka and de facto governs from a distance (and through occasional visits), with traditional authorities supporting him in tax collection and the coordination of food aid. More symbolically, relations with state representatives are predominantly perceived here through a lens of marginalisation. As one respondent stated: ‘There is no relationship between administrative and traditional authorities (...) the state does not even know we exist.’[266] Other respondents expressed the sentiment that their position under armed governance is better than it was before, as they feel armed groups value them more than the state ever did. As a respondent from Alata described it: ‘The rebellion has bolstered the power of traditional authorities. They are valued higher by the rebels than by the state. All fraction problems are managed at their level. Armed groups have forwarded all problems to this level and ensured that their judgements were enforced.’ [267]

The situation in Kidal is distinct, as the 2012 rebellion and its aftermath has eroded the power of elected representatives. While local state representatives such as the Imghad mayor last elected in 2009 are still in place, the mayor’s relevance in today’s Kidal is negligible and most tasks have been taken over by one of his counsellors, a traditional authority representative. This illustrates the overturning of locally elected Imghad majorities and the absence of any state authority in the region, even if the mayor is still residing in the city. He expressed this sidelining in the context of 2012 as follows: ‘My position and power as mayor has changed since the arrival of the new masters who drove the Malian state out, even though I am the emanation of the people who chose me through the ballot.’[268]

This overturning of local state representatives has affected the way that traditional authorities relate to state representatives, who while physical present, have de-facto no power or influence. As such, respondents of traditional authority underlined their inability to work with state representatives in the current conflict dynamic, even where the working relationship between traditional authorities and state representatives have been described as good prior to 2012. As a Qadi from Kidal phrased his situation: ‘Since the onset of the 2012 crisis, I no longer work with modern authorities. Between the modern authorities and me, there is no working relationship at the moment. Before the crisis on the current issues of our communities, I spoke with the mayor without inhibitions. But now I am not consulting with the mayor anymore since there is no state authority in the entire Kidal region. It’s therefore impossible to work with them.’ [269]

This statement reflects how, prior to the 2012 crisis, adjudication of justice was based on close cooperation between customary justice authorities in the form of Qadis, and state judicial authorities. Where state judicial authorities were unable to resolve a case, they transferred the case to a Qadi, who vice versa transferred cases he was unable to resolve to the state.[270] Since the onset of the 2012 crisis, however, and the ensuing state absence, traditional authorities are compelled to work with the governance actors still present and active in the region.

In a similar vein, respondents in the community of Anéfis described their relation to state authorities as mostly absent. Against this background, respondents perceive state capacities to be weaker than the limited capabilities of traditional authorities, and hence consider traditional authorities in many localities as the sole relevant representative of local communities: ‘Despite its decline, tradition continues to play a strong role. Traditional leaders remain the main source of authority. Traditional chiefdoms play a key role in society. They are the ones who are listened to while the national authorities pretend to decide.’[271] Consequently, they noted that their own functions encompassed both their traditional responsibilities as well as tasks originally designated as state responsibilities: ‘Modern authorities are practically absent in the area, we exercise both the function of traditional and modern authority.’[272]

4.4.2 Traditional justice and conflict mediation under armed governance

Traditional authorities tend to have a two-fold role, which – under the conditions of armed governance and given the problematic state-traditional authority relationship outlined above – they exercise through close (institutionalised) cooperation with armed actors. On the one hand, traditional authorities who occupy an administrative position, such as village chiefs or fraction chiefs, act as intermediaries between the population and armed actors controlling the territory.[273] For example, a community member might bring a complaint about robbery or theft to a fraction chief, who will then communicate the complaint to the respective military command of his zone to search for the perpetrators. On the other hand, arrested individuals are subsequently brought in front of a religious traditional authority, such as a Qadi, who will judge the case as part of the informal justice system. The degree of institutionalisation of this cooperation differs across the two regions.

In the region of Kidal, the role of Qadis is highly institutionalised, as customary justice systems in northern Mali have long before the 2012 crisis been more prevalent than the official state judiciary, which is often perceived as predatory.[274] In line with this historically important role, Qadis continue to play a key role in the provision of justice under the armed governance of CMA.

In June 2014, following the fight over the control of Kidal, the CMA established its own security institution, CSMAK (Comite de Sécurité Mixte de l’Azawad à Kidal), which is composed of CMA members and is trained by French armed forces. In the absence of the full implementation of the MOC – the Operational Coordination Mechanism that would unify armed actors under a single military command structure and would constitute one of the main security provisions in the 2015 Algiers Agreement – CSMAK comprises the key policing body in Kidal. In this position, and given the absence of formal justice actors, the CSMAK is also in charge of prisons and detention centres in Kidal.[275] The so-called commission des oulémas[276] – a commission composed of Qadis, is currently the sole judicial body of Kidal and is, as such, responsible for the Alqada – the maintaining of rules and regulations. These two bodies in the institutional set-up of Kidal act in cooperation: arrests and detainment are carried out by CSMAK, Qadis fulfil the function of the judiciary, and CSMAK controls the prisons and detention centres.[277]

Box 14
The Qadi interpretation of Islamic law

In Islamic law, the Qadi fulfils a function similar to a judge in the Western judiciary. He represents a highly respected figure in customary justice provision and conflict resolution, who both adjudicates disputes and performs conflict mediation. To access the position of a Qadi, individuals need to demonstrate wide-ranging knowledge of local customs and practices.[278] Their local embeddedness has resulted in Qadis historically being perceived as more legitimate than state authorities.[279]

While their judgements are based on Islamic law, Qadis in Kidal have customarily followed a moderate interpretation of Islam. As such, they do not implement the Hudud requiring corporal punishment but rather a logic of reparations in line with the restorative nature of traditional justice systems in sub-Saharan Africa.[280] These local customs continued to prevail in the Kidal community even under the occupation of Ansar Dine, who relied on the pre-existing Qadi system to uphold rules in their territory. This was partly the result of the fact that Ansar Dine was more concerned about maintaining the Ifoghas status quo in the Kidal region rather than reconfiguring local governance structure. In addition, local Qadis advocated for the continued use of incarceration over corporal punishment[281] – thereby demonstrating the tenacity of a local custom and traditional authorities’ very limited acceptance of more radical interpretations of Islamic law.

