Mali’s Algiers Peace Agreement, Five Years On: An Uneasy Calm
Mali’s Algiers Peace Agreement, Five Years On: An Uneasy Calm
Mali: Staying Engaged Despite Souring Relations
Mali: Staying Engaged Despite Souring Relations
Le président du Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (G), donne l'accolade à Mahamadou Djery Maiga (D), vice-président et porte-parole du Conseil de transition de l'Etat de l'Azawad, le 20 juin 2015 à Bamako. AFP/Habibou Kouyate
Q&A / Africa

Mali’s Algiers Peace Agreement, Five Years On: An Uneasy Calm

On its fifth anniversary, the Algiers peace agreement for Mali remains incompletely implemented. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Mathieu Pellerin explains why and calls for redoubling efforts to push ahead with the accord’s promised reforms.

Five years after it was signed in June 2015, what has happened to the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali?

In June 2015, the Malian government, a coalition of pro-government armed groups from northern Mali called the Platform and the Coordination of Azawad Movements (Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad, CMA) – an alliance of rebel groups – convened in Bamako and signed an agreement to restore peace in the country. The signatories were under great pressure from an international mediation team to accept the final text, which was drafted after less than a year of often indirect negotiations. The mediation team was led by Algeria and included the UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the European Union, as well as the United States and France, who were initially designated “friends of the mediation”.

The agreement seeks to restore peace in Mali principally through a process of decentralisation or regionalisation, reconstituting a national army from the members of the former armed groups that were signatories, and boosting the economy (particularly in the north), based on dialogue, justice and national reconciliation.

None of the agreement’s five pillars have been satisfactorily applied.

The parties claim to support the agreement five years after signing it in June 2015, but its implementation has proved to be extremely difficult. The Carter Center – appointed as the Independent Observer in Mali in late 2017 – reports virtually no progress on this front: in 2017, 22 per cent of the agreement’s provisions had been put into effect, compared to 23 per cent three years later. None of the agreement’s five pillars have been satisfactorily applied.

The parties have not carried out the substantive political and institutional reforms defined in Section II of the agreement (the first section lays out the agreement’s general principles), starting with regionalisation. So far, the measures have been temporary or too limited to make any real impact on the ground. It took months of negotiation between the signatories and international partners of the Peace Agreement Monitoring Committee (Comité de suivi de l’accord, CSA) to appoint interim authorities in the northern regions, and with few tangible results. Three years on, these authorities have insufficient financial and human resources, and lack the training, to manage the regions effectively. The two new regions (Ménaka and Taoudenit) created in northern Mali, based on commitments made by President Amadou Toumani Touré in 2011, also lack resources. Voters in these regions could not choose deputies in the April 2020 legislative elections because the electoral districts had not yet been delineated.

On matters of defence and security (Section III), the process of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) initiated by the state and backed by MINUSMA has weakened. Despite the deployment of a reconstituted Malian army battalion in February 2020 in Kidal, a hotbed of rebellion and CMA’s centre of operations in Mali’s far north, this force has never patrolled the town, and the CMA – chafing at its exclusion from a command role – has now “assigned” the battalion’s third company to Gao. The leaders of the movements and the Malian state’s chiefs of staff have not discussed the framework for a lasting means of integrating former armed groups’ members in the national army and its chain of command.

On the fifth anniversary of the agreement, this DDR process involves only 1,840 combatants from the signatory groups in an “accelerated DDR” phase, and they are not even the ones who fully reintegrated. UN Security Council Resolution 2480 (2019) set the goal of reintegrating 3,000 fighters by 2020, but it remains distant, and the next phase is uncertain. With nearly 85,000 combatants registered by the signatory groups, DDR remains incomplete and a sensitive issue. The mixed units of the Operational Coordination Mechanism (Mécanisme Opérationnel de Coordination, MOC), consisting of Malian soldiers and combatants from the signatory armed groups and partly assigned to the reconstituted army, were supposed to provide security in large towns in northern Mali. They are rarely seen on patrol, however, and have been targeted for attack, especially the 2017 Gao bombing of their camp. Some former fighters belonging to the MOC or to the reconstituted army have been involved in banditry and trafficking.

The joint administration of a long-term development fund by the Malian authorities and armed groups remains a challenge.

