Mali faces ongoing security threats despite peace agreement

Mali faces ongoing security threats despite peace agreement
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The international community has described the signing of a peace agreement between the government and armed groups as a new start for Mali and its best chance for peace. But it is actually only a small step – despite the signing of the agreement, the security situation has deteriorated, with violence expanding beyond the North of the country.

On June 20th in Bamako, Mali, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) finally signed the so-called “Algiers Accord.” After months of negotiation and five rounds of talks, the peace agreement aims at bringing durable peace and stability to Northern Mali, which has experienced Tuareg uprisings since the 1960s and became a stronghold for extremist groups since the launch of a Tuareg-led rebellion in 2012.

Mali faces a long road to peace

As a vast and arid region long been beyond Bamako’s control, Northern Mali has indeed suffered from terrorism, rebellions and trafficking. After the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, veterans of the Libyan army joined the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), to create the so-called state of Azawad out of Northern Mali’s Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu regions.

In 2012, MNLA rebels took over Mali’s North with Ansar Dine (Tuareg-based Islamist group).

Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists then hijacked the rebellion, seizing sole control of the North’s major towns and pushing south towards Bamako. That prompted a French-led military intervention in January 2013, which drove them back.

Peace talks started between the Malian government, the MNLA, the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA, splinter group from the MNLA) and pro-government militias in July 2014 in Algiers.

The choice of Algiers as the locale of the mediation was natural: Algeria shares 1300 km of borders with Northern Mali, and therefore fears rising demands for independence among the South Algerian Tuareg community and strengthened Kabyle protests.

Security threats likely to persist

Despite ceasefire agreements (May 2014 and February 2015), violence continues. Entire zones remain beyond the control of Malian authorities and international forces. Attacks by rebels and Islamist groups persist. Smugglers and gunmen exploit the lack of state control in the zone, thus reinforcing corruption and criminal economy.

The country remains deeply divided. Pro-union groups oppose pro-federalist groups, who themselves fight the Malian army; Tuareg and Arab populations of the impoverished North accuse sub-Saharan ethnic groups in the south of marginalizing them.

Northern Mali has seen a rise in violence since April 27th of this year, when the Gatia, a Platform group, took over the partially MNLA-controlled town of Menaka. In retaliation, the CMA (regrouping MNLA, HCUA, CPA and MAA) launched attacks in central and northern Mali, killing dozens.

On May 18, CMA rebels killed three Malian soldiers in Bambara Maoudé (Timbuktu region). Three days later, fighting between CMA rebels, the Gatia and the Malian army in Tin-Hamma (Gao region) killed at least six civilians, leading the UN peacekeeping mission to send an investigation team.

AQIM also claimed attacks against the UN on May 26 and May 28, according to Al-Akhbar1.

On June 10, ten days before the signing of the accord by the CMA, alleged Ansar Dine members attacked security posts in the Southern town of Misséni. A week after the signing, Ansar Dine claimed the June 27 attack on Nara near the Mauritanian border.

Such attacks beyond the North of the country are uncommon, especially in the extreme South. Jihadists are trying to show that they are still capable of stirring unrest and are not intimidated by the mediation’s attempt to permanently isolate terrorists. All these attacks show an escalation of tensions, an increased targeting of civilians and a spreading of violence beyond Northern Mali.

Underlying issues with the peace agreement remain

The ceasefire violations also reflect and reinforce the deep mistrust between the parties which blocked the negotiations. The CMA refused to sign the preliminary agreement last March, as well as refusing to sign a final agreement it had initialled May 14, each time demanding more talks.

The current text of the agreement does not call for autonomy or federalism, instead proposing devolution of power (creation of elected regional assemblies) and increased representation of Northern populations in national institutions, while recognizing the Azawad as a “human reality” without political content.

After they were given guarantees on sticking points (withdrawal of Platform forces from Menaka, Tuareg integration into the Malian army, future negotiation of the status of Azawad), the CMA finally signed the agreement. But faced with growing international pressure, they actually approved a text that is not really in line with their demands for autonomy and that is unlikely to satisfy their will for change.

The international community has described the Algiers Accord as a new start for Mali and its best chance for peace. But it is actually only a small step. Many groups, deemed difficult to beat militarily and negotiate with (AQIM, Ansar Dine, Al-Mourabitoun), were not present at the negotiation table, so the situation on the ground is not likely to change any time soon.

The Tuareg community remains divided and part of the CMA Tuaregs have already announced they would break with the signatories. A significant part of the black majority population also disapproves of some points of the agreement, feeling for instance that the Tuaregs already are over-represented in national institutions.

In fact, the Accord proposes solutions (such as decentralization) that were already considered in past rebellions and that proved ineffective. Facing a war that gets bogged down, the international community favoured short-term solutions focused on rapid restoration of stability, whereas the Malian issues require deep change and a long-term vision. Moreover, strong mistrust between parties will make the implementation of the Accord even more challenging.

Medium-term economic prospects are positive

The crisis destroyed Mali’s economy but signs of economic recovery have emerged since 2013. According to the IMF, in 2014 Mali achieved 7.2% growth, driven by a return to more normal levels of cereal production and strong growth in the manufacturing sector”. The IMF also just approved a $5.6 million disbursement for Mali.

Business confidence has increased thanks to the return of international donors and improved governance. New investment opportunities have also appeared, especially in the growing sector of renewable energies.

However, the unstable security situation and uncertain prospects for national reconciliation could undermine economic recovery, despite the favourable medium-term outlook. The signing of the peace accord is very likely to reassure investors, but terrorist attacks are also highly likely to continue given the extremists’ strategies and their exclusion from the talks.

The recent upsurge in violence has further undermined social cohesion and local economies. Given the profound divisions within the Malian population, the road to peace remains long.

1 It should be noted that on its website, MINUSMA did not report an attack on one of its bases on May 26, but on May 22. MINUSMA reports another incident involving one of its vehicles near Bamako’s airport on May 26. See: https://minusma.unmissions.org/en/press-releases

About Author

Djenabou Cisse

Djenabou Cisse is a political analyst. She holds a Master's in International Security and a Bachelor in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris. She currently works for the think tank G-NOVA where her research focuses on digital diplomacy, defence, MENA/Subsaharan Africa and transatlalantic issues.