Friday, 25 July 2014

What's at stake in the Mali negotiations?

Peace talks between the Malian government and the Tuareg nationalists have entered the next round. But what is behind this conflict and what’s at stake in the negotiations?

Last week, the latest round of negotiations opened between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels. The Tuareg groups are primarily nationalist. They include the Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement for Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). The Mali government has to consider how best to achieve a peaceful settlement in a conflict that has gone on for more than two years.

Since early 2012, Mali has been the setting of ongoing battles after Tuareg insurgents initiated a rebellion and began taking over northern Mali. In Bamako, General Amadou Sanogo overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012 on the pretext that the Touré government was incapable of resolving the crisis. Touré played a major part in Mali’s transition to democracy in holding back the military from firing on demonstrations and, ultimately, overthrowing the dictatorship of Moussa Traoré. He was later elected President in 2002 and held office until being overthrown in 2012.

General Sanogo received his military education and training in the US. Once Sanogo overthrew the elected government he suspended the constitution and imposed a curfew across the country. Mali was faced by economic sanctions from its neighbours. To overcome these sanctions Sanogo stepped aside in 2013 to make way for an interim government until an election could be held. Once an election was held and Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was elected president Amadou Sanogo was promoted to four-star general. Soon after the inauguration Sanogo was dismissed and later arrested. He is currently awaiting trial for complicity in the kidnapping and disappearing of military rivals.
The coup did not prevent what would happen next. Within a month, Mali had an interim government in Bamako and the Tuareg rebellion had taken control of northern Mali and unilaterally declared the independence of the state of Azawad. Not long after, Reuters reported that “the coup has turned into a spectacular own-goal, emboldening the rebels to take further ground”. It’s important to bear in mind that the Tuareg people were amalgamated into French Sudan when the French Empire conquered Mali in 1898. The multitude of tribes found themselves divided by the new borders imposed on them.
Northern Mali makes up a major portion of the Tuareg ancestral lands, which extend from parts of Algeria and Libya to Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. As a Berber people the Tuaregs have a distinct language and culture from the rest of Mali. The French wouldn’t relinquish control of Mali until 1960 when the country became an independent state with a socialist government. Soon after independence came the first major rebellion of the Tuaregs against the Bamako government.

NOTE: The MNLA's 2012 bid for Tuareg independence was not the first time that the country has been witness to insurrections. The earliest uprising was under French colonial rule in 1916. Ag Mohammed Koacen led a revolt which wasn't quashed for a year. He was later captured and executed in 1919.

The French government launched Operation Serval to provide armed support for the Malian military. Now seeing the Islamists as a common enemy, the MNLA provided logistical support to the French intervention while officially remaining neutral. Joint efforts by the French and the Malian military drove the Islamists out of Konna after a week of fighting. In June last year, the MNLA and the Malian government signed a preliminary agreement in which a ceasefire would be guaranteed and civilian rule restored to rebel-controlled areas, such as Kidal, in order to hold elections. Since then there has been an election in Mali and the MNLA has resumed its offensive after government forces fired on a Tuareg protest.

4,000 French troops worked as part of Operation Serval in 2013 with an African force of 2,900 troops. Up to 1,500 people have been killed. As of January 2013, around 230,000 people had been internally displaced and 144,000 had fled abroad.

The latest round of negotiations is being held in Algeria, a country with significant experience of civil strife. As the French are winding down their military operation and moving to a counter-terrorism operation, the UN will take over day-to-day security in Mali.

DATA POINT: The UN will take over the day-to-day security detail of Mali with a stabilisation force composed of 6,500 troops.

The focus of the talks is on the cantonment of areas under rebel control in exchange for disarmament. The cantonment plan was initially proposed and supported as part of the Ouagadougou Agreement signed in June 2013. The plan has not been implemented in full because the MNLA has yet to take part in the process.

This article was originally published at The World Weekly on July 24, 2014.

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