Divisions in northern Mali : A major obstacle to the peace process?

Touaregs_at_the_Festival_au_Desert_near_Timbuktu, <a href=sales _Mali_2012″ width= »308″ height= »206″ />  We won the war in 2013, discount we have now won the peaceFrench ministry of defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian , said those words the day following the signature of the peace deal on June 20th 2015. Less than three months later, UN special envoy in Mali, Mongi Hamdi, paints a bleaker picture of the situation. The security environment remains highly volatile and numerous armed groups have violated the ceasefire and hampered the peace process sooner than expected.

 Situation in Northern Mali

 Jihadist activities certainly are a major obstacle to the country’s stability, but it cannot be overcome without tackling local issues in the North. For decades, this part of the country has been crippled by ethnic and social divisions and the weakness of state’s authority. These are the very causes of the security vacuum which fostered the jihadist settlement in 2012. In order to avoid a similar scenario in the near future, northern issues, and more specifically the opposition between the CMA and the Platform, must not be overlooked. The CMA (Coordination of Azawad Movements), fights for independence and unites the National Azawad Liberation Movement (MNLA), the High Council of the Azawad Unitiy (HCUA) and the majority of the Arab Azawad Movement (MAA). The Platform is less unified and gathers some MAA members, the Coalition for the Azawad People (CPA), the Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group (GATIA) and the Coalition of Movements and Patriotic Front of Resistance (CM-FPR). In July-August 2015, clashes occurred between the Platform and the CMA for the occupation of Anefis (sometimes spelled Anefif), a town in the Kidal region, which was finally peacefully shared between the two groups according to “a pact of honor” signed on October 16th .This conflict however showed the underlying issues remaining in northern Mali and the fragility of the agreement.


How to explain the volatile security situation in the North ?

 The northern signatory groups are deeply divided. The government-sponsored Platform seems favorable to the interests of Malian southern establishment in promoting a united (and relatively centralized) country. On the other hand, questions remain regarding the CMA’s motivations as some of its members still hope for the autonomy of the Azawad.

On top of these political discords, one has to bear in mind the ethnic landscape which might not necessarily fit the political and social division lines. Though the Tuaregs and their causes are prominent in the media, other communities such as the Moors and Arabs, the Songhay and the Fulani also live in the north, and each of them have different relations with the Malian state. The Songhay and the Fulani for instance, who are mostly farmers and sedentary, have been historically more integrated in Malian politics than the Tuaregs who are nomadic for the most part.

Northern Mali stability is also undermined by intra communal tensions, especially among the Tuaregs, a community ruled by a rigid social structure and divided for centuries between the vassals and the nobles. This separation is particularly visible in the Kidal region. Overall, declining and downgraded nobles, called Ifoghas, are the ones that resent the most the authority of Southern government, while former Imghads vassals may have found opportunities for climbing the social ladder through supporting the legal government. Therefore, although the CMA and the Platform are both composed of Arabs and Tuaregs, intracommunal tensions have been heightened between the two subgroups as the CMA is mainly lead by the Ifoghas and the Platform by the Imghad.

Regional issues also fuel local tensions. Since 2005, the Sahel has become a major trafficking hub and armed groups protect the conveyance of hashish, cocaine and weapons in exchange for important sums of money.  According to UN envoy, Mr. Hamdi, one of the reasons the CMA wanted to control the town of Anefis  was the towns’ location on an important drug trafficking transit route.

Finally, some analysts also question the content of the agreement itself which seems redundant with previous ones and thus foreshadows the same negative outcomes. Once more, the northern separatists remain unsatisfied regarding the status of the Azawad which is recognized as a socio-cultural entity, but entitled to no autonomous governance. Lack of representativeness persists as a major issue, and a month after the signature of the agreement, some northern armed groups complained of being excluded from the peace process because the CMA and the Platform did not officially recognize them. Le Front Populaire de l’Azawad (FPA), and the Mouvement Patriotique pour le Salut du people de l’Azawad (MPSA) for instance, were not part of the Comité de Suivi de l’Accord (CSA), in charge of implementing the peace agreement.

Though democracy and decentralization is once more given as a major part of the solution in order to overcome northern marginalization and reunify the country, analysts warn about their side effects. In Mali’s context, a democratic system, and the competition for power that goes with it, can increase ethnic tensions. Given the rigid social structure of the Tuaregs for instance, the Imghads might be more willing than the Ifoghas to build a democratic system in order to weaken the power of the aristocracy and express their grievances.

 Why is the security situation in the North hampering the peace  process ?

All those tensions hamper the peace process as they lead to violent confrontations and slow down the implementation of the agreement. This was visible in Anefis, where a major fight occurred on August 15th 2015. At least 20 rebels from the CMA died in two days, heavy weapons were used on both sides and the conflict lead the CMA to suspend its participation to the peace process as long as the Platform was still in Anefis. The clashes in Kidal also created a precarious security situation in the north which is exacerbated by  the deficiencies in the Malian army. Though 3400 soldiers out of 8000 have been integrated in the EUTM Mali (European Union Training Mission) since 2013, the army remains fragile. According to the American website Global  Fire Power, it is ranked 124 out of 126 armies. This security vacuum is dangerous as it creates a breeding ground for jihadists, or any other armed groups, to build alternative authorities and provide for the security of the population in exchange for their recognition. Insecurity fosters jihadists’ activities which in return lead to even more insecurity, thus creating a vicious circle harmful to the country’s stability.





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