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Mali closes peace deal

Audrey Parmentier, Philipp Sandner / gu
June 20, 2015

Tuareg rebels finally signed the May peace accord. While the Malian population welcomes this as a step toward more security, it has little faith in the UN stabilization mission, MINUSMA.

A citizen of Gao talks to a peacekeeper. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images

The new peace accord has been on the table for a while now. In fact, Mali's government, international mediators and some armed groups already signed it on May 15, 2015, in the capital, Bamako.

The agreement calls for the recognition of the government in Bamako; in return it gives the north of the country more rights.

Representatives of a Tuareg-dominated alliance called the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) have now agreed to sign the accord on Saturday (20.06.2015). Negotiations repeatedly failed in the past.

Separatists in northern Mali had taken up arms in 2012. Despite the May accord, which was reached with the help of international mediators, the conflict simmers on. Last week suspected Islamist militants attacked a military base in the southern city of Misseni, killing a policeman. According to the AFP news agency, the attackers left behind a piece of paper with "Ansar Dine" written on it – the name of an Islamist Tuareg militia, which is active in the north of the country and is not part of the CMA.

Even soldiers belonging to the United Nations stabilization mission in Mali, MINUSMA, have reason to fear for their lives. MINUSMA commander Michael Lollesgaard told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that the troops were not properly equipped to fend off repeated attacks by jihadi groups. Since the mission began in 2013, at least 36 UN soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded, not to mention the countless civilian casualties. It was "by far the U.N. mission with most fatalities," Lollesgaard said.

A representative of an armed group signs the peace accord in Bamako. Photo: Diop PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxCHN
A signing ceremony was held in May, but the Tuareg-dominated rebel alliance CMA didn't show upImage: imago/Xinhua

About 11,500 soldiers and police officers are currently involved in the peacekeeping operation. In early April, Germany, which has contributed eight soldiers, extended its participation for another year.

Population remains skeptical, 'Malimeter' says

The international peacekeepers do not have a high standing with the population, a study by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) concluded. The foundation, which is close to Germany's Social Democratic Party, had conducted a survey in all parts of the country except for the northern Kidal region. For the sixth time since 2012, the foundation's "Malimeter" has gauged public sentiment in Mali. 1,800 Malians participated in the survey. The foundation's stated aim is to capture the concerns of the population and contribute to the decision-making process.

The main concerns were guaranteeing the safety of the citizens and generating jobs through economic development. This was how Jan Henrik Fahlbusch, who heads the FES in Bamako, summed up the results of the survey at an event in Berlin. While Malians trusted the army, only one out of three respondents felt that MINUSMA had fulfilled its mandate. "People thought the rebellion could be put down immediately and permanently," said Abdourahmane Dicko, a senior FES program officer in Bamako. But this was not the case; it was high time to explain the mandate of the international force better, he said.

MINUSMA soldiers march in rows. Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
Few Malians think MINUSMA is fulfilling its mandateImage: AFP/Getty Images

Whipping up support for the new accord

The Malimeter also gauged opinions on the peace accord. By and large, Malians were pleased that various groups had signed the agreement on May 15, Dicko said. But there was another significant problem. "Malians are not actually familiar with what is in the agreement," he said. It was necessary to inform people, Dicko stressed, in order to ensure that the accord was properly understood and thereby increase the chances that it would hold. Dicko explicitly praised Bamako's efforts on behalf of the agreement. "With a tour of all the regions, the government recently promoted the accord and informed people about its content," he said, adding that he regarded this as "a very good thing."

But the success of the agreement will mainly be determined by the extent to which the Tuareg rebels, and the Tuareg populations of northern Mali which they represent, accept the agreement. The Tuareg CMA alliance had originally demanded that the northern part of Mali it refers to as Azawad be recognized as a "geographic, political and legal entity." Not until the beginning of June did the rebels back down from this demand for broad autonomy and declare their willingness to accept what was previously agreed, which included recognizing President Ibrahim Boubacar's government. In return Bamako promised to create regional assemblies.

Policeman blocks access to the scene of an attack at a restaurant in Bamako. Photo: HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images
Even Bamako is not safe from attacksImage: AFP/Getty Images/H. Kouyate

Decentralization modeled on Germany?

Mali has also turned to Germany for inspiration on how to forge the decentralization process. Last week a Malian delegation visited Germany for this purpose. It was led by Oumarou ag Mohamed Ibrahim, the chairman of the Haut Conseil des Collectivites Territoriales (HCCT), or high council of territorial authorities. The HCCT is a state institution charged with promoting local and regional development in Mali.

Oumarou appeared to be confident that the new peace deal would hold. "The government has already marked the way and thereby demonstrated its willingness to continue down this path. The Azawad movements, too, have promised to honor their commitments," he said in Berlin. Among others, the groups include the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA).

In the meantime, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has been speaking of "enormously complex challenges." These included guaranteeing the provision of basic state services in rural areas as well as the reconciliation of the various social groups. The accord will likely prove to be an important step in this direction.

Algerian Foreign Minister Lamamra congratulates CMA secretary-general Bilal Agh Cherif. Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
The success of the deal hinges on CMA chairman Bilal Ag Cherif (center)Image: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

The agreement includes the withdrawal of pro-government militias from the northern town of Menaka. According to the French weekly Jeune Afrique, the groups had been reluctant to take that step, having declared that they did not want to ignore the population's call for protection. On Thursday, however, pro-government militia leaders agreed to pull out of the town, thus possibly removing the last obstacle to Saturday's signing ceremony.

But the signature of the CMA is not cast in stone yet. The CMA backed off in the last minute on May 15.

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