The survival of the Mali elephants is intimately linked to the state of relations between the peoples of the Gourma region. The Mali Elephant Project empowers local communities to work together to protect elephants and their habitat from human encroachment, and the wider environment from degradation. Degradation of soils, water, vegetation and wildlife means that there is less to go round and increases the likelihood of conflict between elephants and humans. When communities work together to protect and restore the ecosystem they are protecting the resources on which their livelihoods depend, and the habitats the elephants require for their survival, as the project has repeatedly demonstrated.
At the same time, working with local groups to protect their environment promotes community cohesion, provides employment for the youth, targets post-conflict aid and reconstruction activities, and is, therefore, an important vehicle for reconciliation.
Post-conflict there is the new challenge of healing the social wounds that have been opened up by the recent crisis. The question is, “How best to do this?”
Two reports have recently been published giving a fascinating insight the current situation. The first was published by Oxfam and describes how the conflict has undermined social relations within and between the ethnicities of northern Mali through feelings of fear and mistrust (Gao and Timbuktu).
The second is our own study which is complementary in that it examines a smaller geographic area – the Gourma region – but in more detail, and rather than focusing on ethnicities, teases out the different strategies employed by individuals to survive the crisis. > Report of the National Reconciliation Workshop
Like the first study, it concludes that reconciliation at the community level is a pre-requisite for all post-conflict aid and reconstruction activities, or there is the risk of exacerbating the situation; however if the motivations of different groups are not understood and taken into account, emergency aid and reconstruction activities risk doing more harm than good. During the conflict, many stayed. Of those who left there were those who fled for fear of being targeted by the armed groups because of the colour of their skin or their association with government or westerners, while others fled because they hoped to gain financially from their refugee status. Others, already wealthy, hoped to increase their wealth and power during the post-conflict reconstruction. Some joined the jihadis because they were paid large amounts of money and given a weapon. The latter allowed some to pillage, hijack vehicles, steal, and engage in illegal trafficking, while others were employed by the armed groups as cooks and drivers and participated in or became associated with abusive acts. Finally there were those imams (Muslim priests) who allied themselves with the jihadis and, together with pupils at some koranic schools, were responsible for imposing Sharia law on their own populations.
The good news is that the rift between communities is not irreparable. The wounds can be healed and there is a willingness displayed by the vast majority of people interviewed to begin a process of dialogue and reconciliation (Oxfam, 2013).
To begin this process we worked with the Ministry for Decentralisation and Land Management and the Ministry of the Environment and Sanitation to design and implement a three-day workshop for the top levels of national and regional Malian government, together with representatives of local communities, and from the national Reconciliation Commission to address the central question:
How can essential and urgent humanitarian assistance be quickly deployed to alleviate the present suffering, without further aggravating the social and environmental imbalances that are already posing a threat to a sustainable and peaceful future?
The aim was to enable the participants to share the information available and obtain an insight to the situation on the ground that would enable them to identify how piecemeal interventions could support and mutually reinforce each other. The result was a road-map of concrete actions required in the short, medium and long term.
In summary, the workshop recommended that:
- Reconciliation, within and between communities, is a prerequisite for ensuring the social, economic and environmental sustainability of aid and reconstruction initiatives.
- Reconstructing local communities will help to improve local, national and international security by minimising the risk of repercussions beyond Mali’s borders. Young men who are unable to return to their communities and who have nowhere else to go risk becoming radicalised and/or engaging in criminal activity.
- Local authorities must play an integral role in post-conflict reconciliation, aid and reconstruction, to ensure that these efforts are well targeted and to obtain the desired results. Their knowledge can aid the process of:
- Disarmament – they know who has weapons and can help in recovering them,
- Compensation – they are familiar with the pre-conflict situation, and can help to ensure that compensation is fair,
- Redress, reintegration and bringing to justice — they know who has committed what crimes, and can help to determine the needs of displaced persons who wish to return to their communities.
- Such a huge task requires a coordinated effort and therefore an additional aim of this workshop was to sketch out a plan to help coordinate the efforts made by many parties with different agendas, thereby helping official programmes and individual actions to support each other.