In this context of institutional cooperation, a CMA statement issued in January 2019 and signed by then-president Alghabass Ag Intalla sparked a controversy as it introduced new security regulations and simultaneously reinforced the role of the Qadi in the justice system.[282] Although the CMA was perceived as ‘backpedalling’ in a later statement by underlining their willingness to work with the central state government,[283] their issuing of a new set of rules for those living in Kidal under the governance of the CMA remained unchanged.[284] Essentially, the statement entailed a ban on armed motorcyclists and pedestrians, a ban on alcohol sales, and a requirement that foreigners have a residence permit. In addition, through underlining the justice of Alqada as the decisive institution, the role of Qadis as judiciary actors in the region was further enforced, underlining the close coordination of both armed and traditional actors in the administration of the community.

Box 15
The relationship between Qadis and armed groups

As depicted by our respondents, the authority of a Qadi ends with the provision of justice. As expressed by the leading Qadi in the region of Kidal: ‘The traditional authorities have no influence on the armed groups that are now managing the current affairs of the region.’[285] This hierarchy is similarly expressed in a statement of a HCUA representative: ‘traditional authorities exercise their present role, because we let them’.[286] This is not to say that armed groups do not respect the role and figure of the Qadi. During a reconciliation meeting between signatory parties in October 2017, called Anéfis II, the pro-state Platform coalition and the CMA agreed on the establishment of a Qadis Commission,[287] to adjudicate crimes committed by either group.[288] However, the commission itself declared its inability to adjudicate conflicts linked to trafficking – thereby illustrating the limited role and function of customary justice actors vis-à-vis non-state armed actors.[289]

In the Ménaka region, religious traditional authorities, such as Qadis, similarly play an important role in justice provision. A pool of Qadis works in turns, each Qadi responsible for customary justice provision on a different day of the week in Ménaka city.[290] Against the absence of a state judiciary, this customary justice system currently constitutes the only available mechanism in Ménaka. However, there is no institutional exchange between the military command in each zone and the Qadi acting as judiciary in the region.[291] Rather, cooperation is highly individualised and, in many instances, includes members from the same family. For example, a son might be member of the military wing of MSA, while his father or uncle acts as the Qadi; and thus, the relation between armed actors and traditional authorities is characterised through a high degree of familiarity.

Traditional authorities that do not have access to such connections risk being replaced and sidelined, as community members increasingly turn towards armed group representatives who are more able to foresee their justice needs. As described by one traditional authority: ‘The number of people who approach me has substantially decreased (...) In cases of theft or robbery, some people go directly to the armed groups which, unlike us, have the means and military strength to solve the problem.’[292] A state representative similarly notes that: ‘Many people do not turn to customary authority for theft and robbery problems. They prefer to turn to armed groups that are better able to manage these problems.’[293]

In addition, respondents note an increase in vigilante justice, as community members take the resolution of disputes into their own hands, thereby underlining the debilitated role of traditional authorities. One fraction chief from Alata described the dynamic as follows: ‘With the abundance of weapons in the community and the armed movements that go unchecked, many people try to take justice into their own hands.’[294] This dynamic has also been illustrated by a member of the amenokal family in Ménaka, who stated ‘Everyone is his own leader, everyone has a weapon, and no one is taking orders. You don’t comply to the rules because you have a weapon.’ [295]

In sum, the practice of customary justice in Ménaka and Kidal again reflects the difference between the more highly structured relationship between traditional authority structures and armed groups in Kidal vis-à-vis the more ad hoc manifestation of armed governance in Ménaka. In both regions, traditional justice actors rely on the enforcement power of armed actors to engage in justice provision. Where such enforcement power is absent, they lose their function within society.[296] As the next section will show, this dynamic undermines the legitimacy of traditional authorities in the long run, as their position increasingly depends on armed actors allowing them to do their jobs.

4.4.3 The position of traditional authorities under armed governance

In contrast to the above described perception of the state, several respondents expressed an appreciation of armed groups, which they consider as advocates for traditional authority. In line with responses from several other Anéfis respondents, one traditional authority from Anéfis described armed groups as ‘spearheading the revalorization of traditional chiefdom,’[297] and identifying them as actors that backed the revaluation of key traditional actors such as the Qadi.

Nonetheless, many respondents in both regions remarked on an effective weakening of their role and function since the 2012 crisis. This view is shared by many respondents, although few expressed it as openly as this traditional authority from Anéfis: ‘the signatory groups are increasingly eroding the power of traditional notabilities’.[298] As explained by one fraction chief from Ménaka: ‘The rebellion completely destroyed the power of traditional authorities. It has encouraged disobedience to traditional authorities and created inter-community conflicts. Before, these authorities were respected and esteemed and there were no inter-community conflicts, but the rebellion completely changed the situation, with little respect and consideration for traditional authorities.’[299]

The proliferation of inter-communal conflicts has further increased the alienation between some community members and their traditional leaders, as leaders are more likely to be perceived as conflict actors themselves. This development does not spare customary justice actors, who have historically based their legitimacy on their perceived neutrality. One Qadi explained that, based on their ethnic affiliation Qadis often automatically become perceived as conflict actors themselves: ‘Intercommunity conflicts put the impartiality of Qadis to the test, considering that they often belong to one of the embattled ethnic groups.’[300]

In part, this development is the result of the increased fragmentation of conflict actors in the region, which has divided communities and tribes across different sets of fault lines. This fragmentation has also affected the position of traditional authorities: ‘Today, the situation has changed, traditional authorities only manage a portion of the society (...) The power of these authorities is indeed only exercised very locally. The reality is unique to each community and may vary from one site to another.’[301] The fragmentation of traditional authorities’ constituencies has made it more difficult for them to engage in justice and mediation efforts, which may now cross the borders of their constituencies.

