Mali Roundup – 19 July 2022

The story of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested in Mali on July 10 continues to play out; Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé is attempting to mediate between Mali and Cote d’Ivoire. The soldiers were arriving as part of rotations in the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA. Jeune Afrique (French) looks at the tensions between MINUSMA and the Malian government.

The executive bureau of the ex-rebel bloc the Coordination of Azawad Movements (French acronym CMA) held one of its ordinary meetings in Kidal on July 16-17, and is not so happy (French) with the transitional authorities, especially over their handling of the Algiers Accord (a 2015 peace agreement), the ongoing violence in Menaka, the seeming lack of progress in investigating the assassination of top CMA figure Sidi Brahim Ould Sidatt, and more. The presidency of the CMA rotated from Bilal ag Acherif to Alghabass ag Intalla. Full communiqué here (French).

A presumed jihadist attack on July 15 on an army checkpoint at Zantiguila, some 60 kilometers from Bamako, is adding to fears about jihadists’ southward encroachments.

RFI reports on the July 14-15 visit of French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu to Niamey, Niger in the context of France’s partial withdrawal from Mali. Reuters looks at France’s efforts to generate a new strategy for the Sahel. An excerpt:

French officials said the onus going forward would be on regional countries to lead on security, while also focusing more on development, good governance and education. The ministers would announce 50 million euro aid to enhance the electricity network in Niger as well as budgetary support.

A key area of concern is how and whether French and European troops will used to support countries in the coastal Gulf of Guinea nations such Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast, where there has been a rise in attacks. Al Qaeda’s regional arm has said it would turn its attention to the region.

France24 reports on “dirty gold” in Mali:

The New York Times‘ Ruth Maclean has a major article on the digitization and public availability of thousands of manuscripts from Timbuktu.

Roundup of Recent Reports and Essays on the Sahel – 4/22/22

Nina Wilén and Paul Williams, “What Are the International Military Options for the Sahel?” (Global Observatory, April 12):

If there is a potential middle way [between expanding the United Nations peacekeeping force MINUSMA versus drawing it down], it probably involves focusing on two potential tasks. First, MINUSMA could prioritize its civilian protection mandate while the UN Security Council seeks to reinvigorate the increasingly moribund Algiers Agreement, or tries to negotiate another peace accord in its place. This might involve doing something like the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) did in December 2013 when civil war broke out and South Sudanese government troops began massacring civilians. Here, UNMISS opened its bases and set up emergency “protection of civilians sites” which housed at one stage over 200,000 civilians at risk. However, conflict dynamics in Mali are different than South Sudan (2013-14) with MINUSMA facing greater risk of attack than UNMISS did. Moreover, such an approach might risk an increase in conflict between local nomads and farmers since the latter might be able to move to such sites more easily. The other route to reconfiguring MINUSMA would be to reduce its footprint and focus primarily on observation and monitoring tasks to document abuses perpetrated by the FAMA [Malian Armed Forces], jihadists, and other actors. This type of mission would not be easy to configure and force protection would be a major concern. Nor would it be welcomed by the junta. In sum, there are no obvious good options for MINUSMA.

Virginie Maudais and Souleymane Maïga, “The European Union Training Mission in Mali: An Assessment” (SIPRI, April)

Based on the interviews and desk research carried out in this study, the impact of EUTM Mali’s activities appears to be positive at the operational level. However, the mission faces several challenges in implementing its mandate and the FAMA is regularly accused of committing crimes with impunity. [p. 11]

Delina Goxho, “Protecting Civilians From Those Who Should Protect Them” (Egmont Institute, April 19):

In many regions in the Sahel, communities are doubtful of their state’s commitment to protect them and are instead veering towards the conviction that state-backed abuses represent a condoned form of systematic discrimination. Acknowledging the harm done to civilians is a first and necessary shift in changing perceptions in the region, potentially leading to a stop in the worsening of violence…Legal consequences and an obligation to reparations for those who commit abuses must also follow suit: this will require better accountability on the part of not just the armed forces and their military leaders, but also the political elites of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. These trends should prompt Sahelian militaries and political leaders, as well as foreign security providers, to rethink their involvement in the region. [p. 6]

Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, interviewed by Le Monde (April 16):

On voit bien que Paris marche sur des œufs. [Le président nigérien, Mohamed] Bazoum, de son côté, ne veut pas apparaître comme un vassal de la France. Il n’en est d’ailleurs pas un, mais la présence française peut en effet le mettre en difficulté. Pour le moment, le plus compliqué à gérer, pour lui, c’est sans doute son propre camp, parce qu’il doit composer avec la vieille garde de Mahamadou Issoufou [au pouvoir de 2011 à 2021]. Je pense vraiment qu’il veut lutter contre la corruption en actes et non en mots et qu’il a une réelle volonté d’améliorer la gestion de l’Etat. Mais sa marge de manœuvre est réduite, même si à Niamey, qui lui était très hostile, il a gagné une certaine popularité en rompant avec les habitudes de son prédécesseur, dont les déplacements paralysaient régulièrement la ville, ce qui insupportait les habitants.

OECD, “Natural Resource Governance and Fragility in the Sahel” (April):

Weak minerals governance is a source of economic fragility. In the Sahel, low access to banking and financial services closely relates to illegal minerals trade. Gold derives its value not only from its selling price, but also because it can replace currency. In comparison with cash, it is easier to transport, and easier to exchange against other currencies. For this reason, traders may prefer to use gold in order to build up savings, transfer wealth in accounts abroad, purchase goods and services, and finance trade operations. Significant amounts of Sahel gold are smuggled to Dubai, a leading international gold trading centre (Marks, Kavanagh and Ratcliffe, 2021). The gap between reported gold imports to Dubai and reported combined gold exports from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger amounted to 1.6 billion USD in 2018, and 3.7 billion USD in 2019 as per UN data, suggesting intense illicit trade (UN Trade Statistics, 2022).

The growing use of gold as currency and means to store value creates a parallel economy, which is selfreinforcing. For example, low access to finance implies small miners rely on credit from traders to fund tools and products. The development of a parallel economy and financial system increases risks of money laundering and tax evasion. It also constrains the accumulation of savings in local banks, and therefore credit provision and private sector investment. [p. 26]

Senegal: Gold Mining Brings Social Change

Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold producer, and neighboring Senegal now appears set for a gold mining boom. The BBC released a photo essay this week, “Senegal’s Gold Rush,” that is well worth a look.

Gold mining could certainly boost Senegal’s economy – in Mali, gold mining produced record-high budgetary revenues in 2010. Yet mining booms can also cause discontent among local populations. Oxfam wrote in 2007 that in Mali, “citizens have so far seen little benefit from mining revenues.” Riots have occurred in Malian mining areas.

Moreover, mining brings social change. In the mining areas of Senegal, the BBC reports, “One of the places more radically affected has been Diabougou which until recently was a tiny village and now is home to thousands of informal miners. But along with wealth, gold has brought prostitution to the very traditional and remote area.” A dramatic influx of unmarried men and foreign prostitutes could easily trigger substantial anger toward the government and the mining companies. Senegal’s “gold rush” may be a boon for the country, but the trend will bring problems as well.