The parts of the agreement on development (Section IV) and reconciliation (Section V) remain largely overlooked. Nothing points to the possibility of genuine economic growth supported by the state or donors. A long-term development fund designed to support initiatives in northern Mali has been set up, but its joint administration by the Malian authorities and armed groups remains a challenge. Mali’s truth, justice and reconciliation commission, established in 2014, has continued its role as defined in the 2015 agreement, and it began holding public hearings in December 2019, but it generates hardly any interest.

Why the standstill?

The delayed implementation is symptomatic primarily of a lack of will among the signatories. Neither the Malian government nor the other parties were enthusiastic about the agreement’s text in 2015; international duress, particularly from Algeria, France and the U.S., pushed them to sign it. Civil society organisations in both northern and southern Mali that were supposed to represent local populations were effectively excluded from the process. While the Malian state and the signatory armed groups feel that outsiders foisted reconciliation upon them, southern Malians remain strongly distrustful of the former rebels and an agreement that was largely opaque to them. Many from the south think that the agreement is the first step toward an eventual partition of the country. According to the Mali-Mètre opinion survey (March 2020), “the vast majority of citizens interviewed (80.1 per cent) stated that they had ‘no’ knowledge (61 per cent) or ‘hardly any’ knowledge (19.1 per cent) of the peace agreement”.

Apart from the lack of will, the Malian state and the CMA are also keen to preserve the status quo: the CMA enjoys considerable de facto autonomy in its areas of influence in northern Mali, while many of its members have paid employment in the bodies set up by the agreements, such as the CSA and the interim authorities. In parallel, this state of affairs allows the Malian state to delay implementation of the 2015 agreement’s more sensitive provisions, particularly those implying constitutional reform. In August 2017, pressure from the public – mobilised in part against the agreement’s implementation – forced the government to postpone a draft constitutional referendum. By maintaining the status quo, the government prevents social unrest while still honouring its commitment to the international community to continue implementing the agreement.

We are not going to lay down our arms before getting what we took them up for in the first place.

The main parties to the agreement are therefore in a deadlock: the lack of political and institutional progress is leading the signatory armed groups to reject defence and security commitments. In an interview, one CMA official summed up the situation as follows: “We are not going to lay down our arms before getting what we took them up for in the first place”.

The international mediation team that pushed for the signing of the agreement has failed in its commitment to act as “the guarantor of [its] scrupulous implementation”, as specified in its text. The CSA has not exerted enough pressure on the parties to ensure the agreement’s proper implementation, in particular with regard to its key political and security provisions. International actors seem content with the status quo that allows them to focus on the jihadist threat, particularly in central Mali.

If the parties have not clashed since the agreement was signed, why does the impasse pose a problem?

The current stability is significant, and represents a source of satisfaction for some. But it is deceptive. The peace agreement may be partly responsible for the calm, but it owes more to a combination of factors that may turn out to be short-lived.

If they have failed to secure genuine implementation of the agreement, the international forces present in Mali have succeeded at deterring the signatories from resorting to the use of force. Their presence, however, will not be permanent. With instability spreading in central Mali, and across its borders, international actors such as Barkhane (a French anti-terrorism operation in the Sahel) and MINUSMA are increasingly turning their eyes elsewhere, such as Burkina Faso and Niger. In this vast region, the limited military forces (5,100 Barkhane and 13,000 MINUSMA soldiers) cannot be present everywhere.

Moreover, the stability in northern Mali is paradoxically linked to the CMA’s position of strength. Since 2015, violations of the peace agreement have pitted the armed groups of two coalitions against each other (rather than against the Malian state) due to political rivalries between the strongmen of different Touareg tribes or clashes between traffickers. The Platform – the coalition of pro-Bamako armed movements – has steadily weakened since 2017, and many of the factions have split off to join its rival, the CMA. Skirmishes are now rare again in northern Mali. Although the three parties signed the agreement in 2015, the Platform’s dwindling power has now left the CMA facing off against the government. In the longer term, the non-implementation of the agreement could give a pretext for the CMA, now in a strong position in the north of the country, to revive its quest for autonomy.

The non-implementation of the agreement could give a pretext for the CMA to revive its quest for autonomy.

The stability is also linked to the discovery of gold in the Kidal and Gourma regions. Panning for gold has effectively enabled a type of spontaneous yet temporary demobilisation of combatants from armed movements, especially the CMA. But the gold deposits will eventually run out. The current phase of artisanal mining will either come to an end or – more likely – yield to a phase of semi-mechanised mining that requires fewer workers. At that point, taking up arms could become more appealing.  

