Amid Bamako-Algiers Cooperation, Tensions Lurk

When President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali decided, after much hesitation, to recognize the new government in Libya, he did so at the end of a visit to Algeria. I took the event as a symbol of Algeria’s potential political ascendance in the post-Qadhafi Sahel, and as another step in Algeria’s efforts to lead regional counterterrorism cooperation.

But there is another side to the relationship between Bamako and Algiers. Tensions surfaced in February 2010, when Mali freed several members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in exchange for the release of a French hostage. Algeria and Mauritania withdrew their ambassadors in protest against this approach.

This week, in another sign of tension, a Malian newspaper (l’Aube) cast doubt on Algeria’s role in anti-AQIM efforts. The article (French), provocatively titled, “Algeria, Fireman or Pyromaniac?” speculates that Algeria may be planning to manipulate Tuaregs and exploit the political vacuum left by Qadhafi as part of a design to dominate Mali and Niger. Relying on at least one unnamed (likely Malian) official, the article goes on to say that the security problems in north Mali and the Sahel result from Algeria’s lack of political will to solve them.

To my mind the relevance of this article does not lie in the truth or falsehood of these allegations, but in the existence of the allegations at all. That the allegations appear in one Malian newspaper does not mean that all Malian elites believe them, but it does point to a significant current of suspicion in Bamako regarding Algiers and its motives. That suspicion, if it turns out to be widespread, could be one of several stumbling blocks to greater cooperation in the Sahel.

9 thoughts on “Amid Bamako-Algiers Cooperation, Tensions Lurk

  1. It isn’t exactly surprising, relatively small nations next to larger and rising ones can be nervous. Not that this means their fears are automatically wrong.

  2. Malian inaction is even harder to explain than the Algerian inaction.
    If they want to explore the desert for minerals and oil/gas, why don’t they defend it?
    The algies, on the other hand, were invited by Mali to pursue an Aqim gang into Malian territory after they ambushed and killed several alg soldiers near Tin Zahouatine last year – and the algies refused, as they always have.
    So we have algerian terrorists based in the Malian desert, and noone feels responsible.
    Mali even let Aqim build a base in Wagadou, only some 400 kms from their capital – how on earth can they accept that? Mauretania felt threatened enough to attack, as they were the likely target.
    From this mess grows several conspiracy theories.
    That the Malian government is involved on some level, for profit. Corruption is widespread in Mali.
    That the Algerian governement/army/secret service is involved, on some or several levels, aiding and abetting Aqim; not for profit, but for political purposes.
    ATT and Boutef signed some contracts, one was for Sonatrach to start drilling on a larger scale in the Taoudenni basin.
    That begs the question – who is going to provide security?
    Chinese are moving in, too.
    Can provide more links if you like.

  3. I read earlier the article and did not get my attention. Thought it is a Morocco propaganda. This below is even worse (see link below). However, Algeria cannot dominate small neoghbors when it does not lift the finger. Algeria just managed to export jihadism south of its border, willingly or unwillingly. Long time people not sure what Algeria is doing: pressurizing neighbors not to accept foreign presence and not lifting a finger to help. AQIM was around 50 – 200 people and now they are perhaps in the thousand. Too late?

  4. Well here’s the Algerian response:
    What he says is that with Khadaffi out of the picture, Algeria is seizing the moment to expand their interests and will fill up the vacuum he left. ” “If we assume that the group demanding separation is dominating the scene, then there must be some sort of a rear support after the fall of Kadhafi. That support will certainly be the Algerian state.”
    “Algeria will venture to invest its money in the Taoudeni basin only after it gets guarantees from the actors in that area, who are primarily the Touaregs,” he continued. “As for al-Qaeda, their threat will decrease as Touaregs’ influence increases because the latter will tighten the noose on them if they threaten their interests.”

    If this will hold true, than we are going to witness a real change in the desert, with touaregs finally assuming the power they have longed for on their home turf.

    Analysts, get going!

  5. Thanks Priffe. Did not know for sure that the energy potential in taoudeni was that important. This getting complicated as Mali will not do much to secure Taoudeni as ATT is in his way out from power.

    Still thinking that this call for secession is because of oil in the “touareg” territory. I assume that oil and gaz will go through Algeria terminals for europe: it is more economical anyway. However, I think Mauritania will ship their oil through Nouadhibou. Thanks for the links and very useful to understand what is going around.

  6. Add this long interview of Belaouar to the mess in Northern Mali and you get a cocktail molotov. Belaouar seeking peace with Mauritania à la malienne and I think he is out of his mind. The big question: how he is allowed to run in the vast desert for years without the GWOT people catching-up with him? Conspiracy theorists like me have a point. Again. Why the GWOT people chasing Kony in Uganda and not Belaouar in the Sahel? Something ne tourne pas rond: they are found when there is ransoms to be paid, but no news after. Until the next kidnapping ….

  7. Pingback: European Police to the Sahel | Sahel Blog

  8. Pingback: CIA and Algiers’ AQIM differences | Arcana Intellego

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