France’s Troop Withdrawal from Mali
France’s Troop Withdrawal from Mali
mali-14dec15
A fighter from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) stands on his vehicle covered in mud for camouflage outside Anefis, Mali, on 26 August 2015. REUTERS/Souleymane Ag Anara
Briefing 115 / Africa

Mali: Peace from Below?

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.

I. Overview

After a summer marked by renewed clashes in northern Mali, a surprising détente began taking shape in October 2015 following a series of talks between leaders of the Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA), the main rebel coalition, and those of the Algiers Platform, the pro-government coalition. For three weeks, negotiations took place in Anefis, the site of recent fighting and a regional hub south west of Kidal. The talks led to several “honour pacts” signed on behalf of the major nomad communities in the region. In Bamako, the pessimism of the past few months is giving way to cautious optimism. This “bottom-up” reconciliation could restart implementation of the Bamako accord signed in June, itself stalled since summer. Nevertheless, these local pacts will have to be carefully monitored as the Anefis process also carries risks, including that of the reestablishment of a militarised political-economic system that was the source of much of the violence in the north.

The Anefis meetings represent a reappropriation by some local actors of a peace process until now largely driven by external partners. There should be no mistaking who took the initiative: these are less “traditional” community leaders than politico-military leaders and businessmen at the head of armed groups. Yet, this is precisely how the Anefis pacts can reinforce the Bamako peace process: by involving major local actors and strengthening their trust in a peace otherwise largely externally imposed. The Anefis meetings have allowed for important questions concerning the north’s politico-military elite to be addressed, including issues of trafficking, power sharing, and intercommunal rivalries. These are sensitive subjects that the negotiations in Algiers were either unwilling or unable to tackle.

The peace process nevertheless remains fragile. The 20 November attack on the Hotel Radisson was a stark reminder of the persistent threat posed by radical groups excluded from the peace process. Indeed, this moment of calm should not be confused with a return to sustainable peace. The current window should be seized as an opportunity to refocus attention on the implementation of the Bamako agreement, not as an end in itself, but rather to allow for genuine change of governance in Mali. A majority of actors, however, privately admit to having given up on this goal. Consequently, the risk remains that Mali could revert back to a pattern of poor governance and violence in the north. To avoid this, Malian parties and their partners should remobilise around an intelligent and ambitious implementation of the Bamako accord that, with time, will allow for a “demilitarisation” of economics and politics in the north. For this to occur, the following measures should be taken:

  • Mali and its main partners, gathered in the extended mediation team, should support local initiatives such as the intercommunal meetings, to allow for the extension of the Anefis process beyond political-military elites. In parallel, they should maintain a right to prosecute important criminals, specifically those involved in arms and drug trafficking, regardless of their participation in the process.
     
  • The same actors should prioritise demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR). In doing so, Malian parties should adhere to the text of the Bamako accord, specifically concerning the mechanisms for the interim period, and the UN mission, MINUSMA focus on the logistical and political preparation of the DDR process.
     
  • In Bamako, Malian parties and the international mediation team must clarify each actor’s role in the implementation and follow-up of the peace agreement. They should also restart discussions on the creation of a government of national unity in order to reinforce the peace process and facilitate the implementation of the accord.
     
  • This period of reduced tensions should, in sum, be seized upon to break with the governance problems of the past: development projects in the north must be accompanied by concrete mechanisms to fight corruption and guarantee that investments benefit local populations, rather than just the elites. The government in turn must cease the politics of division that fuel the “militarisation” of society and threaten the security of the Malian state.

Dakar/Brussels, 14 December 2015

Podcast / Africa

France’s Troop Withdrawal from Mali

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Sahel experts Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim and Richard Moncrieff about France’s announcement it will pull troops from Mali, and what the withdrawal means for the fighting against jihadist insurgents.

On 17 February, President Emmanuel Macron announced he would withdraw all French troops from Mali after a deployment in the country of almost ten years. In early 2013, French forces together with Chadian troops ousted jihadists from cities and towns in northern Mali, which created space for a peace deal between Bamako and other, non-jihadist rebels. Since then, however, the French-led campaign against militants in the Sahel has struggled against local al-Qaeda and Islamic State branches. French operations have killed jihadist leaders, but militants have extended their reach from northern Mali to its centre and to parts of Niger, Burkina Faso and even Gulf of Guinea countries. Inter-ethnic violence has ballooned. Mali has also suffered two coups over the past couple of years. Relations between Paris and the junta currently holding power have deteriorated sharply, partly because Mali’s military leaders had agreed, mid-2021, to the deployment of Russian private military contractors to help fight jihadists. Popular anger toward France’s deployment has also mounted, seemingly partly fuelled by disinformation. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim and Richard Moncrieff, respectively Crisis Group’s senior Sahel analyst and interim Sahel director, about the French decision, its causes and its implications. They look at the collapse in relations between Bamako and Paris, the direction the junta is currently taking Mali and how other countries in the region have responded. They talk through what the French departure might mean for other forces, including the UN force in Mali and the G5 Sahel regional force. They also examine the repercussions for the balance of force between jihadists and their enemies in the Sahel and ask what a future French presence in the region might look like after the withdrawal from Mali. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

N.B. This episode was recorded before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel regional page. For our analysis of African perspectives of the Ukraine War, check out our commentary ‘The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis’.

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