Arrow Left Arrow Right Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
What Could Be Behind the Bamako Attack?
What Could Be Behind the Bamako Attack?
Briefing 104 / Africa

Mali: Last Chance in Algiers

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.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download Full Report

I. Overview

As northern Mali experiences renewed violence, peace negotiations in Algiers offer a unique opportunity to resolve the crisis. But after almost two months of negotiations, peace remains a distant hope. The Malian government and participating political armed groups have struggled to find common ground. Influential radical groups that are absent from the negotiating table are tempted to resort to violence to derail the process. Conflict resolution will require reconciliation of competing interests regarding security in the Sahara, organisation of the Malian state structure and local balance of power between divided communities in the north. In the face of armed clashes, it is tempting for mediators to move quickly to achieve a deal that would only guarantee security in the short term. But rushing the process will not help. Time is needed to build the foundations of sustainable peace.

After months of deadlock, Algeria arranged international mediation that had long been handicapped by institutional rivalries. The mediation team led by Algeria should maintain this momentum and take the time necessary to build broad consensus for a future agreement. The document that serves as a basis for the drafting of a final agreement is a useful first step, but it offers solutions that have shown serious limitations in the past. It presents the crisis as a centre-periphery conflict without acknowledging the divides within northern communities. It does not provide for political and security institutions that would ensure equitable access to resources and responsibilities for all communities.

All actors involved in trying to resolve the crisis must learn from the mistakes of previous agreements, such as a lack of funds to ensure quick implementation; weak international guarantee mechanisms that did not fulfil their early warning role; and the neglect of the local balance of power in the north due to the focus on relations between the state and the northern regions. On the security front, the integration of former rebels into the armed forces generated a lot of frustration across the board.

During the last few weeks, northern Mali has experienced resurgence in violence, in particular because of jihadi activities and clashes between political armed groups, in violation of the May 2014 ceasefire. In the context of a worrying increase in attacks on the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), it is tempting to strengthen the security response. However, the best option remains to try for a realistic, sustainable agreement. In Bamako, the shock caused by the Kidal debacle in May 2014 has not entirely faded away. Radical nationalist groups have not ruled out the military solution with support from international forces.

As the last phase of negotiations opens on 20 November in a climate of distrust, much remains to be done. Any further stalemate in the discussions will give rise to prejudice in both parties. No one wants to rush the signing of an incomplete agreement. Mali’s international partners, who are the future political and financial guarantors of the deal, should not condone a flawed agreement. Failure would also jeopardise Algeria’s laudable efforts to stabilise the region. On the governmental front, the longer public administration remains absent from the north, the more difficult it will be to fully restore the state’s presence. Meanwhile, insecurity in the north is undermining the political and diplomatic influence gained by the Azawad Movements Coalition, due to their victory over the army in Kidal.

To all actors involved in the negotiations, in particular their leader, Algeria:

  • take the time necessary to conduct the negotiations and in the meantime, find an interim agreement focusing exclusively on strengthening the ceasefire, for example through increased mixed patrols;
     
  • address conflict both within the northern communities, and between these communities and the state, in order to establish political and security institutions that ensure a fair and acceptable distribution of resources and political responsibilities; and
     
  • agree to hold popular consultations prior to finalisation of the agreement, and provide for formal endorsement through a vote by an extraordinary session of the Malian parliament and/or a vote in the regions concerned.

To the mediation team (Algeria, MINUSMA, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, EU, Mauritania, Niger and Chad):

  • provide international guarantees to ensure funding and implementation of the agreement, including an international mechanism to manage donor funds jointly with the relevant local authorities, and an early warning and rapid reaction system in the event of a derailment of the peace process; and
     
  • prepare the international mediation team to become a contact group responsible for enforcement of the agreement, based in Bamako and the northern regions, once the negotiations are completed.

Dakar/Brussels, 18 November 2014

Malian troops take position near the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on 20 November 2015. AFP/Habibou Kouyate
Commentary / Africa

What Could Be Behind the Bamako Attack?

