Tuareg rebels near Timbuktu, May 2012

Uncertainty Around Mali Peace Accord

The prospects for the return of an appeased state of affairs in Mali got slightly dimmer this week, as another round of talks between the government and the CMA – the Tuareg rebel alliance – failed to convince the rebel groups to sign the Algiers Accord, the agreement brokered by Algeria which is meant to set the stage for political reconciliation. Following the CMA’s demand to consult with the grassroots prior to signing the Accord, a high-level meeting with all the stakeholders – Malian government, African Union, UN, Algerian officials – took place in the northern town of Kidal, a rebel stronghold, earlier this week. During the talks, the CMA reiterated that they could not sign the agreement, which, they claim, does not solve longstanding issues – such as political independence for northern Mali, known as Azawad, and increased representation of northerners in the Malian armed forces – and cannot be accepted in its current form. Meanwhile, as the threat of Islamic extremism reared its ugly head again with a terrorist attack in the heart of Bamako a couple of weeks ago, the prospect of sustainable stability is at risk. Indeed, while the French military intervention largely wiped out the strength of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), splinter groups are still operating in the region, and despite transnational efforts to beat back Islamic extremism in the Sahel region, the uncertainty around the status of the northern part of Mali is fertile ground for extremists, who benefit from instability and insecurity.

There was always very little room to maneuver, on both sides of the table. Indeed, following seven months of intense negotiations in Algiers, there was little hope that the Malian government would concede any more than it already had. From their perspective, maintaining the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the entire state, is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, this position flies in the face of the separatist aspirations of the Tuareg rebel coalition, for who independence – some form of it – is an essential pre-condition for agreeing to move forward with the accord. With the parties in a deadlock – the government is refusing further talks regarding the modification of the agreement at this stage – the future of the Algiers Accord hangs in the balance.

There is, however, still a glimmer of hope that the agreement can find acceptance among the Tuareg rebellion. Following the talks in Kidal on Wednesday, the CMA leadership has indicated that they may be willing to consider signing the accord if their demands can be discussed as possible amendments, and that the latest list of demands presented at the negotiating table in Kidal will be subject to discussion. Pierre Buyoya, head of the AU mission in Mali, told RFI in the aftermath of the Kidal  meeting that “We think that they have to be courageous and sign this agreement, to finally open up this new phase of the process, which will be long but where all the issues raised can find a solution.”

One of the interesting issues to watch around the evolution of this peace deal is whether the CMA will be granted their wish to negotiate directly with the Malian government. So far, the negotiation has been brokered and managed by the Algerians, and there have been few opportunities for face-to-face, direct discussions between the parties. With the growing possibility of an outright rejection of the accord by the CMA – which wouldn’t necessarily be a positive outcome for them, either –  the stakes are high. The CMA’s current demands for independence and autonomy are at the heart of the grievances which triggered the armed conflict in the first place. It is essential that the negotiators and the parties find a way to move forward, which balances Mali’s sovereign interests and the rebellion’s long-standing demands, if stabilization and reconciliation are to materialize.