Is Mali’s peace agreement really a breakthrough?

Peace & Security,Sahel Watch24 Jun 2015Karlijn Muiderman

During a signing ceremony on 20 June 2015, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), commonly referred to as the ‘Tuareg Rebels’, signed the Algiers Peace Agreement – after a year of negotiations led by Algeria and three and a half years into the conflict. This is a success for the Algiers peace process, but its impact remains uncertain.

During the previous signing ceremony on 15 May, the Plateforme Groupe (mostly government loyalists) signed the agreement, but the CMA refused as it re-enforced the limited autonomy of the north. (Read more about the conflicting groups in this article on Sahel Watch.) This time, the government agreed to a security and development programme for the Azawad region and dropped arrest warrants against several rebel leaders. The region will receive more authority, but not full autonomy, which has been the fundamental political objective of the CMA. Another reason why the impact of the Peace Agreement is uncertain is that many conflicting groups have been excluded from the talks, for example, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), although it has a large support base in uncontrolled areas, mainly among the young Peul population.

Thus, the long-term outcome of the signing is yet to be seen – is it a step towards peace, or a short-term solution? Sofia Sebastian warned recently in Sahel Watch that no solution will be viable until the nexus between criminality and violent extremism in the north is eliminated, and the links between rebel groups and transnational criminal networks are curtailed. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), whose mission is to support the stabilization of the country and the peace process to achieve this, is extremely challenged in these areas and has been called the deadliest UN mission so far. During a UN Security Council meeting last week the Danish Force Commander for MINUSMA, Lollesgaard, said that the mission’s troops were extremely vulnerable in training, logistics and intelligence provision. Implementing the Peace Agreement and setting goals will be the next challenge. MINUSMA’s mandate will be renewed shortly, as well as the Dutch support, which the Dutch cabinet approved on 19 June and the House of Parliament will debate soon. On 22 June, EU ministers of Foreign Affairs will meet in Luxemburg to discuss current developments in Mali. During this meeting, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Koenders, and the French MFA, Fabius, called for more European involvement in the mission to strengthen its effect.

Most likely the agreement will hold for a while, but to make it a successful step towards lasting peace, the peace process needs to be more inclusive of the needs and demands of the local population and the groups that represent them. During the signing, Djeri Mahamadou Maïga, vice president of the CMA, said that the agreement is a working base for a continuing dialogue on complementing demands, but without violence. Since the conflict started in 2012, Mali has been at a standstill; initiatives for political reform have been made subjective to stability. Socio-economic improvements in employment and education have been low. Perhaps the Peace Agreement can engender trust in the peace process and turn the tide towards peace.