Violence is escalating in Central Mali, often neglected as the world focuses on problems in the country’s north. Radical groups and criminal gangs are exploiting years of short-sighted security policies that have lost the state much of its legitimacy. The government needs to recognise that state authority also rests on public services and dialogue with its people.
Conference of National Understanding intended to foster reconciliation 27 March-2 April in Bamako highlighted need to open talks with jihadists including Ansar Dine’s leader Iyad Ag Ghaly and Macina Liberation Front’s leader Amadou Kouffa. French and German FMs 7 April in Bamako opposed negotiating with “terrorists”. Implementation of June 2015 peace agreement continued to generate tensions: rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) splinter Congress for Justice in Azawad (CJA) continued to obstruct establishment of interim authorities in Timbuktu and Taoudeni regions. Govt forces (FAMA), pro-national unity Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA) and CMA splinter Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) 12 April launched joint patrols in Ménaka city and surroundings, claiming they constituted joint operational mechanism foreseen in agreement, but CMA forces absent. Violence and banditry persisted in north and centre. Drug traffickers repeatedly clashed in Kidal and Ménaka regions: rival groups 15-17 April attacked at least three convoys; groups clashed in Ménaka region 20 April. Officer of rebel group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) killed in Kidal city 5 April. Unidentified gunmen 7 April attacked Platform coalition of armed groups that favour national unity in Anéfis, killing three; Platform accused pro-CMA Ifoghas Tuaregs. Unidentified gunmen attacked Gargando village, Timbuktu region 8 April killing five CJA combatants and local official; CJA accused al-Qaeda. Jihadists 18 April attacked FAMA in Tagharouste, Timbuktu region, killing at least four, French forces killed about ten jihadists fleeing scene; jihadist coalition Group to Defend Islam and Muslims allegedly claimed responsibility. French, Malian and Burkinabè forces carried out joint Operation Panga on Mali-Burkina Faso border 27 March-10 April to eliminate jihadists, especially Malam Ibrahim Dicko’s faction (see Burkina Faso). President Keita appointed Defence Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga as PM 8 April. Maiga formed new govt 11 April, including eleven new ministers. Govt 16 April negotiated agreement with striking health workers, but many teachers continued strike.
Hesitant steps toward peace in Mali have been helped by the recent pacts signed in Anefis by pro-government armed groups and by rebel representatives. While not sufficient or without risks, they are rooted in local initiatives and tackle issues left out of June’s Bamako accord. This offers a serious opportunity to put the peace process back on track.
The Sahel’s trajectory is worrying; poverty and population growth, combined with growing jihadi extremism, contraband and human trafficking constitute the perfect storm of actual and potential instability. Without holistic, sustained efforts against entrenched criminal networks, misrule and underdevelopment, radicalisation and migration are likely to spread and exacerbate.
Fighting recently resumed in Mali, while a peace accord remains a façade. Both sides, with help from international mediators, need to re-open negotiations. They must go beyond prioritising security to include all belligerents and improve access to basic social services, jobs and justice.
As the last phase of negotiations resumes on 20 November, the Algeria-led talks between the Malian government and the armed groups in the north should not be rushed as they offer a unique opportunity for a sustainable peace agreement.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s current legitimacy and a strong international presence give Mali a unique opportunity to engage in serious reforms and inclusive dialogue. However, the window for change is narrow and dangerous political habits are resurfacing.
Are we building any kind of sustainable peace [in Mali] through this kind of process that gives the most resources to the guys with guns?
"We're again, as we've been several times since 2013, at a defining moment [in the fight against jihadist groups in northern Mali]. On the political side things have improved, but it is very worrying security-wise.
Les populations du centre [du Mali] ont vu dans l'accès aux armes de guerre un moyen de se protéger et parfois de contester les hiérarchies en place.
Despite the training provided by the European Union since 2013, the [Malian] army lacks capacity until today. We’re talking about a long-term undertaking.
Las partes se niegan a deponer las armas antes de saber quién va a gobernar localmente, cuál será su destino y qué posiciones serán para la Plataforma y cuáles para el CMA
Africa is experiencing the highest number of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. As the new chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, takes office, International Crisis Group suggests how he can strengthen the organisation’s response to threats to continental peace and security.
With jihadists and armed groups exploiting political and security vacuums across the Sahel, Mali and neighbouring states will continue to face insecurity. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to rethink international development strategies and to support local government initiatives that combat radicalisation.
Jihadist groups have regrouped in the neglected hinterlands of Sahel countries and are launching attacks from them. To regain control of outlying districts, regional states must do far more to extend services and representation beyond recently recaptured provincial centres.
Originally published in Le Monde