The current situation is therefore based on a precarious balance and cannot be described as a lasting solution; a flare-up of violence in the medium term cannot be ruled out. The peace process must deliver considerable progress in order to avoid becoming an empty shell that the signatories will end up abandoning in order to resume their hawkish positions.

Could improving the agreement’s implementation help solve the problem of jihadist insurrections spreading across other parts of northern Mali?

Some international actors and the Malian state consider that the reconstituted army, which must bring together Malian soldiers and combatants from armed groups, should engage in the fight against terrorism. It is risky, however, to connect the struggle against jihadist groups to the peace agreement’s implementation.

First, this idea gives the illusion that the signatory armed groups are capable of tackling jihadists. Many members of these signatory groups have been killed in the jihadists’ suicide bombings and other attacks; they are often forced to negotiate unofficial non-aggression pacts with the militant groups. Moreover, the “anti-terrorist” alliance created by Barkhane with two armed groups belonging to the Platform between 2017 and 2019 in the Liptako-Gourma region has proved unable to stem the jihadist expansion. Worse, it has exacerbated the situation by heightening local intercommunal tensions (see Crisis Group’s most recent report on Niger). The armed groups see no advantage in weakening their position in the anti-jihadist fight while the Malian state continues to raise the spectre of revising the peace agreement. Furthermore, most armed groups from the north have combatants in their ranks who were former members of jihadist groups before the French intervention, or else have family or tribal links to jihadist elements.

The issue of territorial and political autonomy is the core motivation for taking up arms in this region.

Although fighting terrorism attracts international attention, it is only one of the problems facing northern Mali today. Even if international and national forces were to succeed in eliminating or sidelining the jihadists, the signatory parties would still demand a satisfactory response to their demands for territorial autonomy in the north, which would almost certainly derail the Malian peace process. The issue of territorial and political autonomy – arising for the fourth time since 1963 – is the core motivation for taking up arms in this region. This is reflected in the agreement’s provisions on the implementation of effective regionalisation. In Niger, the state has allowed elites from the north, including former members of armed groups, to participate fully in running local administration. These elites have thus become better integrated into political and institutional affairs at a national level. Mali could follow this example that resolves a fundamental issue: how to dissuade people from joining armed groups and encourage military actors to take part in political and economic matters; even though it would be naïve to suppose that weapons and trafficking would disappear overnight. The most pressing goal is to ensure that these realities do not play into the hands of those with hawkish agendas.

How can the peace process move forward without jeopardising progress toward stability?

Expectations must be realistic. No one should feel satisfied with the current situation. At the same time, no one should exert pressure that may rekindle violence, for example by organising an unsuccessful referendum or redeploying the reconstituted army, which the signatory groups would judge as heavy-handed. The parties must take careful steps toward more effective implementation of the agreement. Given the various parties’ reluctance to apply the agreement in full, there is no magical solution for the problem. There are, however, two main areas where the peace process could gain new impetus: trust in the peace process, and political will to see it through.

Southern Malians’ opposition to the agreement has prevented progress toward its implementation. Since 2017, the government has postponed the deadline for the referendum on constitutional reform now scheduled for late 2020. This reform seeks to bring Mali’s constitution into line with the agreement’s terms, particularly by setting up a senate and regional assemblies whose presidents would be elected through direct universal suffrage. Opposition to the agreement, compounded by widespread discontent with a state weakened by seven years of crisis and recent disputed legislative elections, makes a positive outcome in such a referendum unlikely this year. Southern and central Malians account for almost 90 per cent of the electorate, and their mistrust of an agreement they do not properly understand would most likely lead them to reject the planned constitutional reform.

It is vital for southern Malians to give more support to the process.

It is therefore vital for southern Malians to give more support to the process through the political elites and civil society organisations supposed to represent them. They played no part in the discussions that led to the signing of the agreement in 2015, and many reject a text negotiated without their input. The 2015 text gave the Malian government the job of providing information and raising public awareness about the agreement’s content, but as the Carter Center observed, the government did little in this regard. There are now more public campaigns protesting against the peace agreement than in support of it. Awareness-raising initiatives have focused on northern populations, disregarding the fact that the agreement also applies to southern Mali, particularly through the regionalisation reform and the creation of a senate.

