This week, Mali is holding its “Conférence d’Entente Nationale,” which might be translated as “Conference of National Understanding” or “Conference of National Harmony.” It began on March 27 in the capital Bamako. The conference is meant to fulfill one condition of the 2015 Algiers Accord (French, .pdf, p. 4), the agreement that is supposed to bring peace between the government of Mali and various non-jihadist armed groups in the northern part of that country. The conference is meant to “allow a thorough debate between the elements of the Malian nation regarding the underlying causes of the conflict.”
Like other provisions of the accord, such as joint patrols in northern cities and the installation of interim authorities there, the conference is being held long after the architects of the accord intended. Nevertheless, some experts see the problem as haste rather than delay. In a piece (French) well worth reading, Kamissa Camara and Mahamadou Konaté argue that the conference is unlikely to succeed in its aims, and that the conference isn’t taken seriously by many political actors in Mali, making it likely that the debates there will be superficial. Further skepticism about the conference can be found here (French).
Like other provisions of the 2015 accord, the conference has faced political questions about its representativeness and fairness. Notably, the past few days have seen first a boycott, and then the renewed participation (Arabic), of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), the most prominent body representing former non-jihadist rebels in the north. The CMA wanted a longer conference, so as to allow for more discussion, and Malian government representatives reportedly secured the CMA’s participation by agreeing (French) to extend the “first round” of discussions to April 2.
In terms of themes emerging from the discussions at the conference, one central argument (French) many participants are making is the need for reconciliation between the CMA and the “Platform,” a cluster of pro-government militias in the north. There have been numerous attempts at ceasefires and agreements between the two sides before, but that doesn’t mean conference attendees are wrong when they point to the necessity for intra-north understanding as a precondition to national understanding, security, and peace.
Gao, one of northern Mali’s key cities, has witnessed several notable developments recently.
- On December 24, unknown kidnappers seized a longtime French resident and aid worker affiliated with the small NGO Aide Gao. A search (French) was immediately mounted by Malian forces, French forces, and UN peacekeepers. Jeune Afrique (French) summarizes what is known of the kidnapping itself, the victim, and the search.
- On January 4, a local Red Cross employee was shot and killed. “A resident of Gao said the worker had been shot by two men on a motorcycle late at night.”
- On January 5, mixed patrols began in Gao involving former rebels from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (French acronym CMA), pro-government militia forces, and Malian government forces. The full force is expected to comprise 200 fighters from each of the three categories. The mixed patrols are meant to fulfill one condition from a 2015 peace deal. Until early January, the pro-government armed groups had opposed (French) the CMA’s desire to enter the city, but international and governmental mediation (French) appears to have resolved the dispute for the moment.
Today a coalition of northern Malian rebel groups signed a “preliminary peace agreement” with the government, after months of talks in neighboring Algeria. Rebels have said that they will not, however, attend a planned signing ceremony in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday. Yesterday’s statement from the Coordination of the Movements of the Azawad (CMA, where “Azawad” refers to northern Mali) can be found in French here.
Even more important is another statement, issued the day before yesterday and addressed to the Malian people. It contains the CMA’s perspective on the peace talks and the fundamental issues at stake. One key paragraph:
The government of Mali and the CMA today have the heavy responsibility of establishing a true peace that corrects the failures in the political relationship that former governments have maintained up until now with the Azawad for more than half a century, and [a peace] that reorients the management mechanism of the Azawad by the Malian government. The peace for which we sincerely call must be guided by our own convictions and not dictated by anyone else. So now it is necessary to have the emergence of a new social contract between the government of Mali and the Azawad. We remain convinced that any solution to the crisis that ignores the concerns of the people of the Azawad is doomed to failure.
The CMA condemns the creation, arming, and utilization of civilian populations disguised as militias, at the same time that it condemns any illegitimate violence.
There’s a lot to ponder there, and throughout the statement, which contains both moments of frustrating vagueness and elements of pointed grievance – the last sentence of the excerpt above, for example, seems aimed at GATIA, a pro-government militia. Overall, the statement works to project a willingness to make peace, yet it also references serious stumbling blocks that will remain no matter who signs what.
And that, to me, is the main takeaway: the serious and worsening violence on the ground renders the accord ineffective. I won’t say “meaningless,” because these agreements become, if nothing else, elements in a longer narrative of disagreement, but I will say “ineffective,” because I expect that serious violence will continue after this week.
The past few weeks have seen a number of attacks in Mali, especially in the north. This post provides some brief information on some of these attacks. Key parties include the Malian military, the United Nations peacekeeping mission, the Tuareg rebel alliance the Coordination of Movements of the Azawad (CMA, which include the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA), the pro-government militia Self-Defense Group of Imghad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA in French), and the pro-government wing of the Arab Movement of the Azawad (MAA in French). The Malian government and the CMA are being pressured to sign a peace agreement in Algiers on May 2015, but the CMA has been delaying and asking for additional provisions relating to Tuareg self-rule in the north, and the UN is starting to seem openly nervous about the prospects for a signature – let alone implementation.
- May 1: CMA fighters kill one person (apparently a civilian) and take six others hostage in Bintagoungou.
- April 29: Rebels (apparently CMA) kill nine Malian soldiers, wound six others, and take six more hostage in a fight in Léré.
- April 29: Unknown gunmen, possibly CMA, kill three (two soldiers and one civilian) in Goundam.
- April 28: CMA fighters shoot at UN peacekeepers in Timbuktu.
- April 27: Pro-government GATIA and MAA fighters take Menaka from the CMA.
- April 20: Unknown gunmen kill a UN driver/peacekeeper in an ambush 30 kilometers west of GAO.
- April 17: Unknown gunmen kill two civilian drivers during an ambush on a UN convoy outside of Gao.
- April 15: Suicide bombing by al-Murabitun at a UN base in Ansongo.
In Algeria, the Malian government and various factions connected to the 2012-2013 rebellion have been negotiating a peace agreement. Today, the northern Malian Tuareg rebel alliance known as the Coordination for the Movements of Azawad (CMA) reiterated its refusal to sign the current version of the agreement. The agreement is due to be “rubber stamped” on May 15 and the United Nations has pressured the CMA to sign.
The CMA’s statement can be found in French here. The statement reaffirmed a commitment to upholding a May 2014 ceasefire, but did not provide much new information about the CMA’s refusal to sign. For more context, see the statements of April 10 and March 16. The latter statement invokes the attitudes of the CMA’s constituents back home and suggests that the accord represents “a good basis for [further] work” but does not “take into account the essential elements of the legitimate aspirations of the people of the Azawad [northern Mali].” Given the difficulty of reconciling the international pressures manifested in Algiers and the domestic pressures found back home, the CMA is in a difficult position. This dynamic helps explain their repeated requests for more time.
What specific provisions does the CMA want added to the accord? One Malian press story says that the demands include “the ‘official recognition of the Azawad as a geographic, political, and legal entity,’ the creation of an inter-regional assembly covering this zone, and a quota of ‘80% Azawad residents’ in the security forces.” I can’t say whether that’s an accurate representation of the CMA’s asks, but it gives some sense of the concrete and symbolic issues at stake in the negotiations.