Conflict and Fragility


Making Mali a safer place

04 Feb 2014 - 09:25
Source: Flickr / UN mission, Marco Dormino

“Quarter-makers” is the word that the Dutch use for those military people that left for Mali recently. They live up to their name. They prepare the quarters for the contingent of Dutch soldiers that will be part of MINUSMA.

Making Mali a safer place is their mission. Creating conditions for stability and for development is their contribution. After the Afghanistan and Iraq wars however, we all wonder if this will be the case. We hope to succeed, we fear to fail.

With this in mind Parliament discussed the issue and sought experts’ input to ask the right questions and ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the mission. I was one of these experts.

Competing propositions

Now we know there are no easy answers and predicting the future is impossible, so I told them about competing propositions. I talked about the youngster in Kirdal in Northern Mali who gets to choose: On the one hand, a life filled with excitement, fast and big money, part of the gang, cool with the bandits that cross the Sahara smuggling drugs and cigarettes. Or on the other, a life filled with comradeship and a new identity, heroic and with a political mission, something to live and die for with the boys in AQIM or MUJAO.

Or else the alternative proposition of the government, with no future prospects, no education, no government services but with the traditional social ties that relate to historic values. What the young boy, idle and faced with these options will choose, depends on the attractiveness of the proposition. The goal of MINUSMA therefore is to increase the attractiveness of the governments' proposition. And it needs to move fast to guarantee that the other options in the marketplace become irrelevant and unattractive. Because we know that once you are in, be it the criminal gang or the political movement, getting out is not easy - desertion unacceptable.

State security or human security

I also talked about security and what that really means. Increasing stability requires security. But security is often looked at from the perspective of the State. States organize and guarantee state security. And rightly so. It means securing the states’ institutions and those that work for the State. But where the State is considered corrupt, or absent or worse, where State representatives are abusive or looking after their own interests, rather than the interest of the public and the people, State security becomes “their security” rather than “our security”.

The human security perspective is a fundamentally different concept in many cases. Human security starts where the peoples' security is taken care of. That requires an understanding of what real people really need in terms of their security. The question: “how do we find out?” is relevant. As the concerns of the people are important as a starting point, it is equally important to identify what people really mean when they refer to their security. That may seem more complex than it really is. Recently, we had the perfect example locally.

From Groningen to Mali

The people in Northern provinces where our national wealth (natural gas) is hidden in our rich soil got really worried about their security and the risks they run through the exploitation of our national resources. The earth quakes. Houses break. Security shaken. But on the other hand our national cake is at stake. The national economic, and state security clashes with peoples' security. Tensions built up to the extent that some of the protesters in Groningen claimed that they did no longer exclude the use of violence…

The situation in Mali and in Groningen differ; in many respects. But the clashes of human security interests and state security interests are “look-alikes”. A thorough understanding of the clashes between security interests in an environment where the State is either regarded as inadequate, corrupted or absent is very basic.

Therefore, I would like to advise our quarter-makers to start looking into these issues. Talk to the civil society organisations that do not exclude the use of violence. Understand their motives and their grievances. Understand their anger and frustrations, just like in Groningen. Weigh the national and state security concerns, that soldiers naturally represent, carefully with the human security concerns. Only then will there be an answer to the questions that linger in the minds of our Parliamentarians ever since Afghanistan and Iraq. We can succeed and we will not fail if we care to listen and understand the challenging alternative propositions that lie on the shoulders of the youngsters in Kirdal and if we care to listen to human security concerns of the people. My hope lies with the quarter-makers.