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.
Jihadist bombing in Gao threatened fragile progress in security arrangements in north. While main separatist rebel alliance Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) and Platform coalition that favours national unity were negotiating conditions of participation in joint patrols, car bomb claimed by jihadist group al-Murabitun exploded 18 Jan at joint camp in Gao, killing 61 soldiers and armed group members. Germany 11 Jan said it would add 350 soldiers and eight combat and transport helicopters to its 650 troops in UN mission, MINUSMA. EU same day extended European External Action Service mission, EUCAP Sahel Mali, until Jan 2019 and allocated it €29.7mn for one year from mid-Jan 2017. National security forces, MINUSMA and French Barkhane forces continued to be targets of asymmetrical attacks. Unidentified assailants 1 Jan burned down police station in Gossi, Timbuktu region. Al-Murabitun claimed 6 Jan attack on govt forces (FAMA) outpost in Ansongo, Gao region that killed two FAMA. Two unidentified gunmen 4 Jan killed International Committee of the Red Cross employee in Gao region. FAMA vehicle 11 Jan triggered IED in Mopti region, five soldiers killed. In centre, unidentified gunmen shot two mayors in Boni 18 Jan and Mondoro 28 Jan. Pro-unity Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA) said CMA attacked checkpoint near Tin-Assako, Kidal region 21 Jan killing fourteen. During Africa-France summit in Bamako, Jeune Afrique 13 Jan reported Barkhane forces killed ten-year-old boy in Nov in Tigabatene, Kidal region; French President Hollande said investigation ongoing. Govt, Burkina Faso and Niger 24 Jan agreed to create joint military force to counter insecurity in border areas in Liptako-Gourma zone.
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.
"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
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