At the same time, and as discussed above, traditional authorities also face competition from armed actors as alternative governance providers. In Kidal, for example, the majority of interviewed traditional authorities – while stressing the cooperation they have with armed actors – simultaneously underlined their perception of having lost a considerable part of their influence to armed actors who de facto control the region, leaving little space for traditional authorities to occupy their traditional roles. This dynamic is described by one respondent form Kidal who stated: ‘There are new forces, new levels of recourse that leave little room for action by the titular leader. The administration that has more strength and wants to assert itself recognises leaders, relies on them, but does not give them a large margin.’[302]

Some respondents understand the described dynamic as a competition of competences: ‘There is often tension between the signatory groups and us, linked to jurisdictional conflicts. They often mingle with the internal life of the community without even asking us.’[303] In addition, respondents from the Kidal community articulated a fear of repression as a consequence of either taking on specific cases brought before them or of making honest judgements in cases. As stated by one respondent: ‘I am scared to pronounce certain decisions for fear of reprisals from armed groups.’[304] Another described: ‘We have too many complaints that we cannot even expose for the risk of losing our lives. You denounce a criminal and immediately a team is designated to eliminate you.’[305]

Consequently, the community member chosen to address a certain authority is dependent on their perception of whether that authority will be able to resolve the problems – a capacity that has become linked to the ability to enforce decisions through the access to means of force and resources. As explained by one respondent: ‘Complainants bring their grievances to another authority who has influence because of his means, or to the amenokal or in front of a well-placed member of the armed groups.’[306] As such, traditional authority figures on the higher end of the echelon, such as the amenokal, are still perceived as powerful given their close links to armed leadership in the region of Kidal, while other traditional authorities – such in the position village chief, are often seen as not exerting the necessary power to resolve relevant issues within their community.

Hence, traditional leaders who have a close alliance with military commanders is more likely to be considered as an authority who could successfully resolve disputes than a traditional leader who does not demonstrate this closeness.[307] In line with this statement, the majority of traditional authorities interviewed for this study share a lack of capacity to deal with evolving conflicts.

The close entanglement and dependency of traditional authorities and non-state armed actors has had wide-ranging implications for their legitimacy. While many community members still perceive traditional authorities as just and accessible, their traditional moral power has increasingly been considered as powerless against the backdrop of their little powers of enforcement in the armed conflict. In this sense, the changing functions of traditional authorities have had the most pronounced impact on their legitimacy. Against an absent state, traditional authorities increasingly lean on non-state armed groups to facilitate their mobility and protection, whereas community members tend to directly address armed groups representatives, thereby sidelining traditional actors and challenging their legitimacy.

Yet certain respondents – while acknowledging the declining role and function of traditional authority – nonetheless make a case for the continued power of traditional authorities. In a similar vein, the Bamako-based representatives of signatories to the peace agreement and allied groups, as well as the majority of interlocutors who met for the purpose of this study, share a perspective of traditional actors as potential enablers of social cohesion at local level.[308] They point to the continuing relevance of traditional authorities, not only as actors bridging the void between the central state and local communities – especially outside of urban centres – but as intermediaries between any authority holding the force (such as the signatories and allied forces) and local communities.

In the general crisis of authority that has defined the northern regions of Mali, capacities of the state are perceived to be even weaker than those of traditional authority: ‘This sentiment is expressed by a village chief in Anéfis, stating that against the backdrop of a weakened state, his authority has increased: ‘The rebellion has strengthened our position of leadership, thanks to the rebellion I have recovered a greater power, including responsibilities that were previously assigned to other authorities.’[309] Against this backdrop of state absence, many respondents – while referring to the detrimental effect of armed actors on community relations, simultaneously continue to consider traditional authority holders as the sole relevant authority in the locality.[310]

4.5 The way forward: conclusion and recommendations

This chapter has shown that high-level traditional elites in northern Mali have become entrenched in armed governance structures, either as founders or close allies of non-state armed groups. Rebel movements and armed governance are marked by deep fragmentation along tribal and social caste lines, a dynamic that has become particularly pronounced since the 1990 rebellion. The result has been an increasingly fractured landscape of armed actors, with important consequences for the ability of traditional authorities to govern and to present themselves as effective conflict mediators, able to work across vertical and spatial boundaries between communities.

In Kidal, religious traditional authorities are integrated into the non-state armed group security and justice structure – exemplified by the cooperation between CSMAK and the commission de oulémas. However, in the Ménaka region, the relationship between non-state armed actors and traditional justice providers is more often individual, built on kin and clan networks. Although these relationships might prove instrumental in the short term, our data suggests that armed governance dynamics are negatively affecting traditional authorities’ functions and the public’s appreciation of their work, ultimately undermining their legitimacy in the longer term.

Indeed, this evolution is made most conspicuous in the functions that traditional authorities perform. In the absence of state authority, most traditional authorities are simultaneously confronted with more responsibilities and less support. While they may continue to exercise (some of) their governance functions, many respondents note that non-state armed actors often determine the scope of the traditional authorities’ work. Respondents also note that community members increasingly turn towards representatives of non-state armed groups, who are perceived as more capable of addressing justice issues.

This perception creates a dangerous dynamic. Where non-state armed groups are increasingly addressed as justice providers by the communities under their control, inter-communal violence can begin to spiral. Traditional leaders aligned to non-state armed groups risk being transformed into, or at least being perceived as, conflict actors, eroding their historical role as mediators of communal conflict. In addition, radical groups have attacked traditional authorities that they see as too closely aligned to pro-state actors.