Five years after the signing of the agreement, it remains essential to address this shortcoming. Without the support of the population of southern Mali, many of its local interest groups will continue agitating to put the agreement on hold and to renegotiate its terms. Renegotiation is not in the interest of either the international community or the CMA, and over time could even lead to a resumption of belligerent discourse. The denunciation of the peace agreement is one of the grievances voiced by the organisers of the Movement of 5 June - Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), a protest movement calling for the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita that gathered tens of thousands of demonstrators on 5 and 19 June 2020, mostly in Bamako. Some of the movement’s leaders, such as filmmaker and former Minister Cheick Oumar Sissoko, have publicly called for the agreement to be revised, a position the M5-RFP has so far not adopted officially. The agreement remains a secondary issue for the movement, with other grievances aimed directly at President Keita taking precedence.

The CMA therefore needs to engage with southern Malians to explain that the agreement does not threaten to split up the country, and that regionalisation is a national reform and not limited to the north. The southern regions have everything to gain from a regionalisation process that would guarantee them a transfer of powers and resources unprecedented in Mali’s history. This awareness-raising could continue the work started with the inclusive national dialogue of 2019, namely the initiation of talks between the CMA and civil society organisations from southern Mali. Local elected representatives and traditional authorities from the north should be involved in these information campaigns in the southern regions. International partners sitting on the CSA monitoring committee, in particular MINUSMA, could help organise this work. Without guaranteeing the success of the referendum, such a move could still help relieve the pressure on the government exerted by southern elites that is holding up the agreement’s implementation.

The political authority in charge of implementing the agreement needs to be invested with greater power. The country’s president or, failing that, the prime minister, should become directly involved and support this authority, since these figures are the only ones able to give orders to the technical ministries and to resolve any disputes. The creation in 2016 of the president’s high representative to implement the agreement was a step in the right direction, but the person chosen for this job never had the necessary political clout or support to impose his views on a government that often remains unwilling to implement the agreement. The ministry of social cohesion, peace and national reconciliation, currently the government body in charge of this portfolio, has had no more success.

The key to implementation lies with the signatories themselves.

The top-level authorities of the signatory groups should be a more regular presence in Bamako, especially during the CSA’s most important sessions, since these constitute the main dialogue framework among the signatories. Otherwise, second-tier actors represent the groups, and their decisions fail to influence the other movements.

The international community must also continue to monitor progress, and to press for more, even though the current situation reveals the clear limitations of an externally imposed peace. The key to implementation lies with the signatories themselves.

The reality, however, is that Mali’s president must commit himself decisively and publicly to support the most sensitive provisions of the agreement – particularly the transfer of resources and power in terms of regionalisation and a reconstituted army. As long as he does not do so, the parties’ lack of will to implement the agreement will prove an insurmountable barrier.

Commentary / Africa

Mali: Staying Engaged Despite Souring Relations

The Malian government’s battle with jihadist insurgencies goes on after two coups in Bamako in the last two years. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Spring Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to endorse talks about a return to constitutional rule, increase support for civil society and back electoral reform initiatives.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

The Malian government’s conflict with jihadist insurgents has entered its tenth year with no resolution in sight. The government that came to power in 2021 has adopted a populist, anti-Western stance, blaming France, its long-time ally in fighting the militants, for the deadlock, while doubling down on offensive military action that has resulted in a surge in civilian casualties. Alienated by Bamako’s rhetoric and its decision to bring in the Russian private security company Wagner, France and other EU member states are withdrawing their troops from Mali, except for those deployed in the UN’s mission there. Although the Malian army has recently won limited victories in the country’s centre, the departure of its best equipped allies could shift the conflict’s momentum, energise militants and worsen the protracted humanitarian crisis. The authorities in Bamako have thus far shown little inclination to revive a 2015 peace agreement the government made with (non-jihadist) armed groups in the north. Meanwhile, the state has stepped up prosecution of political opponents, space for public debate is shrinking and online attacks on independent media are proliferating.

Bamako’s actions have greatly complicated the task for outside actors concerned with stability in the Sahel. Though the government’s feud with France has seemingly won it broad domestic support, it has worried neighbouring countries struggling to contain jihadist violence on their own soil. Bamako has also taken a hardline stance against scheduling elections that, per the previous transitional government’s agreement with other West African capitals, were to occur in early 2022. Its ties with most of its neighbours are at an all-time low since the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed trade restrictions on Mali over the authorities’ refusal to compromise on the elections issue.

Despite the withdrawal of French and European troops now under way and Mali’s growing opposition to the West, the EU and its member states must endeavour to keep channels of communication open. They should avoid public disputes with Bamako that could undermine the ECOWAS efforts to help restore civilian rule in Mali, while working quietly with regional partners to nudge the authorities toward a consensual transition.

