The easy part of the Mali crisis seems all but resolved by this week with the appointment of the transitional Prime Minister Moctar Quane, 64, who served Mali as Foreign Minister between 2004 and 2011, during the administration of President Amadou Toumani Toure. Last month, the transition President Bah N’Daw was appointed with Col. Assimi Goita, who led the coup of August 18, as his deputy. Thus, with those appointments the conditions set out by the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) appear to have been met, clearing the way for the restoration of fraternal relationship between ECOWAS and Mali.
N’Daw is a retired army officer who was once the Aide-de-Camp to former President Moussa Traore, the dictator who died a fortnight ago at 83. N’Daw received the endorsement of the influential Muslim cleric, Mahmoud Dicko, the leader and motivator of the popular revolt against President Ibrahim Boubcar Keita’s government which held sustained protests in Bamako and formed the basis of the military coup. Dicko was quoted last week as saying that “Bah is an upright official. He has never been implicated in matters of financial corruption.”
Col. Goita, of course, is the man who led the coup and ECOWAS had said he could act as vice-president as long as he is ineligible to replace the president. ECOWAS has ended the sanctions “for the happiness of the Malian people.” Mali is especially vulnerable because being landlocked, it depends on the outside for food and other vital supplies. Bamako is now peaceful and hopeful, although very little is being said about the fundamental problems of the country including an intractable rebellion in the country which has now, more or less, overwhelmed two presidents, in spite of generous help from the United Nations, France, and ECOWAS.
Mali contains several parallels to Nigeria’s troubles. Both are plagued by jihadist insurgency. Nigeria’s Boko Haram fired its opening shots in 2009, and has seen the backs of Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, and has already survived five years of the Buhari administration. In Mali, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is secessionist and has a longer history. Since 1962, it has been the ambition of the Touaregs to create an independent homeland and the northern half of Mali is their base. The Libya hypothesis, the speculation that after the overthrow of Col. Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, a lot of Libyan arms flowed freely through mercenaries and militias in the Sahel and into West Africa is well known. It is an argument which the Buhari administration falls back on when it has exhausted all other reasons to rationalize the herdsmen’s violence in Nigeria. The Libya paradigm seems to have greater validity in Mali. No one has been able to explain why on January 16, 2012 several insurgent groups began fighting against the Malian government for independence, or greater autonomy. The Arab Springs of 2011 offers the only plausible explanation. The MNLA has served as a co-ordinator of the Azawadian movements since 2002 and suddenly in 2012, it found enough pluck to start a war of independence.
The good fortune of Mali has been that the Jihadists joined the separatists in the fight and at first confused the MNLA, by muddying the waters, creating uncertainty as to the nature of society (secular or theocratic) they wanted for Azawad. The Jihadists were insisting on sharia, many communities were resisting the sharia. Eventually, the MNLA argued for a secular Azawad, but failed. It eventually had to fight the jihadists, its erstwhile confederates. The internecine conflict made it possible for the Malian army, after it collapsed from the coup of 2012, to be able to reorganise and recapture much of the territories it had lost to the MNLA and the jihadists.
The 1972 coup, for instance, created utter disarray in the army leading to the swift capture of the entire northern half of the country by the MNLA and its jihadist cohorts. The three largest cities in the country were overrun including Gao and Timbuktu in a matter of days. And on fifth April 2012 the MNLA announced with fanfare that it had accomplished its (territorial) goals and had ended its offensive. The following day, it proclaimed the independence of northern Mali as the republic of Azawad. It was closest to a dream come true for the Touaregs.
The jihadists included Ansar Dine which was a branch of the Al Qaeda, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), also a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Eventually, by July 2012, MNLA lost control of most of the northern cities it controlled to the islamists,
The Malian government asked for international help to attempt to re-capture the northern half of the country in January 2013. A world frustrated and wary of the spread of jihadist terrorism positively responded. The French obliged, likewise many countries, the African Union, ECOWAS all rallied to condemn the attempt to bifurcate Mali. By February 8, 2013 much of the islamist held territories were recaptured. The Touareg separatists and the Malian government then signed a peace accord on June 18, 2013, The separatists later pulled out on 21 September 2013. A ceasefire agreement was later signed in Algiers on February 19, 2015 although sporadic attacks still occur.
Clearly, Mali’s fragility is such that it has needed 14,000 UN peacekeepers, about five thousand French troops with squadrons of fighter jets, and a national army that is kept busy by a number of domestic armed militias.
The interim government would be better served if it could reopen negotiations with the separatists and the jihadists. All objective observers know the 2015 Peace Accord has run its course. A fresh negotiation is required if lasting peace must be secured in Mali. First the Algerian government of Abdelaziz Bouteflika which guaranteed the 2015 Accord has been replaced. The Algerian Foreign Minister who was committed to the Accord, Ramtane Lamamra, has been changed. New and stronger players have emerged since 2015. In 2017, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and its jihadist affiliates have now merged into the Jama’al Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM); then there is the Islamic State local chapter, Islamic State in Greater Sahara the parallel to Nigeria’s Islamic State West Africa Province, the splinter of Boko Haram.
The world tends to focus primarily on northern Mali but there cannot be peace without the stakeholders in Central Mali such as the nomadic Fulani locally called Peuhl whose conflict with the Dogon and Bambara farmers has created ethnic self-defence groups like the Dogon ethnic militias.
The transition government should call on the UN Secretary-General, to appraise him of the current situation and to thank the UN for keeping the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for so long and to ask for his good offices to pursue a final comprehensive agreement because the 2015 Accord has been overtaken by new developments. The UN may then persuade ECOWAS to complete the task because essentially it is a West African task.
The Touaregs seem resigned to the impatience of the international community to their cause, They probably should settle for greater autonomy at least for now and then re-negotiate their relationship with the Republic of Mali. Otherwise, Mali would become a recurring crisis in West Africa.