Some respondents also noted the increasing influence of corruption on the rules determining access to the position of traditional authority. Nevertheless, many respondents from our focus groups and representatives of the signatories in Bamako, share a belief in the continued value of traditional authorities in the local governance dynamic of northern Mali. This is particularly true of the main customary justice actor – the Qadi – considered to be a key relevant authority by non-state armed groups in Ménaka and Kidal. This begs the question of what could be done to strengthen traditional authorities’ governance functions while simultaneously acknowledging their connection to armed groups.

4.5.1 Understand them

Traditional authorities cannot be described in generic terms. Rather, the dynamics in which each are embedded are highly individual, depending on their alliances with non-state armed actors, their personal and strategic interests and their resulting position within their communities. Local, national and international actors collectively have a broad range of experiences with these authorities. However, the limited cooperation between them impedes learning. This calls for more institutionalised effort to share and capitalise on existing knowledge. Systematising exchanges on and with traditional actors in the various regions is crucial for facilitating further understanding of contexts that are highly localised and ever changing. Such exchanges could enable distinctions to be made between communities and traditional authorities linked to armed groups for pragmatic reasons versus those that are closely intertwined with armed actors and unlikely to want to facilitate the return of the state. This forms a key point of departure for the recommendations further developed below.

4.5.2 Institutionalise them in an informed manner

Any revaluation of traditional authorities as envisioned in the 2015 Algiers Accords needs to be based on the recognition of their potential connection to (radical) armed groups. The current constitutional revision that seeks to introduce territorial representatives in a second chamber is a case in point. This attempt would strengthen the role of traditional authorities – including representatives of young people and women – on a national level but risks leaving the current crisis of traditional authority unaddressed. This institutional reform is based more on an understanding of traditional authorities’ role prior to the 2012 crisis, and fails to take into account their crisis of legitimacy that has since ensued. The organisation of local consultative meetings, in which the position of traditional authorities is evaluated by their respective communities, could inform this process in a manner that takes stock of local realities.[311]

In addition, many traditional authorities lack a detailed understanding of their roles and responsibilities as defined by the Malian state. Respondents expressed a wish to receive guidance, specifically regarding the roles of village chiefs and fraction chiefs as well as that of their councillors. Moreover, these actors would benefit from training on formal regulations, for example the pastoral code, about which they could inform the populations and use in adjudicating minor conflicts. Revaluation endeavours, likewise, need to clearly define the responsibilities and limitations of traditional authorities – including the Qadi, who, unlike village chiefs and fractions chiefs, are not formally recognised by the state.

This latter point is particularly relevant because the Qadi is the one traditional authority figure that seems to have been able to maintain its legitimacy under armed governance. As our study has shown, Qadis constitute the one traditional actor still considered highly relevant and legitimate by community members, and who simultaneously maintain an authority that allows them to fulfil (at least partially) their function vis-à-vis representatives of non-state armed groups. In the context of armed governance, they have positioned themselves as upholders of a moderate Islam, demonstrating their tenacity to defend local custom in contrast to a radical interpretation of Islam. In addition, our interview data has underlined the Qadis’ desire to work with state authorities on the adjudication of conflicts that lie outside their capabilities – such as crimes under the penal code.

As such, Qadis could provide a key entry point for donors and partners seeking to establish access to a region that has mostly been outside of central government control. This establishment of communication channels would be dually beneficial. It would allow donors and partners to improve their access to, and understanding of, a key governance actor in two regions mostly outside government control; and it would enable Qadis to access training and capacity building. In addition, the codification of customary jurisprudence – as similarly recommended in the case of Niger – could increase the transparency of local customs and help standardise existing procedures, while at the same time providing protection against radical influences.

4.5.3 Support and train them to increase their legitimacy

Mediation efforts at local level through the organisation of inter-communal dialogues might build a foundation of trust and stability that could subsequently be scaled up. Although this would not solve all conflict in the region, it could prevent the further spread and escalation of local conflicts before they take on an ethnic dimension or become co-opted by radical armed groups. Due to their historical role as conflict mediators and representatives of their communities, traditional authorities are pivotal partners in such dialogues. Moreover, the recent experience of the Clingendael Academy training negotiation skills for communities subject to herder-farmer conflicts in Nigeria showed that traditional authorities are key partners, as the outcomes of these dialogues will need to be communicated back to the community to build acceptance. In the case of protracted conflict, traditional authorities’ historic role as mediators could thus provide a strategic entry point for partners to offer support.

Conflict mediation begins with the facilitation of meetings between members of estranged communities. In the context of proliferated insecurity, the mobility of community leaders is severely limited, and with it the possibilities for exchange. A structured approach towards community mediation would build from the bottom up, starting at community level, from there moving to the level of cercles and lastly to regional level. Many communal and cross-border reconciliation efforts have been supported by mediation actors such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and Promediation. Such initiatives have demonstrated the mediation potential of traditional actors and should be extended. In our interviews, traditional authorities expressed their constraints in terms of limited capacity.[312] Investing in capacity building for traditional authorities, such as negotiation skills and their understanding of important rules and regulations – such as the pastoral code mentioned above – would likely improve the success rate of such reconciliation efforts.

What most previous efforts lack is a follow-up mechanism that transforms isolated mediation efforts into a more enduring virtuous circle, in which the position of traditional actors is strengthened vis-à-vis the local armed presence. Long-term funding could allow for regular follow-up on exchanges between traditional authorities at community and regional levels. It could also help establish a channel for the communication of local community needs to national and international actors. Similar approaches have been taken up by the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and the Danish Demining Group (DDG), and could be scaled up to allow traditional authorities to speak with a more collective voice that might facilitate the strengthening of their position as governance actors in the state. Ultimately, such efforts could prove preventive, should traditional authorities quell local conflicts effectively before they escalate, become co-opted by radical armed groups, and/or entangled in ethnic rivalries.

