Mali: what we must get right before world's attention falls elsewhere | Jeremy Konyndyk

From Aid | The Guardian Tue Feb 19 2013, 02:00:01

Mali needs aid donors to focus on resilience, a clear mission for peacekeepers, and peace-building at grassroots in the north

Mali, long on the international backburner, is now having its moment in prime-time. Media from around the world have breathlessly covered the lightning offensive by French and Malian military forces and the liberation of the legendary city of Timbuktu. But the limelight is already beginning to fade, obscuring that the hardest task is yet to come. Restoring a degree of normality in northern Mali will mean dealing with a humanitarian emergency and building peace amid weak governance and worsening ethnic tensions.

These challenges have deep roots. Their underlying drivers will not be resolved - and in the near term may actually be aggravated - by military action. As planning moves ahead for a UN peacekeeping mission and a resumption of aid, there must be a concerted, careful effort to address these issues.

The first priority must be to reopen access to the north of the country. The offensive has pushed rebels out of Mali's major northern towns but has worsened access. Until January, the north depended on two principal lifelines: food supply in commercial markets and humanitarian aid. Both remain largely blocked due to restrictions on movement, the closure of trade routes with Algeria and insecurity. Mercy Corps and other organisations have warned that the ...

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