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Conflict and conflict resolution in the Sahel: The Tuareg insurgency in Mali

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Mali’s resolution of its severe ethnic conflict involving the Tuareg nomads in the 1990s may provide useful insights into conflict resolution in Africa as a whole. This Strategic Studies Institute study describes the nature of the Malian solution and indicates the reasons for its success to date. A key reason for success being that instead of using military repression the Malian government pursued a process of reconciliation, which involved integrating Tuareg rebels into the Malian army.

The 27th June 1990, marked the beginning of what Malians call “The Second Tuareg Rebellion”. By the end of 1992, the Tuareg communities in Mali had been devastated by violence and by pervasive, continuing fear of reprisals. Thousands of Tuaregs had fled the country. Those that remained were deeply suspicious both of the Malian government (and especially of its army) and of their non-Tuareg neighbours. By 1994, the senior civil and military leadership in Mali was strongly committed to solving the Tuareg problem and doing it in a way that would end the cycle of violence and fear.

A first step was to use the army itself in efforts to win the confidence of the Tuaregs. Second, and more difficult, was to change the manner in which the army characteristically dealt with security problems in the north.

  • Tuareg combatants were integrated into a temporary military force (and, later, into the army, police, and civil service) as a confidence-building measure. The early phase of the integration was difficult as exemplified by a mutiny in 1994. However, over time, former Tuareg rebels adapted to the conditions of service and were accepted by their non-Tuareg fellow soldiers.
  • The army instituted recurring consultations between senior military officers and Tuareg community leaders. These meetings provided fora to discuss grievances, address allegations of criminal activity, and examine accusations of human rights abuses.
  • The army held a recurring series of workshops and consultations for soldiers of all ranks, concentrating on professional ethics, respect for human rights, laws of land warfare, and the role of the military in democratic societies.
  • The government endeavoured to appoint progressive, culturally-sensitive officers to key positions in the north. Mali’s new leaders also showed a concern for Tuareg sensitivities by incorporating Tuaregs into the police and the customs agencies and ordering officials along its borders to treat Tuareg merchants and travellers with more consideration.

Though the road has hardly been smooth, these efforts have resulted in a remarkable national reconciliation in Mali. It is instructive to note how the Malian government has endeavoured to deal with the second Tuareg rebellion:

  • First, it continued a national commitment to political and economic reform in the expectation that this ultimately would attenuate many of the sources of grievance in Mali. Part of that reform involved the decentralisation of power, which provided local communities with much more say in their own affairs.
  • At the same time, nomads in northern Mali were made to feel more secure by the reduction of government military presence in the north, and by incorporating large numbers of former rebels into Mali’s security forces and civil service.
  • However, even more important were strenuous (and successful) national efforts to use the military as a key instrument in nonviolent conflict resolution in the north.


Author: Colonel Kalifa Keita
Source: Keita, K., 1998, ‘Conflict and Conflict Resolution in the Sahel: The Tuareg Insurgency in Mali’, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle
Size: 48 pages (307 kB)