4.5.4 Protect them

Amidst ongoing conflict dynamics,[313] traditional authorities’ ability to govern independently from armed groups is severely undermined. As expressed by several respondents in our interviews, traditional leaders cannot adjudicate cases or express themselves freely, for fear of being targeted. They either are unable to investigate the location of an incident due to pervasive insecurity or have become perceived as too closely aligned with a conflict – for example, through their cooperation with signatories – to be considered a neutral conflict mediator. Especially in the Ménaka region, signatories have become active participants in inter-communal conflict, creating a dynamic in which the legitimacy of traditional authorities is undermined through their reliance on the non-state armed groups controlling the territory.

Through the prolonged absence of the state, traditional authorities have thus become entrenched in the inter-communal conflict dynamics that ultimately are undermining their position in the governance system of northern Mali. Against the limited commitment from non-state armed actors to the Algiers Agreement, institutionalised security mechanisms are not yet fully operationalised[314] and hence intermittent, as evidenced by the recurring peaks of crime and violence in both regions.[315] The protection extended to traditional authorities is thus highly individual and more based on personal relations between traditional authorities and certain military commanders than on a comprehensive protection force.[316]

While the DDR process (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) is similarly ongoing, and attempts to unify armed actors under a single military command structure have not yet been fully implemented, national and international partners should focus on the establishment of micro-level best practices. The Consultative Committees for Local Security, as envisioned in the Algiers Agreement, could represent a first entry point for cooperation in this regard.[317] Under these committees, authorities on all levels – state representatives at local and regional levels, local elected leaders, and traditional authorities as well as other representatives of communities – would come together in consultative meetings under the lead of a local chief executive to exchange information on shared threat dynamics and coordinate security responses.

