Mali: A Disconnect between Algiers Talks and Ground Realities [Updated]

Yesterday, as VOA wrote in its headline, “Mali Government Signs Peace Deal While Rebels Delay.” The deal was scheduled to be signed in Algiers, the capital of Mali’s neighbor Algeria, which has been hosting talks since last July. The talks aim to create peace in the aftermath of a 2012 rebellion in northern Mali led by segments of the Tuareg ethnic group. It is not just the Malian government and Tuareg rebels who have a stake in the outcome in Algiers, however; the rebel side as represented at the negotiating table comprises six factions, including a major Arab-led group. The complexity of the rebel side in Algiers reflects the even greater diversity of interests and factions back home.

The rebels’ delay in signing the deal reflects a disconnect between the talks and what is happening on the ground in northern Mali. Four dynamics reflect the ways in which influential constituencies at home are hostile to or ambivalent about a deal:

  1. Violence: January in particular saw a number of clashes, including between rebels and pro-government armed factions. Even amid talks in Algiers, factions on the ground are expressing different preferences.
  2. Protests against the deal: Saturday saw demonstrations in Ber and Kidal, the latter being the capital of the Kidal Region, the only Tuareg-majority region in Mali. Ber is in the Timbuktu Region, another key northern zone. Tuareg rebels exercise a large degree of de facto control in Kidal.
  3. Ambiguity from leaders about what they want: In recent weeks, Mohamed Ag Intalla, the recently enthroned hereditary ruler of a Tuareg clan confederation, has reportedly come down on both sides of the question of independence for Kidal. Ag Intalla reportedly told one meeting that “Kidal is no longer part of Mali” and told a press organization, “I am Malian. Kidal claims neither independence nor autonomy.” (More here). This ambiguity sends mixed signals to rebels on the ground and to participants in Algiers.
  4. The possibility of behind-the-scenes influence from jihadists: A coalition of jihadists seized much of northern Mali from the Tuareg rebels in mid-2012 and held it until the French military intervened in early 2013. Even though they lost territorial control, jihadists have continued to make their presence felt through guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings and, possibly, behind-the-scenes pressure. Jihadists include major Tuareg leaders such as Iyad Ag Ghali, whose “shadow…hangs over the negotiations in Algiers,” according to one outlet. Ag Ghali may have influence not only through intermediaries at the talks in Algiers, but also through his supporters on the ground in northern Mali. Some sources attribute Ag Intalla’s pro-separatist comments to pressure the ruler faces from Ag Ghali.

These dynamics not only make a deal more complicated to achieve, they also make it less likely that a deal will be respected and implemented in a way that promotes peace. If Ag Ghali’s shadow “hangs over” the talks, so too do the shadows of agreements from the past that were never fully implemented – a legacy that contributed the renewal of conflict in 2012.

Finally, here are two resources on the Algiers talks:

  • RFI (French) and AFP have summaries of the text of the peace deal.
  • Prime Minister Modibo Keita’s statement (French).

UPDATE: Commenter Andy Morgan makes some points that I’d like to highlight here:

I note that your source for Mohammed Ag Intallah’s statement that “Kidal is no longer part of Mali” and the claim that Iyad Ag Ghali’s presence and opinions hang heavy over Kidal and the new Amenokal is the staunchly pro-republican anti-rebel L’Independent newspaper. What they print may be true in this case, I don’t know, but it often hasn’t been so in the past. What’s needed now, and has been needed since the beginning, is some proper on the ground reporting from northern Mali, which gives the chance for the all the accessible protagonists to speak their mind in a formal interview situation and offer a detailed and dispassionate analysis of the nuances within Kel Adagh Touareg opinion, rather than trying to make it seem as every citizen of the Adagh is of one mind. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much I grant you), I found Mohammed Ag Intallah to be decidedly dove-ish and pro-Malian when I met him back in 2009. During our conversation he made no attempt to mince his criticism of Ibrahim Bahanga and his militiamen who were causing serious trouble up near Timyawin at the time. I also know quite a few staunch MNLA supporters who heartily hate Iyad Ag Ghali’s guts and who would turn blue at the thought that he and his ideas were still piloting the rebel cause.

4 thoughts on “Mali: A Disconnect between Algiers Talks and Ground Realities [Updated]

  1. Thanks Alex,
    I note that your source for Mohammed Ag Intallah’s statement that “Kidal is no longer part of Mali” and the claim that Iyad Ag Ghali’s presence and opinions hang heavy over Kidal and the new Amenokal is the staunchly pro-republican anti-rebel L’Independent newspaper. What they print may be true in this case, I don’t know, but it often hasn’t been so in the past. What’s needed now, and has been needed since the beginning, is some proper on the ground reporting from northern Mali, which gives the chance for the all the accessible protagonists to speak their mind in a formal interview situation and offer a detailed and dispassionate analysis of the nuances within Kel Adagh Touareg opinion, rather than trying to make it seem as every citizen of the Adagh is of one mind. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much I grant you), I found Mohammed Ag Intallah to be decidedly dove-ish and pro-Malian when I met him back in 2009. During our conversation he made no attempt to mince his criticism of Ibrahim Bahanga and his militiamen who were causing serious trouble up near Timyawin at the time. I also know quite a few staunch MNLA supporters who heartily hate Iyad Ag Ghali’s guts and who would turn blue at the thought that he and his ideas were still piloting the rebel cause.
    Glad your back and blogging!
    Many thanks, Andy

    • Andy, thanks a lot for this perspective. The quality of sources definitely matters, as does the diversity of opinion that you highlight.

  2. Considering many touaregs dislike Iyad Ag Ghali, it is amazing how influential he still is. The division between touaregs cuts not only between clans but also within clans and even families.
    Self governance would likely descend into fratricide in no time. Too many scores to settle.
    Now the routes around Kidal are being mined by the fools. It is difficult to be optimistic about the Malian north even in the long term.

  3. Pingback: Mali: On the CMA’s Refusal to Sign the Algiers Accord | Sahel Blog

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