Malians want a united country, post-conflict justice

Author: Boniface Dulani
Co-Author(s): Michael Bratton and Massa Coulibaly

According to an Afrobarometer survey conducted in December 2013 with over 2400 respondents,1 the vast majority of Malians stress that their country must remain a single, unified nation. Citizens decisively reject the 2012 attempt by armed groups to create a breakaway state in Mali’s northern territories. But can the supporters of a unified country and advocates of jihad or autonomy settle their differences peacefully in the aftermath of an intense conflict, brutal occupation, and harsh military response? In short, is national reconciliation possible?

In post-conflict situations, the prospects for national reconciliation often hinge on whether justice is seen to be done. For example, people want to know whether the truth will be told about human rights violations during the hostilities. Will perpetrators – whether ethnic separatists, religious insurgents, coup makers, government soldiers, or ordinary citizens – be held accountable for their actions? Will victims of abuses be compensated for their losses?

These issues are central to the challenge of transitional justice, that is, the quest in new democracies to come to terms with abuses of power committed during past authoritarian regimes. The 2013 Afrobarometer survey reveals that Malians, perhaps weary of repeated conflicts and failed peace agreements, give highest priority to the legal prosecution of wrongdoers.

The question remains however, whether peace and justice can be obtained at the same time.2 Will an emphasis on national reconciliation sweep injustices under the carpet, only to fester later? Or will an aggressive campaign of legal prosecutions render impossible any real chance of peace?