State authorities, however, have been allowed to return. This is not the case in Kidal, where the state remains largely absent.
Loi N°06-023 Relative à la Création et a l’administration Des Villages, Fractions et Quartiers. 20 June 2006. Article 8.
For more details on this, see Chapter 3.4
For previous studies on their roles in Mali, refer to Ursu, A.-E. 2018. Under the Gun, op. cit; Goff, D. Diallo, M. and Ursu, A.-E. 2017. Under the Microscope: Customary justice systems in northern Mali, CRU Report, The Hague, Clingendael; and van Veen, E., Goff, D. and van Damme, T. 2015. Beyond dichotomy: recognizing and reconciling legal pluralism in Mali. CRU Report, The Hague, Clingendael.
Ursu, A.-E. 2018. Between ideals and needs: Is Malian customary justice incompatible with international human rights standards?, CRU Policy Brief, The Hague, Clingendael.
In this chapter, we use the term ‘armed groups’ when we refer to non-extremist groups and ‘radical groups’ when we refer to groups with a jihadist ideology.
The main Tuareg confederation in the Kidal region, grouping together tribes such as the Ifoghas and Imghad.
By contrast the Ménaka-based Iwillimmidan Kel Ataram were far better integrated into the newly independent state, having initially made less demands of the central government. See: Pringle, R. 2006, ‘Democratization in Mali: putting history to work’, USIP.
As discussed in Chapter 2, colonial administrators made good use of tribal alliances to cement their rule on the ground – leaving some tribes and clans better off than others.
See Chapter 2 for an overview of the different Tuareg castes.
Thurston, A. 2018. ‘Mali’s tragic but persistent status quo’, RLS Research Papers on Peace and Conflict Studies in West and Central Africa, 1; Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019 Tuareg Separatism in Mali and Niger: Aspiration, grievance, performance, disenchantment, pp. 23–57; Desgrais, N., Y. Guichaoua and A. Lebovich. 2018. ‘Unity is the exception. Alliance formation and de-formation among armed actors in Northern Mali’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 29:4, 654-679.
The conflict was further compounded by the 1994 formation of the Ganda Koy – a Songhai self-defence militia backed by the Malian army that was formed in response to armed bands of former (Tuareg rebels) operating in the region but which went on to carry out pogroms against Tuaregs and Arabs in the northern Malian cities.
This table summarises the analysis of Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019. op. cit.
This column seeks to list the dominant social and ethnic make-up of the respective movements.
After its fragmentation, the MPLA was renamed the Mouvement Populaire de l’Azawad (MPA) under command of Iyad Ag Ghali.
Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. op. cit.: 34.
Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019. ‘Tuareg separatism in Mali and Niger’, in: de Vries L. et al. (eds.), Secessionism in African Politics: Aspiration, grievance, performance, disenchantment, 23-57; Lecocq, B. 2010. op. cit.; Klute, G. and von Trotha, T. 2004. ‘Roads to peace: from small war to parasovereign peace in the North of Mali’, in: Foblets, M. and von Trotha, T. (eds.) Healing the Wounds. Essays on the Reconstruction of Societies after War, Oxford, Hart Publishing, 109–143.
For example, after the promotion of Elhajji Ag Gamou from the Imghad Tuareg clan ahead of Ibrahim Ag Fagaga, from the noble Ifoghas Tuareg (Iforgoumoussen clan), in the Malian armed forces, the latter defected and was among the instigators of the 2006 rebellion. Also, Iyad Ag Ghali, former rebel leader and leader of the Irayakan clan, held no formal power position within the tribal structure or the new democratic institutions.
Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019. op. cit.; Lecocq, B. 2010. op. cit.; Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.
Desgrais, N. et al. 2018. op. cit.: 659.
The competition between members of signatory movements involved in criminal networks organising the transport of drugs remains one of the threats to the implementation of the peace agreement. See: UN Security Council. 2019. Letter dated 6 August 2019 from the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 2374 (2017) on Mali addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2019/636, link (accessed 9 September 2019)
Just as Ifoghas-Imghad relations are characterised by the struggle for empowerment of the latter from their former nobles, the Lemhar Arabs ‘used to occupy a subaltern hierarchical rank among the Malian Arabs, as vassals of the most prominent tribe, the Kuntas’. In: Desgrais et al. 2018. op. cit.: 672.
Lacher, W. 2012. Organized crime and conflict in the Sahel-Sahara region, 1, Washington DC, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
This table summarises the analysis of Lecoqc, B. And G. Klute. 2019. op. cit.
This column seeks to list the dominant social and ethnic make-up of the respective movements.
In 2007, Tuareg renegades that did not agree with the settlement founded the Alliance Touarèque du Nord Mali pour le Changement (ATNMC) under the leadership of Ibrahim Ag Bahanga.
For example, Mohamed Ag Najem was appointed the MNLA’s military leader despite heralding from the historically less powerful Imghad caste, while Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, was appointed MNLA spokesman, despite his roots in the Daoussak Tuareg (Iwillimmidan Kel Ataram). Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.: 22.
Backed by Chadian troops in the Kidal region.
Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019. op. cit.; Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.
This table adds to the analysis of Lecoqc, B. And G. Klute. 2019. op. cit.; Lebovich, A. 2019. Mapping armed groups in Mali and the Sahel, link. (accessed 9 September 2019).
This column seeks to list the dominant social and ethnic make-up of the respective movements.
Rehamed as al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic West (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM) in September 2007.
The MNLA forms the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA) together with the HCUA and the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA – CMA branch).
After the 2013 retreat of foreign fighters from Mali, extremist Tuareg fighters regrouped in the Mouvement Islamique de l’Azawad (MIA) and later the HCUA.
GATIA forms the pro-state Platform coalition together with the Coordination des Mouvements et Fronts Patriotiques de Résistance (CMFPR) – representing Sonhai Ganda Koy and Ganda Izo miiltias joined by some Tuareg of slave descent; the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA – Platform branch) – representing Malian Bidan Arabs; the Dan na Ambassagou – representing the Dogon self-defence militias; and the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Entente (CME) – a loose coalition of armed groups that are not formally part of the peace process but advocate their own inclusion. The MSA joined the Platform in 2019.
Desgrais et al. 2018. op cit.: 674.
Olivier de Sardan, J.-P. 2013. op. cit.
Lecocq, B. 2010. op cit.
Thurston, A. 2018. op cit.
Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019. op. cit.
Throughout this period, Alghabass Ag Intalla engaged in unsuccessful negotiations with the MNLA and the Malian government.
Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.; Lecocq, B. and Klute, G. 2019. op. cit.
see also: Lecocq and Klute op. cit.: 45
Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.: 27.
Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.
It is commonly suggested that the CMA also uses its ties to the radical groups present in the region to maintain their position. Bencherif, A. 2018. ‘Le Mali post “Accord d’Alger”: Une période intérimaire entre conflits et négociations’. Politique africaine, 2:150, 179-201; Thurston 2018. In contrast, representatives of CMA argue that members of their military unit have been assassinated by extremist groups in addition to multiple assassination attempts against Inkinane Ag Attaher, the leader of the MNLA Counter Terror Unit.
Interview Respondent #11, District chief, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019. Translated from French: ‘Les relations sont bonnes entre ces deux groupes d’acteurs qui entretiennent les relations comme le ferai un père et un fils.’
