Mali: Another Round of Tensions Between the Government and the CMA, with the Reconstituted Army as a Central Issue

On May 27, the Malian government released a communiqué (French). It reads, in part:

The Government of the Republic of Mali notes with indignation that, for some time, the Coordination of Movements of the Azawad (CMA) has usurped sovereign acts of the State in flagrant violation of the terms of the Accord for Peace and National Reconciliation, derived from the Algiers process.

These anti-republican acts range from a so-called pardon given to some prisoners, to the issuance of licenses for movement on gold-mining sites, through the refusal to receive the doctors in charge of the fight against the coronavirus sickness, and numerous obstacles erected against the presence of the reconstituted National Army.

In front of our people, the Committee for Monitoring the Accord (CSA), our development partners, and the entirety of the international community, the Government of Mali condemns these acts which are detrimental to national sovereignty.

There’s a lot going on here, obviously. For context, the CMA is the formal ex-rebel bloc in the north of Mali, comprising three movements that formed, to oversimplify things quite a bit, either amid the 2012 rebellion in the north or in its immediate aftermath. The CMA’s stronghold is the Kidal Region of northeastern Mali, and the city of Kidal and much of the region is under the CMA’s de facto control. The CMA and the Malian state are two of three key signatories to the 2015 Algiers Accord, the document referenced in the communiqué above; the third signatory is the Platform, a coalition of non-rebel armed groups in the north.

The implementation of the Accord has been a frustrating and contentious process for the signatories and the international community is increasingly frustrated as well, as one can easily see in the reports of the Carter Center, the formal independent observer for implementation. Here is a quote from the Carter Center’s January 2020 report (.pdf, p. 1):

At the close of 2019, the implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali is at its lowest point since the Independent Observer began its mandate in January 2018.Despite occasional progress, often made following extremely protracted negotiations, the concrete results for the Malian population, whether in the politico-institutional, security, economic, or rule of law domains, are minimal. Compared to 2018, both implementation and popular support for the agreement have stalled and, in many cases, regressed. The lack of significant action by stakeholders or concrete results is even more striking given the escalation of violence during the year.

The blockages in implementation are multiple, at times petty, and perhaps indicative of theparties’ bad faith. Overcoming them absorbs an attention disproportionate to the results achieved. The general result is a bogged-down implementation process that is nevertheless capable of producing, after months of blockages, ad hoc progress.

Judd Devermont and Marielle Harris of the Center for Strategic and International Studies have even argued that “Mali needs a new peace deal.”

One of the most contentious issues in the implementation of the Accord has been the deployment of the “reconstituted” units of the army, which are supposed to draw one-third of their personnel from each signatory’s forces. The Carter Center’s April 2020 report (.pdf, pp. 8-13) goes into detail about this aspect of the process and how it has been going in 2019-2020. It is not surprising that the reconstituted army is a central issue in the Malian government’s recent communiqué.

Serge Daniel of RFI on May 16 published an article on the difficulties the reconstituted units have experienced in deploying to Kidal. In early May, Daniel writes, a unit of 100 men started from Gao to Kidal, but turned back at the behest of the CMA.

The CMA’s decision had to do with negotiating who will command the different reconstituted units throughout the north – and decisions about any one unit can then affect the overall balance of (perceived) power and representation among all the units.

See here (French) for Daniel’s earlier report about a reconstituted unit’s arrival in Kidal in February.

The war of words – and the tug of war over sovereignty – between the CMA and the Malian government is not at all new. I have written in the past that it seems each side regularly and deliberately tests the other’s limits, sometimes disastrously but more often in a way that stops short of blowing up the Accord. The different signatories are wedded to the Accord, at least for the time being, for multiple reasons; the status quo, devastating as it is for many ordinary people, has certain benefits for elites on all sides. Meanwhile, though, the CMA does function as a state in various ways; whether its assumption of sovereign state responsibilities is a good thing or not is an issue for another time, but to my mind it’s undeniable that the CMA does XYZ* various sovereign functions of the state.

*Choose your verb, because they’re all loaded – “take on”? “appropriate”? “usurp”?

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