Armed groups have played a key role in the escalation of the crisis in Mali for many years, and communities have taken a radical step in dialogue with these groups in an attempt to stop and alleviate violence. This comes amid tension in the relationship between the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), the Tuareg groups, and the Malian government, and the threat of Alghabass Ag Intalla, President of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad, in July 2022, to take up arms if their demands are not met.
Combating terrorism requires the unification and integration of the armed groups that signed the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation resulting from the Algerian operation, to work on a joint plan and to contain escalating threats, complex challenges, and their humanitarian consequences, such as the dangers of terrorist groups and the growing activity of organized crime.
Additionally, all this is under the terms of the agreement that focuses on rebuilding national unity, restoring the peace through the decentralization operation in state institutions, strengthening the economic infrastructure in the north of the country, reconfiguring the national army using members of former armed groups that signed the agreement, deploying joint military patrols in northern Mali, creating the necessary conditions to start the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-combats operation, and agreeing on political and institutional reforms.
Steps to Accelerate the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation
After nearly a year away from the negotiation table, the Transitional Government of Mali and the armed groups of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MLNA) resumed peace talks, where representatives of the Azawad movement met with the Transitional Government on 5 August 2022 in the presence of an envoy from Algeria as a mediator between the parties. Furthermore, the meeting resulted in the announcement that 26 thousand ex-combats would be integrated into the Malian army, with the merger to be completed through two equal installments between 2023 and 2024.
This step has been stalled for many years, in terms of the military’s assimilation of the military history of the groups. In addition, the establishment and operationalization of a committee responsible for preparing and submitting proposals on civilian and military personnel from the armed groups, which signed the agreement, to integrate them into the chain of command within the structure of the national army with greater representation of the population of the north of the country.
The Coordination of Azawad Movements held an exceptional conference in the period between 27-29 August 2022 in Kidal with the participation of officials from the political, military, advisory, and revolutionary bodies of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad to identify new routes for the movement, to examine the file of unity between the movements of Azawad, to internally reorganize the movement and integrate all the movements into one entity, and to discuss the security situation and the plan to combat military groups in the Azawad region.
Moreover, Bilal Ag Acherif was re-elected as the Secretary General of the movement, and members of the Revolutionary Council and the National Council of the Movement were appointed. On the margins of the sixth session of the Monitoring Committee of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation (CSA) in Mali on 2 September 2022, Emanuela Del Re, the European Union Representative for the Sahel, held several meetings in the EU delegations headquarters in Bamako with representatives of the Azawad Coordination.
In an effort to implement the agreement, on 18 August 2022, the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation discussed, with the Azawad Movement, their vision of drafting a new constitution, this is a part of the consultations and the Transitional Government promising these movements to prevent their outreach to previous allies, such as Ansar Dine, which is loyal to Al-Qaeda organization. The Minister for Reconciliation and National Peace, responsible for the implementation of the peace agreement, Colonel Ismail Wagwe, began on 4 September 2022 to implement activities to promote reconciliation and coexisting values, and to sensitive national and international representatives on the importance of the peace and reconciliation process.
Assimi Goïta, President of the Transitional phase in Mali, then called upon the armed groups, which signed the peace agreement, to unify and promote social cohesion, as well as calling upon the so-called Sacred Union for the restructuring of the national army based on participation and higher interest. Moreover, this is in light of the first edition of National Reconciliation Week, launched from 15-21 September 2022 as a week dedicated to peace and national tolerance, under the slogan “Let’s make diversity an asset for social cohesion”, and this week comes before the Independence Day celebration on 22 September 2022.
Motives for Reviewing the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation
Seven years later, the call for the review and revival of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation was driven by the numerous security and political challenges and threats that Mali is facing, in light of the escalation of the armed conflict between the Malian government and armed separatist groups in the northern Azawad region, in a troubled regional conflict. Adding further, Mali is suffering from a multidimensional crisis that started in the north in the Azawad region, gradually spreading to the central and southern parts of the country, exacerbating the lack of security, the resurgence of conflicts between and within communities, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands to the camps of neighboring nations. The main reasons and motives for reviving the agreement can be explained as follows:
- Increasing lack of security: The danger of terrorist attacks increased the challenges in the security scene of Mali, especially in light of the tension in the relationship between the Malian government and the armed groups of the Azawad Coordination and the difficulties in coordination between parties to combat terrorism, particularly after Mali withdrew from all organs and committees of the G5 Sahel countries. These included the joint-counter terrorism force in the Sahel region on 15 May 2022, and the withdrawal of the French and European forces from the counter-terrorism operation in Mali on 15 August 2022. Explaining further, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) took control over the Talataye region in northeastern Mali, which counts as a strategic location for its location on the roads that lead to the cities of Gao, Menaka, and Kidal, and it’s at the heart of areas of influence and engagement in the Azawad region between armed groups and terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State in West Africa, pro-Al-Qaeda Nusrat al-Islam and al-Muslimeen organizations, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS); all these parties aim to control this region and what it owns of animal wealth and energy resources like oil and natural gas.
