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.
Implementation of peace agreement in north inched forward and intercommunal fighting worsened in centre. Peace agreement signatories and international mediation 10 Feb issued joint statement identifying main contentious issues and setting new calendar for implementation, including plan to establish interim authorities in north 13-20 Feb. Govt 16 Feb appointed interim presidents of regional councils: two from main separatist rebel alliance Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) in Kidal and Timbuktu, and one from each of Platform coalition that favours national unity in Gao, from CMA splinter group Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) in Ménaka and from govt in Taoudenni. Pro-CMA Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) same day rejected appointment of interim authorities in Taoudenni. Govt 17 Feb appointed new governor of Kidal close to Platform but subsequent tensions delayed official instalment of interim authorities in Kidal until 28 Feb. Dissatisfied armed groups briefly occupied regional councils in Gao 27 Feb and Timbuktu 28 Feb. Army and armed group joint patrols, envisioned in peace agreement, started in Gao 23 Feb. Intercommunal violence rose in centre. Fulani and Bambara armed groups clashed near town of Ké-Macina, Ségou region 12 Feb killing at least 21, reportedly after unidentified gunmen killed trader 11 Feb in Ké-Macina. Govt forces (FAMA) 16 Feb said they had arrested four jihadists suspected of involvement in intercommunal clashes. Armed assailants continued to attack Malian, UN and French forces and civilians in several areas. Attacks on FAMA outposts near Andéranboukane, Ménaka region and Tongorongo, Mopti region 4 Feb killed several soldiers; IED 8 Feb killed soldier near Alafia, Timbuktu region. MINUSMA convoy 5 Feb triggered IED in Aguelhok, Kidal region, four injured. Unidentified gunmen 7 Feb kidnapped Colombian nun in Karangasso, Sikasso region. FAMA arrested twenty alleged jihadists and killed one person who resisted arrest 11 Feb in Dialoubé, Mopti region. French defence ministry 14 Feb said Barkhane forces had thwarted “terrorist attack” in Kidal region. Heads of state of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad) in Bamako 6-7 Feb pledged to create joint task force to fight terrorism.
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