Mali emerged as an independent state in 1960. The subtropical south of the country is home to 90 percent of the population, including the Bambara social group who have dominated Malian institutions for centuries. To the north, swathes of sparsely populated desert with a handful of urban centres are home to Arabs and the Tuareg, many of whom are semi-nomadic. Upon independence, the newly empowered Malian administration sought to make these populations sedentary and consolidate control from traditional elites. These policies represented a reversal from French rule, where the north enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. In 1963, several armed groups emerged from the aggrieved Tuareg population and launched an insurgency against the Government of Mali in Bamoko.1
This rebellion was crushed militarily, leaving lasting antagonisms between the northern population and the government. A series of droughts in the ensuing decades worsened the plight of these communities, forcing many to leave Mali and join Muammar Qadhafi’s Islamic Legion in Libya. In 1990, some veterans of the Islamic Legion launched another insurgency in northern Mali which enjoyed a broad base of support among both the Arab and Tuareg communities of the area.2 Four major armed groups and an array of smaller ones gathered under the banner of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement Populaire de Libération de l’Azaouad, MPLA) and joined the rebellion.
The government responded to the rebellion by declaring a state of emergency and launching security operations, this time to no avail. Ongoing military failures (including some major defeats) and growing domestic opposition to the administration forced the Government of Mali to accept an Algerian offer to mediate talks.3 The negotiations culminated on 6 January 1991 with the signing of the Tamanrasset Accords, which included provisions for a ceasefire, disengagement of forces and prisoner exchanges, and a commitment to provide the north with more investment and autonomy.4 A coup d’état later in the year threatened to derail the peace process, but fresh elections produced a new government, which continued dialogue. On 11 April 1992, ongoing talks encompassing a broad range of Malian communities and political stakeholders culminated with the signing of a more comprehensive peace agreement, the National Pact.5 Although this agreement caused several splinters in the MPLA (which itself dropped the “liberation” from its name during this period) that led to renewed fighting, those factions initially opposed to the peace process were gradually incorporated into it until 1996, when the last groups laid down their arms and a Flame of Peace ceremony was held in Timbuktu.6 A comprehensive military integration programme (involving thousands of Tuareg troops and supported by the UN), ongoing efforts by local people and organisations (supported by Norwegian Church Aid), and the implementation of the relevant provisions of the National Pact by the government helped to consolidate the peace.7