Interview Respondent #9, District chief, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019. ‘Pour ce qui est des groupes signataires, il faut rappeler qu’ils sont issus de ces mêmes autorités dont ils sont les fils.’
Interview Respondent #34, CMA representative, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019. Translated from French: ‘Les groupes signataires se sont beaucoup appuyés sur nous pour administrer la zone.’ Another traditional authority from Anéfis noted that ‘Je suis l’autorité suprême ici. Je suis le garant de la charia dans ce village. (…) Chaque groupe armé qui vient occuper ce village, s’adresse à moi en premier. Souvent ils (les groupes armés) me concertent avant de prendre certaines décisions qui concernent le village et ces habitants.’ Interview Respondent #28, Qadi, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019.
For example: Interview Respondent #40, Fraction chief, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019. A Kidal-based traditional authority similarly notes that ‘(…) j’ai évoqué qu’on travaille en collaboration avec les groupes armés afin de faire régner un ordre social normal’, Interview Respondent #16, Leader communautaire, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Desgrais et al. 2018. op. cit.: 670. The imposition of political and military personnel from Kidal on Ménaka and Gao during the interim period in which the north was supposed to transition to democratic governance (see Chapter 2) formed a main bone of contention; Bencherif, A. 2018. ‘Le Mali post “Accord d’Alger”: une période intérimaire entre conflits et négociations’, Politique africaine, 2, 150.
Desgrais et al. 2018. op. cit.
Desgrais et al. 2018. op. cit.; Bencherif, A. 2018. op. cit.
‘These relationships have drawn French forces into uncomfortable terrain as both MSA and GATIA face allegations of ethnic-based violence in the Mali-Niger borderlands.’ Thurston, A. 2018. op cit: 44.
‘Mali: le MSA intègre la plateforme des mouvements armés du Nord’, 2019. RFI Afrique, 14 July, link (accessed 9 September 2019).
See Chapter 5 for an elaborate discussion of this conflict.
Ibrahim, I.Y. and Zapata, M. 2018, ‘Regions at risk: preventing mass atrocities in Mali’, Early Warning Project and Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, 21.
‘Point de presse de la MINUSMA du 12 avril 2018’, 12 April, link (accessed 31 July 2019).
‘Niger: des Peuls dénoncent les incursions et exactions d’ex-rebelles maliens’, 2018. RFI Afrique, link (accessed 31 July 2019)
Desgrais et al. 2018. op cit.
Interview MSA representative, June 2019, Bamako.
Interview Respondent #97, Fraction chief, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019. Traditional leaders are considered as intermediary actors who are best positioned to sensitise community members and act as a broker of peace, Interview MSA representative, Bamako, June 2019. Another respondent from Alata asserted that only some traditional chiefs are collaborating and actively working with the movement in the described way, Interview Respondent #81, Fraction chief, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019.
See for example Interview Respondent #99, Fraction chief adviser, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019.
Interview Respondent #81, Fraction chief, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019; see similar, Interview Respondent #78, Communal leader, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019.
Ag Gamou continues to maintain his position in the Malian armed forces.
Thurston, A. 2018. op. cit.: 29.
Cayarol, R. 2016. ‘Mali: le vrai-faux coming out du général Gamou’, JeuneAfrique.com, 23 September, link (accessed 9 September 2019).
Interview traditional authority leader Iwillimidan, Bamako, June 2019. At the more local level, however, Imghad fraction chiefs and village chiefs either are formal members of GATIA or provide the informal support base to its leadership. This also extends to allied tribes such as the Iwillimmidan.
‘These conflicts centre either on tribe or fraction (infratribe) affiliation and local geopolitics, such as control of political positions (armed groups, formal institutions, community leadership, etc) and geography (trade and smuggling routes, transhumance tracks, checkpoints, grazing lands, wells, etc).’ UN Security Council. 2018. UN Security Council, Letter dated 8 August 2018 from the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 2374 (2017) on Mali addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2018/581, link (accessed 9 September 2019).
Bencherif, A. 2018. op. cit.; Desgrais, N. et al. 2018. op. cit
Interview GATIA representative, Bamako, June 2019. An MSA representative similarly phrased this dynamic as follows: ‘On ne peut pas vraiment faire une distinction entre chef traditionnelle et chef militaire. Tous nos notables sont membres de MSA.’ Interview MSA representative, June 2019, Bamako.
See for example: ‘Mali facing “alarming” rise in rights violations, warns UN expert’ 2018, UN News, 4 July, link (accessed 9 September 2019).
Interview Respondent #3, Interim authority, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019: ‘Les rapports ici sont ceux que doit adopter celui qui est faible devant celui qui est fort. Les autorités traditionnelles se veulent prudentes pour ne pas se créer des problèmes.’
Interview Respondent #16, Leader communautaire, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019; see also: Interview Respondent #81, fraction chief, Alata, Ménaka region, March 2019.
Given the fluidity of alliances and actors, this summary can only be a momentary overview, as alliances have been ever-changing and will continue to be so, as they are based on a combination of factors, not only tribal alliances.
UN Security Council. 2018. op cit.
Situation as of June 2019. Data collected in cooperation with local GARDL (a Malian NGO) researchers and independent local researchers.
Similarly, female participants in our focus group in Ménaka described having only indirect access to traditional leaders – through their husband or father, while female participants in our focus group in Kidal expressed no such limitations. Focus Group Women, Alata, Ménaka region, and Kidal, Kidal region, April 2019.
As religious and spiritual leaders of their community, Qadis occupy a key role in the customary justice system that is similar to that of a judge in Western judiciary. Goff, D., et al. 2017. Under the Microscope: Customary justice systems in northern Mali, CRU Report, The Hague, Clingendael.
Interview Respondent #67, Qadi, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #92, Qadi, Alata, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
UN Security Council. 2019. Situation in Mali. Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/262.
The Carter Center. 2019. Rapport de l’Observateur indépendant Observations sur la mise en œuvre de l’Accord pour la paix et la réconciliation au Mali, issu du processus d’Alger, Atlanta/Bamako. UN Security Council. 2019. Situation in Mali. Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/262.
This was even the case in the two regional capitals of Ménaka and Kidal, where regional authorities are installed. As local state representatives have been the main reference point for our respondents, we will not include the role of representatives at cercle and region levels, such as interim authorities and the governor, in our discussions of the relationships between traditional and state authorities.
Interview Respondent #102, Interim authority, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, June 2019.
Interview Respondent #60, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #64, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
Focus group (leaders), Alata, Ménaka Region, March 2019. Another respondent stated that ‘The relationship between traditional and administrative authorities is tense. The administration is never present.’ Interview Respondent 99, Fraction chief, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019.
Interview Respondent #59, Qadi, Alata, Ménaka Region, March 2019. 
Interview Respondent #5, Mayor, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Interview, Respondent #103, Qadi, Kidal, Kidal Region, June 2019.
Ministère de la justice garde des sceaux 2017: ‘Etude carthographique de la justice informelle au Mali’, 33-34.
Interview Respondent #37, Communal leader, Anéfis, Kidal Region, April 2019.
Interview Respondent #27, Site chief, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019; In a similar vein a female leader noted: ‘The absence of modern authorities has led us to exercise the functions usually assigned to them.’ Interview Respondent #38, Female leader, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019.
