At the end of July Malians will elect a new president. Yet the government is still not in full control of the northern part of the country. A deal signed with Tuareg rebels is expected to change that.
Azawad is the name used for northern Mali by members of the Tuareg ethnic group. It is also a name they want to give an independent state, for which they have been fighting for years. For the Malian government, the name has been synonymous with a rallying cry used by separatists.
The appearance of the word Azawad in the agreement signed on Tuesday (18.06.2013) by the Tuareg rebels and the Malian government can therefore be regarded as a success for the "National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad" (MNLA)" and its allies.
Mali's territorial administration minister Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly (center) signs the peace agreement
Army in Azawad
For the Malian territorial administration minister Moussa Coulibaly Sinko it is crucial that the MNLA now allows Malian soldiers to be deployed in those regions. After the signing event in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, Coulibaly said in an interview with DW that the peace treaty is an important step for the security, peace and stabilization of northern Mali. "The agreement paves the way for the organization of the elections scheduled for July," he said.
After one and a half years, Mali should once again have a democratically elected government. In response to pressure from international donor countries, particularly France, it was announced that elections would be held in July. The new peace treaty makes it possible for Bamako, with the help of government forces, also to hold elections in Kidal, something that the MNLA had previously rejected. The strategic town of Kidal is an MNLA stronghold.
Weapons still in rebel hands
After a coup staged in March last year, Tuareg rebels and then Islamists took control of northern Mali. In Bamako there is a strong desire for territorial unity, for a united state that can be effectively controlled from the capital.
Even after Malian army units, supported by French troops, re-conquered large parts of northern Mali, some towns and villages, including Kidal, are still controlled by MNLA rebels. With the current peace deal, the MNLA and their allies pledge not to take control of any other area. In return, the agreement allows MNLA fighters to keep their weapons, at least for now.
However some experts are skeptical that the agreement could lead to a long term peace. Georg Klute is a professor of anthropology at the University of Bayreuth. He thinks a broader dialogue on the future of the country would make more sense. "First at the community level, then at regional level and then at national level," said Klute. Different topics for discussion should be identified: "Which political system do we want? Which moral basis do we claim? Do we have to have a secular state? What should a future Mali look like?"
The international community could help organize this kind of dialogue, Klute says. Malians should then be given the opportunity to decide, in a referendum, about the future set-up of their communities, regions and central government. That could mean more autonomy for particular areas.
Praying for peace
Tuareg chief negotiator Mahamadou Djeri Maiga said the agreement will first enable a return to peaceful coexistence. "We will do our utmost to comply with this agreement," Maiga said after signing the twelve page document. "In words and deeds, we will work together to close this chapter of hate and open a new chapter of love and cohesion between different ethnic groups."
This, Maiga said, would show the world that peace is possible.
Pressure from the south
The negotiations began on 6 June, 2013 in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. At the same time the Malian army was putting military pressure on the Tuareg groups by marching towards Kidal. After a battle between government forces and MNLA rebels, the Malian army captured the village of Anefis - a strategically important location, one hundred kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Kidal.
Because of the agreement, the feared battle for Kidal, which would have endangered large numbers of civilians, will probably now not take place.
This removes one of the main obstacles on the way to free elections throughout the country. But others remain. In view of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in southern Mali and neighboring countries, it is still uncertain whether elections really can be held on 28 July.
Money and soldiers from abroad
The Bamako government does not have to make all the preparations alone. From 1 July , 12,600 UN soldiers will be deployed to secure peace in Mali. This is in addition to the EU training mission for the Malian army which began in April this year. Germany is contributing up to 180 soldiers to the training mission. In addition, the international community has promised Mali assistance of more than three billion euros ($3.9 billion).
This financial aid is sorely needed, Malian territorial administration minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly told DW. "We will continue to request aid, from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the international community as a whole," he said.
The peace agreement is only valid up to the elections. The document says a final deal will only be negotiated after the new president is installed. The talks between the new government and Tuareg representatives should begin 60 days after the elections. One of the main points to be clarified is how much autonomy will be granted to Azawad. Or , to be more precise, to "the regions of northern Mali described by some as Azawad."