As French forces intervene in Mali to curtail rebel forces in the country’s northern region, John Campbell, CFR’s Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, highlights three things to know about Mali and the escalating conflict:
An impoverished and divided country: The setting of Mali’s conflict is a desperately poor country regularly facing food shortages and even famine, which has a history of long-standing animosity between the sparsely populated north and the economically dominant south. "Government promises of federalism or increased local autonomy over the past twenty years have regularly been made and broken," Campbell says.
A democracy in crisis: "Mali was regarded as a model democracy," says Campbell, but the democratic government was overthrown in a 2012 coup by an American-trained colonel. "This coup showed how superficial the connection was between the country’s elites that managed the elections and the people they governed," Campbell explains.
Islamic radicalization: Following the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, his Tuareg mercenaries returned to Mali. Qaddafi’s men, along with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have imposed a radical Islamic regime in the north, explains Campbell. "Mali’s neighbors saw the emergence of this radical Islamic state as a threat to their own security," he says, and are seeking to restore Bamako’s authority in the north.