Transnational organized crime has played a prominent role in the affairs of Mali over the past two decades, above all in the disputed north. Drug trafficking, including large consignments of high-value cocaine from Latin America, as well as kidnapping rackets led by Islamist terror groups, both played key roles in fomenting the instability, unrest and violence that climaxed in 2012 through a crisis of international dimensions.
Based on interviews in Mali with leading figures in the political, military and judicial establishment, this new Clingendael report is an attempt to marshal all the available evidence so as to understand the relations forged before and after 2012 between criminal enterprises, communities, political and social elites, armed groups, the Malian state and neighbouring countries. Included in the report is an in-depth analysis of the greatest drug trafficking scandal of Malian history: the Air Cocaine case of 2009, in which tonnes of narcotics from South America were transported on a Boeing jet that landed in the country’s desert.
Mali has now set the course for the recovery of legitimate and accountable state authority with the help of a UN peacekeeping mission. Key Islamist leaders and narco-traffickers have been scattered or neutered. However, the report outlines the huge challenges that peacekeepers and the new Malian government face. These include ongoing terrorist attacks in the north and chronic corruption in public life, as well as the likely adaptations that the main illicit networks will undergo and the risks of destabilization they entail. On this basis, it draws out recommendations as to how best to temper the criminality and violence that menace Mali’s post-conflict transition.
In particular, the paper recommends that the focus must be directed at ways to reduce the systemic threat from criminal business while avoiding the sorts of blind repressive policies that have engineered insurgencies in Afghanistan, or massive bloodshed in Mexico. This paper outlines approaches that should lie at the heart of a balanced, conflict-sensitive strategy towards crime: a robust and inclusive political settlement for the north, realistic security reform, and an emphasis on intelligence-led policing that severs the most dangerous links between criminal organizations and power-brokers.