War has returned to northern Mali, two years after the peace agreement failed to settle turf wars.
In fact, the desert area is reportedly more unstable now than at any time since the French intervention against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2013 and the deployment of UN peacekeepers later that year.
As reported by the BBC, Islamist militant activity has spread to the centre of country. Now a regional counter-terror force, the G5 Sahel, is being put in place.
But many Malians say that looking at Mali’s problems through a gun sight may be making the country more dangerous.
“Every young man wants a gun. Young men are prepared to steal, to kill to acquire a firearm,” Sidy Cissé, the youth councillor for Gao city, was quoted as saying.
“They want a firearm so they can claim the right to join the UN-backed demobilisation programme and be given a job. Of course, if an armed group offers these same men $500 or $800 to lay a landmine in front of a UN convoy they will do so. They are not acting out of conviction but for money,” he added.
Gao, a low-rise city on the Niger river, has a long history of lawlessness. The richest people like it that way. They are the residents of the Cocaine City neighbourhood who sleep comfortably in luxury villas built from the proceeds of hostage ransoms and desert trafficking in drugs, fuel and consumer goods.
The flow of Mediterranean-bound migrants through Gao is another vital income stream here on the edge of the Sahara. According to the BBC, it provides jobs for drivers, runners, innkeepers, petrol-pump attendants and snack-sellers.
Commenting on the current situation in Mali, one senior civilian UN official told the BBC: “We need a certain amount of security here, to protect people seeking a political solution. But I do not think we need thousands of under-trained blue-helmeted soldiers who by being here offer the terrorists a target.”
Chaos is also the best environment for Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda, who within it can broker short-lived alliances of expediency, just as they did briefly with Azawadian independence fighters during the occupation of northern Mali in 2012.