To these ends, the EU and its member states should: 

  • Endorse ECOWAS-led talks to forge consensus on the timeframe for Mali’s return to constitutional rule, urging the parties to de-escalate polarising rhetoric and find points of compromise.
     
  • Increase diplomatic and financial support for Malian civil society, particularly for groups that support the freedoms of movement and expression and monitor restrictions on those rights.
     
  • Make available and, where appropriate, provide support for electoral reform initiatives, including by working with civil society organisations and relevant authorities as opportunities arise. An important improvement, which the EU and member states should support, would be to establish an independent electoral body.
     

Mali Alienates Traditional Partners after Second Coup  

After the military overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020, it put in place a largely civilian government that forged good working relations with foreign partners and neighbouring countries, but the arrangement proved unstable. Military leaders continued to pull the strings of government decision-making, causing civilian officials to chafe. The government’s attempts to free itself from military influence prompted army officers to stage a second coup in May 2021, installing Colonel Assimi Goïta, who had been vice president, as interim president and Choguel Kokalla Maïga as prime minister. The latter exploited hardening anti-French sentiment – the result of grievances built up over the course of years of France’s military presence – by ascribing the continued deterioration of security wholly to Paris’s stabilisation strategy, which since 2014 has centred around a military counter-insurgency campaign called Operation Barkhane.  The new government has also significantly slowed down talks aimed at implementing the important 2015 peace agreement signed with northern armed groups, and backed by the EU and other international actors.

A series of escalating verbal clashes then set Mali on a collision course with Western and regional partners.

A series of escalating verbal clashes then set Mali on a collision course with Western and regional partners. Fierce objections by the former to Bamako’s plan to bring in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group led to a standoff. At the same time, the government reneged on an agreement between ECOWAS and the previous transitional government that elections would be held by February 2022. In January, in response to what it saw as Bamako’s provocative proposal to extend the transition by up to five years, ECOWAS restricted regional trade with Mali and froze the country’s financial assets. Additionally, the bloc imposed individual sanctions on senior government officials. These penalties deeply aggrieved Mali’s leadership, which called for street protests and alleged that ECOWAS was acting under foreign pressure. The regional standoff affected another grouping, the G5 Sahel, which aimed to promote security and development in the five countries, although in fact little has been achieved. Mali effectively left the group in mid-May when its partners refused to hand its rotating presidency over to Bamako’s military leaders.

Against this backdrop, relations between Mali and European partners quickly worsened. On 24 January, authorities told the Danish government to immediately withdraw a 90-strong contingent that was to operate within Takuba, a European task force that France had helped assemble to complement Operation Barkhane. The Malian authorities claimed Denmark had flouted procedure. A week later, angered by the French government’s disparaging remarks about the transitional authorities’ legitimacy, Bamako expelled the French ambassador. At that point, and following in ECOWAS’ footsteps, the EU on 4 February imposed travel bans and asset freezes on five prominent officials, including Maïga, for undermining the transition.

Since then, the rift has widened further still. As it became clear that Russians in camouflage gear were indeed arriving at military bases in central Mali – despite the authorities’ emphatic denials that they were working with Wagner – French President Emmanuel Macron said the French counter-terrorism force’s presence in the country had become untenable. On 17 February, he announced that French and other European troops part of the Barkhane and Takuba operations would withdraw and redeploy to other countries in the Sahel by June. In April, the EU suspended its training of Mali’s army, though it has kept offering humanitarian law courses, and giving strategic and organisational advice to the military command and the government, especially the defence ministry. Around the same time, the country’s centre saw a modest improvement of security following army pressure on jihadist groups, allowing for a return of some displaced people and some timid renewed economic activity.

The Malian government says security has improved because it is “diversifying partnerships.”

The Malian government says security has improved because it is “diversifying partnerships”, arguing that its efforts will create an enabling environment for eventual elections. Authorities appear to genuinely believe that Russian assistance, which includes rapid delivery of arms purchases and the presence of Russian paramilitaries alongside the national army in combat situations, can help respond to the Malian people’s desire for progress in the counter-insurgency campaign. They attribute the improvement in security in some areas to new military equipment and Russian “instructors”. The army has amplified news of its advances through a vigorous communications campaign.

