Mali was readmitted into the African Union (A.U.) after a meeting of the A.U. Peace and Security Council [AUPSC] on Wednesday. The A.U. had suspended the West African nation after a coup in March this year saw a military junta seize power even as two thirds of Mali slipped into the control of a coalition of armed groups and organised gangs. The soldiers behind the coup had claimed that the existing dispensation was unable to tackle the insurgents in the north.
Since then, the junta has given way to a transitional all-party government and has asked for pan-African assistance to regain control of its territory. In its communiqué, the AUPSC endorsed a comprehensive plan to stabilise Mali using an African-led international force to end the conflict, and to reinstall a democratic government by holding free and transparent elections in the first quarter of 2013.
Next month, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hold a planning meeting with the U.N., EU and Malian government to finalise a strategy to deploy troops in the region, before approaching the U.N. Security Council for a resolution authorizing military action in Mali.
ECOWAS has committed 3200 troops for the mission and has called on other African nations to contribute troops as well.
Northern Mali has steadily slipped into chaos since late 2011, when entrenched gangs involved in smuggling and drug trafficking struck up alliances with a variety of armed groups — ranging from the self-proclaimed secular Tuareg combatants, some of them from Libyan Army of the Qadhafi regime to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a north African group associated with al-Qaeda. According to A.U. reports, the hard-line Islamist groups, backed by drug traffickers, like the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), appear to have the upper hand in the region.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced by the fighting; the A.U. estimates that the conflict has resulted in 160,000 Internally Displaced Persons, and another 202,000 Malians are living as refugees in the neighbouring countries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.