I arrived in Mali as U.S. Ambassador one year ago, thrilled to be coming in just following the signing of the hard-won Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. After years of hardship and crisis that had torn communities and the nation itself apart at the seams, the world applauded Mali’s affirmation of the belief that decades-old societal rivalries and divisions can be overcome through thoughtful dialogue and compromise. It was a crucial, historic moment in Mali’s history, even as all Malians knew that the hardest work was only just beginning.
One year later, despite some progress, much of the hard work is left to be accomplished. The challenges have been considerable: continued distrust and fitful communication have made it difficult to achieve rapid progress in accord implementation, while extremist actors have taken advantage of the slow pace to fuel rising insecurity, costing many lives. Agreeing on the foundation for an enduring peace requires a willingness to take risks and the courage and confidence to compromise when needed. Though we have yet to meet our expectations, there is strong reason to remain optimistic. Last week’s agreement on a consensual process for installing interim authorities in northern Mali, in line with the peace accord, required mutual understanding, creative thinking, and compromise. I applaud the parties’ efforts to surmount the difficulties of recent months and the gestures made in recent days to signal their continued commitment to the accord. We can expect much more progress if they can maintain the same sense of urgency that they demonstrated during this most recent meeting of the Comite de Suivi.
One year after signing, the Malian parties face a new opportunity to engage in the tough work of accord implementation. There is an opportunity like none other to harness the newfound momentum of the past week to drive the process forward and outline a timeframe for agreements. Continued delays and standoffs will only add to the toll of suffering being endured by thousands of Malians, including the 130,000 in refugee camps waiting to return home. Hundreds of schools from Segou to Kidal continue to be shuttered due to persistent insecurity. For similar reasons, government agents and international partners are unable to access wide swaths of the country to improve delivery of water, electricity, health, and other basic services. NGOs delivering humanitarian aid or seeking to help build inter-community reconciliation are forced to reconsider operating in parts of northern Mali because banditry on the roads and political conflicts between armed groups make it hard to guarantee either their safety or the success of their missions.
There is no more time to lose. The key elements of this accord – political and institutional questions; defense and security; economic, social, and cultural development; and justice, reconciliation, and humanitarian issues – these complicated strands all must interweave together if they are to form the fabric of a reconstructed, unified nation. This requires communication, coordination, a spirit of inclusion, and, above all, political will. The implementation of the Accord is the work of a nation, requiring the involvement and support of all. The stakes cannot be higher and failure is not an option.
It is fitting that we mark the one-year anniversary of the Peace Accord during the month of Ramadan. It is a holiday that calls on all of us to demonstrate a spirit of harmony, togetherness, and compassion. It is this spirit that will help Malians seize this historic opportunity to bring a lasting peace to this great country. It is time for Malians to come together, work together, and strive together towards the same vision of peace. When I first came to Mali, I quickly learned the phrase, “On est ensemble.” Today, one year later, I remain optimistic that all signatories to the accord will continue to strive to live up to this motto.