Ceasefire Signed But Questions Remain

BMI View: A ceasefire agreement between Mali's interim government and separatist Touareg rebels will allow Malian and UN forces to re-enter Kidal, the last town held by rebel forces. The deal is a necessary step on the path towards national elections in July and begins the rebels' transformation from an armed insurgency into a political movement. We stress, however, that many practical issues have yet to be addressed and the key question of the Touaregs' place in a united Mali remains unanswered.

The ceasefire signed by Mali's interim government and the Touareg-led Mouvement National de Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA) on June 18 is a positive sign for the country, which is struggling to recover from a year-long occupation of its northern provinces by Islamist forces linked to al-Qaeda. The agreement allows government troops to enter MNLA-held Kidal, the last town currently outside government control. This is a major step forward, and should allow voting in elections planned for July 28 to take place across the entire country.

BMI stresses, however, that the agreement leaves several key questions unanswered. It does not set out a clear timeline for the deployment of government troops to Kidal, and allows the MNLA to retain its weapons provided the group only deploys its forces in designated areas. Allowing the July elections to proceed is a very positive sign, but Mali's next president will face a daunting challenge in finding a lasting solution to the country's regional and ethnic divides.

Back Together Again?
Mali - Area Held By Rebels (April 2012 - January 2013)

Mali was effectively cut in half in March 2012 when a loose coalition composed of the separatist MNLA and Islamist forces exploited the power vacuum caused by a coup in Bamako by expelling government troops from Mali's arid north. The Islamists, many of them foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda, subsequently sidelined the MNLA and imposed a harsh system of shari'a law across the territory.

When a French-led intervention force expelled the Islamists in January 2013, Paris allowed the MNLA to recapture Kidal on the basis that the Touaregs were a domestic force with local grievances that should be dealt with diplomatically. The interim government in Bamako, however, blamed the MNLA for starting the 2012 rebellion and demanded that all rebel groups disarm to allow upcoming elections to be held peacefully across the entire country. MNLA and government troops clashed at Anefis in early June 2013 and Bamako threatened to capture Kidal by force.

The Pen Mightier Than The Sword?

It is therefore a very positive sign that the government and the MNLA (as well as another northern group) have signed a ceasefire agreement which will allow government troops to enter Kidal and for the July 28 elections to take place. The 12 page document calls for a joint committee appointed by the MNLA, the Bamako government, and internat ional observers to plan and oversee the gradual deployment of Malian and UN troops to Kidal. The MNLA will limit its deployments to designated marshalling areas, before an eventual disarmament following an 'adequate process'.

Significant Questions Remain

BMI believes that the agreement is more of a statement of principles than an actionable peace plan. While the agreement calls for the deployment of government troops to Kidal 'without delay', the actual timetable will be created by the joint committee, which does not yet exi s t. The MNLA's disarmament timetable is vague. While most key political parties in Bamako reacted positively to the news, the head of one NGO network said that the deployment of Malian troops across every inch of Malian territory should occur 'unconditionally' .

Even if deployment does continue smoothly, a second round of negotiations will be necessary following the election. These talks will have to address both the practicalities of a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plan for northern fighters as well as the need for lasting solutions to Mali's north-south divide. The ceasefire calls for substantial talks regarding the administrative status and economic development of northern Mali, which the MNLA believe s should be an independent Touareg homeland.

BMI believes that the long-term stability of Mali will depend heavily on the ability of the country's next president to accommodate Tuareg demands for the cultural autonomy and economic development of northern Mali, a region which has traditionally been marginalized by the country's more populous south. As we have argued before, the willingness of the MNLA to seek political recourse and the involvement of the UN in Mali's reconstruction process are both reasons for guarded optimism. Even so, we hold our view that reconciliation will be difficult and that Bamako's control over northern Mali is likely to remain weak for the foreseeable future (see 'Fragile Progress', May 20).

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Burkina Faso, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Mali

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