By directly engaging with AQIM, the Malian authorities demonstrated their willingness to respond to armed challenges with force. Yet Mali's overall approach to conflict goes well beyond military reactions. Since the 1990s, Tuareg and other ethnic rebels have been active in Mali's arid Sahel region. By considering their political and economic grievances, the government has succeeded in persuading many fighters to lay down their weapons.
The establishment of a democratic system in 1992 has facilitated political dialogue, and provides citizens with ways to peacefully air their concerns. Mali has a vibrant civil society and free press as well as a record of respecting human rights. Although the government has few financial resources, it has devoted much attention to trying to improve conditions for its poorest citizens.
Across Africa, other countries face similar challenges as they try to address immediate security threats while simultaneously pursuing long-range priorities. But because the continent confronts so many pressing problems, tackling terrorism has so far not taken a high profile, despite the calls to wage "war on terror" that have been so prominent internationally since the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
As Kenyan journalist Mutuma Mathiu summarized the common African view: "For people who have to work reasonably hard to put bread on the table, have to fight AIDS and the escalating cost of living, terrorism appears to be a distant threat. The threat of having nothing for dinner is more immediate."