In this Q&A, we talk to our Senior Sahel Analyst Jean-Hervé Jezequel about this raid, how it might relate to the Malian stumbling peace process, or whether a more global dynamic could be at play.

Islamist gunmen stormed a luxury hotel packed with foreigners in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday 20 November, taking 170 hostages and holding many for several hours.

Crisis Group: How much do we know about the identity of the attackers in Bamako and about what they are trying to achieve?

Jean-Hervé Jezequel: This attack might be related, in my opinion, to two different contexts: the local one, principally the Malian peace agreement, with possible spoilers trying to derail the process, and the global one, in which of course Islamic State (IS)’s name has come up. The attack may also result from a combination of both the local and global contexts: an attack that has been planned for a long time may have been accelerated following the Paris event.

I should first underline that there has never before been any solid evidence of any IS presence in Mali. It’s very hard to analyse and react to an attack so soon after it happens and on which we have very little solid information, at the same time as there are so many unchecked rumours. Commentators should avoid any premature assumption of a link with IS, since this risks a counter-productive overreaction in Mali and may overstate IS’s role.

Northern Mali fell to Al Qaeda-linked separatist groups in March-April 2012, which were driven out by a French-led operation in early 2013. A peace process and a deal in June this year – Crisis Group called it an imposed peace – has stumbled from the beginning, and agreements on ceasefires have been repeatedly broken. Where does it currently stand and how does it relate to the attacks?

The Malian peace process has made progress in the last few months, with the signing of the agreement on 20 June and more recently the signing of local agreements in Anefis (near Kidal) on 16 October. On 19 October, three days after the Anefis meeting, Iyad ag Ghaly, the Tuareg leader of Ansar Eddine (one of the jihadi groups that occupied northern Mali in 2012), released an audio file in which he criticised the “secular movements”, by which he probably meant the ones that met in Anefis. He accused them of “betraying the people of Azawad” and helping “an apostate government” retake control of the north in exchange for small privileges, positions and limited gains.

Iyad ag Ghaly also repeated his call for holy war against the French “crusaders”. He congratulated radical groups from southern and central Mali for their recent actions and tried to position himself as the leader of the several groups engaged in violent jihadi extremism in Mali. Indeed, two radical groups have been active and targeted Malian security forces in the last few months: the Macina Liberation Front (very active in central Mali and mostly recruiting among ethnic Fulanis) and Ansar Eddine’s so-called Branch for Southern Mali.

Radical groups have been excluded from, and have conversely refused to take part in, the Mali peace talks in Algiers. They have been repeatedly hit by French forces, whose targeted killings included some of Iyad ag Ghaly’s close associates. The recent progress made in the peace process, especially after the Anefis meeting, may put an end to ongoing fighting between armed groups, which is a threat for radical leaders.

This local dynamic could be one of the drivers, or even the main driver, behind the attack. Yet here again we should not make any premature assumptions. Pointing fingers at some individuals or communities before we get solid evidence might prove dangerous in the current context.

How likely is it that there is a link between the hostage crisis and the attacks in Paris?

It is possible to construct a hypothesis that would relate the attack to more global dynamics and possibly to the recent strike in Paris. By hitting both Malian citizens and foreigners in Bamako, the group responsible for the attack might be trying to deliver a strong message of opposition to the French intervention in Mali and, possibly also, on the risk for local states in associating themselves with Westerners. To this extent it may be related to groups trying to target or punish France and its allies.

However, the presence of the Islamic State in Mali is unclear. If it turns out to be linked to the Bamako raid, it would be the first time that movement has taken action or been seen to be present there. IS certainly has no official representative or presence in Mali, even if there were rumours this summer that some radical leaders active in the north were looking for an IS affiliation.

It might also be Ansar Eddine or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are trying to become more active, so as to counterbalance IS’s possible growing influence in the region more broadly. IS’s responsibility for spectacular recent outrages in France, Egypt and Lebanon are indeed a threat for them, since the al-Qaeda groups might seem to be losing prominence in the spectrum of violent extremist movements.