- Questioning the seriousness of implementing the agreement: The escalation of violence, whether sectarian clashes or terrorist attacks, resulting in hundreds of deaths due to the delay in the reconfiguration of the national army and the failure to resolve long-standing political and social injustices. Civil society, including women, youth, and traditional leaders, were excluded from the process of implementing the agreement. All this contributed to doubts about the feasibility of the agreement, in light of the challenges faced by the local population. Mali’s Transitional Military Council is trying to win international legitimacy amid its political isolation by extending sanctions on financial institutions and entities by the UN Security Council, and trying to display that it is not disruptive to the peace agreement by calling for the revival of the agreement, blaming Azawad’s movements for not implementing the agreement.
- Protecting the Gas Supply: Algeria and the European Union are working on supporting the revival of the peace agreement between the Malian government and the Azawad movements. Elaborating, this is to protect the gas pipeline that extends across the desert from Nigeria to Niger to Algeria, then to Europe, in light of the gas crisis that the European Union is suffering due to the Ukrainian war. This is in the framework of searching for alternatives to Russian gas and achieving political and economic gains in Mali, where the security situation in North Mali reflects on the stability of the situation in South Algeria. Therefore, on 2 September 2022, an Algerian delegation headed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, Ramtane Lamamra, as part of Algeria’s diplomatic movement to make the peace agreement a success, considered Mali’s stability an integral part of Algeria’s security.
Mali’s peace process continues to face numerous challenges and dilemmas as the implementation of the agreement for peace remains incomplete, where efforts must be doubled to move forward with the reforms listed in the agreement. The incomplete implementation of the agreement for peace may contribute to the emergence of alternative political and military paths, where this agreement shouldn’t be viewed as a precautionary option. Additionally, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) as the state neglects the space for a dialogue with armed groups to unify their powers, violence done by terrorist groups increased by 70 percent in 2022. On 22 July 2022, there was an attack on the Kati military base, which is the headquarters for the Malian Army Forces, 15km northeast of the capital Bamako, and only 10km away from the presidential palace. Aside from it being the deadliest attack since 2019, it was an attack on Malian army forces, in August 2022, in the Tist region of the city of Gao, on the borders with Niger and Burkina Faso, as these groups continue to expand operations outside their traditional strongholds in northern and central Mali. The most important of these challenges can be explained as follows:
- Lack of Comprehensive Development Plans: Residents of the cities of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu do not enjoy real representation in determining the future government of the northern region, despite the establishment of a long-term development fund to support development initiatives in north Mali. However, the joint control over it by the Malian authorities and the armed groups still represent a challenge, with the parties, who signed the agreement continuing to request self-governance in the north of the country, with will obstruct the peace process in Mali, since the issue of self-governance in the primary motive to carry arms.
- Problems with Integration and Demobilization: Although a reconfigured battalion was deployed in the Malian army in February 2020, it didn’t conduct any joint patrols in the northern Kidal region; some international leaders and the Malian state consider that the reconfigured army must participate in the counter-terrorism operation. However, it’s dangerous to link fighting against terrorist groups to the implementation of the agreement for peace. Furthermore, most armed conflicts have fighters that were previous members of a terrorist group or have family or tribal ties to terrorist elements, who have also engaged in border smuggling and organized crime. The disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed groups in northern Mali are carried out through the collection, registration, control, and disposal of small arms, light and heavy weapons, ammunition, and explosives held by fighters, as well as the release of members of armed forces and groups, the return of veterans to civilian status and assistance in obtaining regular employment opportunities.
- Internal Conflict within Armed Groups: Since 2015, violations of the agreement for Peace have led to armed groups enticing two coalitions against each other, not against the Malian government, due to the political rivalries between the Tuareg tribes or clashes between smuggler networks, and the weakness of the coalition of pro-Bamako armed movements since 2017. Stability is linked to the gold discoveries in the Kidal region, and ex-fighters are hired as a part of the demobilization process, but the gold deposits will eventually run out in the end. Adding further, the current phase of artisanal mining will end with a phase of semi-automatic mining, which requires fewer workers. This means that carrying weapons can become necessary again, with repeated ceasefire violations due to changes in the parties’ alliances and locations.
In conclusion, accelerating the implementation of the Agreement of Peace with its provisions that are related to the integration of former fighters and the disarmament process, as well as the restoration of state authority, are among the essential components of Mali coming out of the crisis, and a big step towards strengthening the Malian army’s capabilities to control different areas and regions of the state by coordinating and consolidating efforts and capacities between the parties to meet common challenges, associated with the escalation of smuggling operations and organized crime.
This is in conjunction with the Malian Government’s work on proposals for a peace plan with armed groups and the policy of rebuilding the association and initiating the integration process based on a consensual road map that respects the interests of the people of Azawad and depends on the extent of the implementation of the provisions on the Malian government’s position on the demands of the armed movements in the Azawad region. To restore momentum and public confidence in the agreement, the government must share its decentralization plan, fully empower the new commissions, and promote development in border areas to dry up the sources of terrorism.