In all four communities, our respondents described the role of armed groups as de facto police forces.
See Goff, D., et al. 2017. Under the microscope: Customary justice systems in northern Mali, CRU Report, The Hague, Clingendael.
The prisons under CSMAK control are inspected by the MINUSMA Human Rights and Protection Division (DDHP), verifying the number and status of inmates, the conditions of detentions and motives behind the arrest. See: Kidal: la MINUSMA sensibilise les acteurs du système judiciaire traditionnel sur les règles internationales de détention, MINUSMA. 2018. 10 June, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
Also called ‘commission des religieuses’ in reference to the religious authority that Qadis hold.
As one respondent described his cooperation with the CSMAK: ‘(…) Quand cette commission attrape les voleurs ou d’affaires civiles, ils apportent devant moi et j’ai fait leur jugement.’ Interview Respondent #24, Qadi, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
For this paragraph, see Ursu A.-E. 2018, op cit.: 15.
Dakouo, A. 2009a. ‘La difficulté de la délivrance de la justice officielle dans les sociétés nomades de Kidal’, Afrique-gouvernance.net, link (accessed 11 September 2019); Dakouo, A. 2009b. ‘Le canon musulman comme base de règlement des litiges matrimoniaux dans la ville de Kidal’, Afrique-gouvernance.net, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
In Islamic law the term Hudud (singular Hadd) stands for prohibitions or limits. Based on Quran and Hadith, these limits are enforced through specific corporal punishments such as amputation, lashing and death for crimes such as theft or robbery. However, worldwide – with the exception of Saudi Arabia, the Hudud is only rarely applied. Source: ‘Hadd’. In: The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, edited by Esposito, J. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
Terry, F. and McQuinn, B. 2018. The roots of restraint in war, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 50; Bouhlel, F., Yvan, G. and Jézéquel, J.-H. 2017. ‘Les enjeux cachés d’une lapidation qui n’a jamais eu lieu dans le nord du Mali’, Le Monde.fr, 27 June, link (accessed 11 September 2019). Note: Although their influence weakened over time and outside of the community of Kidal.
‘Kidal: La CMA édicte des nouvelles règles’. 2019. maliweb.net, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
‘Nouveau règlement de la vie publique à Kidal: la CMA rétropédale’. 2019. RFI Afrique, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
‘Al Aghabass Ag Intallah, président de la CMA, en exclusivité: ‘Nous avons été mal compris par Boutache, notre décision demeure valable’, ‘La carte de séjour ne concerne pas les maliens’, 2019, Malijet.com, link (accessed 11 September 2019). As expressed by Ag Intalla, the statement was issued out of necessity following a spike in insecurity of which the CMA needs to take control given its prevalence as the governance actor in the region: ‘Nous ne pouvons pas etre des spectateurs sur notre territoire.’ See: ‘Instauration de carte de séjour à Kidal: Bras de fer entre la CMA et le CSA’. 2019. Bamada.net, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
Interview Respondent #24, Qadi, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
HCUA Representative, Bamako, June 2019.
The Qadi Commission is composed of two Qadis chosen by either group, and one jointly appointed Qadi presiding over them.
UN Security Council. 2017. Situation in Mali. Report of the Secretary-General. S/2017/1105.
International Crisis Group. 2018. Drug Trafficking, Violence and Politics in Northern Mali, 267, Africa Report, Dakar/Brussels.
Interview MSA Representative, Bamako, June 2019.
As Ménaka, in contrast to Kidal, does not have a prison, in the majority of cases justice, a fine must be paid as punishment.
Interview Respondent #78, Leader communautaire, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019. A fraction chief from Ménaka similarly observed: ‘The inability of traditional authorities to secure the community and do justice has led some people to turn to armed groups for justice.’ Interview Respondent #65, Fraction chief, Anouzoukrene, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #89, Adviser to the mayor, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019. Nevertheless, a representative of MSA asserted that coordination with traditional authorities is the default mode of governance: ‘For theft and robbery problems, some people contact us directly to apprehend thieves. But we still deal with the traditional authorities for the smooth running of the business.’
Interview Respondent #90, Fraction chief adviser, Alata, Ménaka Region, April 2019.
Interview Respondent #64, Traditional chief, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
This is, for example, illustrated by a member of the MSA cadre who, himself son of a traditional authority, does not see his future taking on the hereditary position against the backdrop of the influence he has as a member of MSA.
Interview Respondent #47, Female leader, Anéfis, Kidal Region, April 2019.
Interview Respondent #41, Traditional authority, Anéfis, Kidal Region, April 2019.
Interview Respondent #65, Fraction chief, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #66, Qadi, Ménaka, Ménaka Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #29, Communal leader, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #1, District chief adviser, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019; Interview Respondent #3, Interim authority, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #19, Site chief, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #12, Communal leader, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #13, Communal leader, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019.
Interview Respondent #2, Site chief, Kidal, Kidal Region, April 2019.
Focus group (women), Participant E, Kidal, Kidal Region, March 2019. The Qadi is seen by some respondents as an exemption – although one who himself depends on the armed actors for his protection and safety. This dynamic is described by one respondent in Kidal: ‘All the problems exposed are transported to the most powerful authority, that is to say, those who have the (armed) force, such as the amenokal or the CMA leader or the Platform. It is these forces that can do something. The other authorities do not have enough power, except the Qadi, who himself needs security to render a healthy justice.’
Interviews Bamako, February, April, June 2019.
Interview Respondent #43, Village chief, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019.
For example: Respondent #47, Female leader, Anéfis, Kidal Region, March 2019.
As our data highlights, if the position of traditional authority is not to fully erode in the years to come, its legitimacy needs to emerge from the local communities in which they are embedded. Hence, any institutional attempt to re-evaluate traditional authorities should follow from an understanding of traditional authorities as primarily local actors.
To begin with, most traditional authorities interviewed have not received formal training in conflict mediation or negotiation, but expressed the wish to improve these competences.
UN Security Council. 2019. Situation in Mali. Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/262.
Report of the Independent Observer – Observations on the Implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, emanating from the Algiers Process. 2018. The Carter Center, Bamako/Atlanta.
See for example: ‘Growing insecurity threatens delivery of aid to Menaka’. 2018. Norwegian Refugee Council, link (accessed 11 September 2019); ‘Mali: “Real climate of fear and insecurity in country’s north and centre”, says expert’. 2018. OHCHR, link (accessed 11 September 2019).
This dynamic has severely limited their traditional capabilities for communal conflict mediation, and ultimately risks overwhelming the traditional social order through the force of arms – a dynamic that has similarly been observed in other countries. Tull, D.M. 2003. ‘A reconfiguration of political order? The state of the state in North Kivu (DR Congo)’, African Affairs, 102(408), 437-439.
République du Mali. 2015. Accord pour la paix et la réconciliation au Mali issu du processus d’Alger article 28, link (accessed 9 September 2019).