Smuggling and conflict complexity in Mali
: a socio-economic approach

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Mali's conflict landscape has undergone a significant increase in complexity over the last six decades. While the conflict initiated in 2012 was preceded by similar iterations of rebellions from the north against the Malian state in the south, none of these previous conflicts matched its scale, both in terms of the multiplicity of actors involved, and the diversity of aims, interests, and goals pursued by them. Indeed, the demands of the conflicting parties seem to reflect a changing atmosphere of contention that has swept the region over the past two decades. These range from regional autonomy to much more severe demands for complete secession or the realisation of a radical eschatological religious ideology put forth by various Islamist groups. This thesis ties these developments to changes in the region's smuggling economy that have promoted a more fragmented conflict landscape by increasing the capacities of marginalized actors to pursue their own courses, mainly by developing independent resource bases free from the control of prevailing power structures. This has led to the erosion of traditional social hierarchies, particularly within the Tuareg and Arab populations of the north, whose traditional nobility have faced unprecedented opposition from below as historically marginalized tribes have formed armed power bases in their own right. This stands as a novel contribution to the literature on the role of economic resources in armed group organization, arguing that resources are not simply channeled through pre-existing social networks but that they in fact reform and alter these very networks themselves. This presents an approach that moves beyond the debate over the structural primacy of either social or material force in armed group organizations, but rather considers the ways in which both mutually constitute the structures under which armed groups operate.
Date of Award11 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorHenning Tamm (Supervisor)


  • Northern Mali
  • Armed group fragmentation
  • Conflict landscape
  • Smuggling
  • Trafficking
  • MNLA
  • Tuareg
  • Armed group organisation

Access Status

  • Full text open

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