Never, since 2015 and the peace process initiated in Algiers, have relations been so tense between the former Tuareg rebel groups and the Malian government. Meeting in Kidal in ordinary session on July 16 and 17, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which brings together the main signatory armed groups, once again charged Bamako. In a press release, the ex-rebel independence fighters denounce “the abandonment of the implementation of the agreement, in particular since the advent of the transition”. More than seven years after the signing of the peace agreement, this declaration comes to exhume the separatist tendencies never quite extinguished in the north of the country.
Affirming to reserve “the right [de] draw all the consequences” from this blocking situation, the CMA issues a new warning to the Malian State. While the secretary general of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), Alghabass ag Intalla, succeeds Bilal ag Acherif and takes over the rotating presidency of the coordination, the latter indicates that the merger of its various members a priority. What to consolidate its ranks in the event of outright rupture of the agreement and resumption of hostilities?
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Ferdaous Bouhlel is a researcher, consultant and trainer in mediation, conflict management and peace support. This specialist in the Sahel deciphers, for Capcov, the intensification of antagonisms between Bamako and the ex-rebels.
Capcov: This is not the first time that the CMA denounces the government’s inaction in the application of the Algiers agreement, but the tension seems stronger than ever. Is dialogue still possible?
Ferdaous Bouhlel : We are facing an almost unprecedented deadlock situation, since the Agreement Monitoring Committee (CSA) has not met for ten months and all the key bodies in the implementation process are frozen, including the Technical Safety Commission (CTS), central body in the system.
Several reasons can explain these blockages. In particular, we can mention the institutional imbalances that Mali has experienced over the past two years. But also the position of Prime Minister Choguel Maïga, who has never hidden his rejection of the agreement. This probably did not help the government to build a consensual, clear position marked by political will.
While we were talking about the “review” of the agreement under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the concept of “intelligent review” gained momentum after the coups of August 2020 and May 2021. This was the marker of a backpedal and gave Malians reason to stop believing in this agreement, which undermined the hard-won gains of trust between the parties. The latest Carter Center report from June 2022 shows how this factor played a major role in the blockage we see today.
The signatory movements condemn their absence from the consultation process around the reform of the Constitution
Apart from the dialogue, can we observe concrete progress in the application of the agreement?
Here again, there were a series of deadlocks and failures, particularly around the question of the integration, quotas, ranks and assignments of senior officers within the reconstituted army. Although having been effectively put in place with the Battalions of the reconstituted armed forces (Baftar), the joint armed forces, bringing together signatory movements and the Malian army, ultimately did not work.
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The prerogatives assigned to the regions and the vision of the political model of the State are also among the main points of contention between the government and the signatory movements. The latter condemn their absence from the consultation process around the reform of the Constitution launched in June by the government. This central question for peace should be able to offer the opportunity to relaunch the discussions.
A deterioration of the situation would have a considerable impact on the already critical security situation in the country.
Faced with this situation, is there a real risk of a resumption of arms in the North?
For several months, we have seen redeployment movements on the ground, in men and arms, which suggest pre-defensive strategies. The risks of political and military escalation cannot be ruled out, especially if the government decides to use force, which would definitely undermine the achievements of the peace agreement.
It is certain that the the status quo cannot reasonably last if the dialogue do not resume. A deterioration of the situation would have a considerable impact on the already critical security situation in the country and could offer the jihadists the opportunity to maximize their incursions.
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What are the issues surrounding the merger of CMA member movements?
The weakening of the agreement contributes to giving rise to alternative political and military trajectories. The peace agreement should not be thought of as a reserve option. By weakening it in this way, we contribute to creating the conditions for its dismissal and to creating alternative political and military trajectories. It is in this context that the CMA merger project must be understood.
The more the State neglects the space for dialogue, the more the armed movements tend to unify their forces
This very sensitive theme of mergers has actually been discussed since 2012 within the groups. But the urgency and the gravity of the situation seem to have decided them to form a body. The more the State neglects or abandons the space for dialogue, the more the implementation of the agreement is endangered, the more the armed movements tend to unify their forces.
The Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP) project initiated by the armed groups since the summer of 2021 is part of the same logic. It aims to bring together all the signatory movements of the agreement with a view to harmonizing their vision. But it was actually badly perceived by the Malian government, which saw in this process a momentum of independence revival.
In the Ménaka region (North-East), so-called “loyalist” signatory groups have been fighting the attacks of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) since March, almost without support from the armed forces. Doesn’t this risk creating new power relations between these groups and Bamako?
This situation is symptomatic of the deterioration of relations between the government and armed groups. This is all the more surprising since we are talking here about movements that claim to defend unity and national integrity, going so far in the past as to have taken up arms against “their Tuareg brothers” of the CMA. As such, General El Hadj Ag Gamou was a national hero.
Le Gatia [le Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et alliés] and the MSA [Mouvement pour le salut de l’Azawad] fought alone against the Islamic State in Andéramboukane [Nord-Est]. These very violent clashes caused the death of dozens of combatants and the departure of hundreds of civilians.
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According to the United Nations, since March in Menaka, more than 300 civilians have been killed and 25,000 people displaced. The population’s feeling of abandonment was amplified when, despite numerous distress calls, the government never mentioned the hundreds of civilians killed in these regions of northern Mali. And this, even though he decreed a three-day national mourning following the violence that took place in the circle of Bankass, in the center, at the end of June.