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Customary Characters in Uncustomary Circumstances: The Case of Northeastern Mali

09 Mar 2022
Long read by Anna Schmauder

Cet article est également disponible en français.

Six years following the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation signed to stabilize northern Mali, the northeastern regions of Ménaka and Gao are characterized by expanding territorial control by violent extremist organizations (VEOs). While customary authorities such as village chiefs have in the past increasingly become a target of VEOs, this report focuses on their agency. In particular, it asks what role traditional and religious leaders play in community resilience against violent extremism. In a context where the Malian state struggles to establish its presence in large parts of the country, customary leaders are largely considered to be the most readily accessible governance actors to rural communities. However, this report’s findings highlight the extent to which both state and customary administration in northeastern Mali has become constrained by armed violence, including by VEOs. The report finds that the actual impact of customary governance – despite crucial regional differences between Gao and Ménaka – is severely limited, as customary leaders have been largely undermined in the prevailing quest for protection alliances.