But it is far from certain that the army will be able to keep its new foothold in the centre. Recent history shows that the army lacks capacity to hold areas for any length of time and that jihadist groups quickly return, often bent on revenge against civilians perceived as having helped the authorities. Meanwhile, insecurity still plagues other parts of the country. The impending departure of Barkhane and Takuba forces could see jihadist groups opportunistically expand their operations, while the UN force will be weakened as it previously relied on air cover, as well as medical and logistical support from the French. The humanitarian situation remains dire, in terms of both displacement and civilian casualties. In addition, while the French mission drew its share of human rights complaints, Wagner’s track record gives reason to believe that abuses will get worse with the European troops gone and Wagner “instructors” influencing the army’s behaviour.

Indeed, recent Malian military actions point to soldiers’ disregard for the requirements of international humanitarian law and a heavy toll on the civilian population. In April, the army said it killed 203 militants during an operation in the village of Moura. According to multiple reports by human rights organisations and international media, the operation turned into a bloodbath as troops and Wagner mercenaries summarily executed hundreds of civilians they accused of collaborating with jihadists. The government barred the UN from investigating the incident.

There are also signs of a growing political crackdown. The judiciary has arrested or opened cases against opposition leaders, notably several who are very critical of the prime minister, for engaging in destabilising activities and inciting ethnic divisions, and jailed two politicians for criticising the head of government. (Their criticism of him is not the stated reason for the arrests.) Further, the government is using anti-Western sentiment as justification for circumscribing the space for public debate – accusing its opponents of siding with foreign powers. Activists, journalists and members of the political opposition are expressing growing concerns about their ability to work freely or counter official narratives.

How the EU Can Stay Engaged

The EU has long sought to take a comprehensive approach to the situation in Mali, emphasising political solutions to the challenges the country faces, good governance and social, environmental and economic development. It has in the last several years promised a surge of support for civilian leaders across the Sahel to assist them in promoting good governance, but with violence rising, that proved hard to implement. Now, the standoff with Bamako has left European diplomats at a loss, not just about how to put its strategy into practice, but also how to salvage relations. Staying engaged at member state level in the UN mission in Mali, in line with the German government’s 11 May announcement that it would boost its troop contribution, is a good step. In addition, there are three important things they can and should do.

The EU should use its good offices to help these negotiations move toward consensus.

First, the EU and its member states should throw their weight behind ECOWAS diplomacy as the bloc tries to persuade Bamako that it must agree to a deadline for a return to constitutional rule. Recent statements by the two sides indicate that tensions between Bamako and the bloc may be easing, raising prospects for an agreement. Through quiet diplomacy and (when appropriate) public support, the EU should use its good offices to help these negotiations move toward consensus. At this point, further EU sanctions would likely complicate an already delicate negotiation. Rather, the EU should signal its willingness to start dialling down sanctions if progress is made with the West African body.

Secondly, the EU should build on its existing support for Malian civil society organisations to counter tightening restrictions on freedom of expression. With international rights groups and foreign media finding it increasingly difficult to work in Mali, domestic groups will play a vital role in highlighting abuses and restrictions and in ensuring a healthy public debate, but they are facing mounting pressure. The EU’s diplomatic and financial support can help them sustain their activities, which are valuable both in the short term and in the run-up to eventual elections. While there is some risk that Western funding will undermine the credibility of local NGOs, the EU can at least partly mitigate it by working with groups that are well-established in their locales and sectors, including the many vibrant women’s groups working outside the capital. For the moment, given the tense political atmosphere, the EU should avoid highly visible initiatives.

Thirdly, the EU and its member states should offer their support for electoral reform initiatives. Many European diplomats in Brussels and the Sahel understandably worry that the authorities will use promises of major reform, and potentially constitutional amendment, as a pretext for delaying the transition to constitutional rule. Nevertheless, there is wide agreement that some reforms are needed and the EU should make clear that it is ready to help flesh out necessary restructuring to move toward elections. Perhaps most important among the reforms under discussion is the establishment of an independent electoral body, which the EU and member states should support. Such a body would both absorb the territorial administration ministry’s role in organising elections and limit the constitutional court jurisdiction for the arbitration of electoral disputes. Both steps would be important for increasing public trust in election integrity, as many Malians accuse the territorial administration and court of meddling in 2020 parliamentary contests in favour of the ruling party. While there appears to be solid domestic support for establishing an independent elections authority – it was identified as a priority in forums like the 2019 national inclusive dialogue, the 2020 national concertation days and the national refoundation meeting of December 2021 – actually creating one will be a significant undertaking.  It will require complex legislative changes and additional resources. The EU should make clear that it can and will help with both technical and financial support.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.