Notes on International Crisis Group’s Report on Drug Trafficking in Northern Mali

Last month, International Crisis Group put out a report called “Drug Trafficking, Violence and Politics in Northern Mali” (full report here).

Here is an excerpt from their summary:

Drug trafficking in northern Mali is generating a level of violence that is unparalleled in the subregion. The Malian state’s inability to bring the area under control has spawned particularly fierce conflicts among traffickers. Weapons circulating after the rebellions of the past two decades have exacerbated the progressive militarisation of trafficking networks, whose rivalries fuel political and inter-communal tensions. Smuggling narcotics is not only a means by which armed groups gain funds but a source of conflict in itself. Thus far, policies against drug trafficking have proven ineffectual; indeed, it is unrealistic to expect the problem to be eradicated any time soon. But Malian authorities and their international partners could take steps to at least demilitarise trafficking and reduce violence. These include backing regional stability pacts that informally regulate smuggling, redoubling efforts to rid all armed groups who signed the 2015 peace agreement, including those working with traffickers, of heavy weaponry, and using coercive measures (notably targeted sanctions) against those who refuse to disarm.

And here are my notes:

  • If you have past familiarity with this topic, p. 6 is a good place to start. Here is where the report begins to discuss some of the major changes in the past fifteen years or so, including the diversification of smuggling routes since 2012 and the shifting composition of trafficking networks since the mid-2000s. In terms of trade routes, the report points to the importance of Tabankort, Ber, and Lerneb. In terms of networks, this passage mentions the “democratization” of the drug trade away from the previous Arab (Berabiche and Lamhar) “quasi-monopoly.” pp. 8-9 further discuss how the drug trade seems to be contributing to the emergence of new “sub-fractions” within tribes, and particularly Arab tribes, as prominent traffickers assert wider societal influence.
  • pp. 9-10 go on to discuss how the drug trade exacerbates pre-existing inter-communal tensions, as “vassals” flex muscles against “nobles” – for example, within the Tuareg, the Imghad against the Ifoghas; and within the Arabs, vassal tribes against the Kunta. There are cross-ethnic tensions, too, though, for example as Idnan Tuareg challenge Lamhar Arabs for control of trade and territory. pp. 17-19 extend this theme further.
  • One of the big points in the report is that the supposed “nexus” between drug traffickers and jihadists is less substantial than many assume. There is a good discussion of this on pp. 13-15, including how it was the French military intervention of 2013 that paradoxically brought jihadists and traffickers closer together.
  • pp. 15-17 discuss how the drug traffic is both a resource and a headache for the major signatory groups to the 2015 Algiers Accord. For example, the Coordination of Awazad Movements (French acronym CMA) can draw material support from traffickers but also has to worry about how the drug trade can cause conflict within their own coalition.
  • The last third of the report (pp. 21-30) deals with anti-trafficking measures and recommendations.
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