After compelling the French military to withdraw from the country and cease special operations in Serval and Berkhane in 2022, the latter was relocated to neighboring Niger until December 2023 due to the military coup in Niger last July, causing increased tensions with the new military authorities in Niamey. Following suit, the military junta in Bamako also pushed for the withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in December, now aligning with the Russian military contractor Wagner Group. On Jan. 25, Mali’s junta terminated the 2015 peace agreement, the Algiers Accords, with Tuareg separatist rebels and other ethnic groups.
This tactical maneuver further destabilizes the conflict-ridden West African Sahel nation and the region, reigniting tensions between Bamako and northern separatists after the military consolidated power through successive coups in 2020 and 2021. Mali’s military authorities exacerbate the stability and security crisis in the country and the volatile Western African Sahel region. The security situation worsens in the northern region of Gao, where hostilities intensify, terrorist groups regroup, and questions arise about the effectiveness of France’s war on terror operations in 2013 and 2014. Consequently, the nation’s 22 million people face poverty, a growing humanitarian crisis, and ongoing political violence.
Extended hand for peace
Tuareg rebels, Azawad is the collective Tuareg Berber name for all Tuareg Berber in the harsh Sub-saharan region, which borders Burkina Faso to the south, Mauritania to the west and northwest, Algeria to the north and northeast, and Niger to the east and southeast; especially the northern half of Mali and northern and western Niger, took over northern Mali following a military coup in March 2012. However, they were later overrun in most cities by al-Qaida, AQMI in the Maghreb French acronym.
In January 2013, the French authorities led a military intervention: The Serval operation to “eradicate” AQMI and its affiliates in the region, 11 years later, the supranational terrorist groups are still strong and keep a solid presence in the northern city of Kidal.
Algeria, nonetheless, did step up and relaunch dialogue with Malian rebels, which sparked recent anger in Bamako, who lately, unilaterally decided to revoke the 2015 Algiers Accords. Algiers on the other hand, made a statement through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Community Abroad on Friday, Jan. 26, deploring the Malian government’s official abandonment of the 2015 Algiers Accords. This highlights the recent intensification of armament programs funded by some third-party countries as well as the use of foreign mercenaries.
Diplomatic tensions between Algiers and Bamako flared up. Algerian authorities have been showing legitimate concern about the behavior and role of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the region. Algerian media and political party leaders such as the al-Bina party and the Workers party, are reading the suspicious role of the UAE in the region, as a destabilizing force to any leading role Algeria has been orchestrating in the tumultuous region of the African Sahel; on this stance, Abu Dhabi is adding fuel to Algiers-Rabat tensions because of Abu Dhabi’s alignment with Rabat’s new Western African Sahel influence with Western African Sahel countries through an economic cooperation dynamic via the Atlantic Ocean window.
Therefore last December, the Malian ambassador to Algiers was called into discussion with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Community Abroad to discuss the latest developments, the day after Bamako summoned the Algerian ambassador to Mali. Algiers has been insisting historically on the territorial integrity, sovereignty and national unity of Mali. Yet, hidden tensions surfaced last summer, according to the military authorities in Bamako, who had been already questioning the 2015 Algiers Accords, which was violated due to the resumption of the war between the Malian army and the Berber separatists (Azawad) in the north of the country last August according to Bamako.
Institutional, security vacuum
The Algiers Accords was the appropriate framework for resolving the institutional crisis in Mali, calling on all parties to renew their commitment to this collective work for peace and reconciliation. Algiers received a number of representatives of armed movements in the northern Mali region. They signed the peace agreement, in this regard, Algerians held consultations with the head of the Movement for the Rescue of Azawad, Moussa Ag Charatoumani.
Leaders of political and religious movements were received by the Algerian authorities. Al-Abbas Ag Intalla, secretary general of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), the current Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security, Development (CSP-PSD), and others met with Algerian authorities in Algiers last fall, whereas, the leader of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad Bilal Ag Cherif, another key figure in the rebellion, did not go to Algeria.
Algeria, a long land bordering northern Mali, has become home to thousands of migrants in Algerian cities even in Algiers, the capital and largest city of the country. Those migrants have fled the resumption of fighting, drought, famine and misery. In 2015, following the spark of the 2012 cessation attempt uprising in the north in Mali, Algeria offered mediation reconciliation, which led to the signing of the peace agreement between religious and ethnic group components, but the recent consultations launched by the Algerian authorities aroused the anger of the transitional military authorities in Bamako.
The Malian military says they have not been pre-informed of these repeated meetings at the highest levels in Algeria with groups that opposed the Malian government. The Malian military authorities accuse the participants under the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace and Security coalition as terrorist groups, who are causing instability in northern Mali.
National security concerns
Tuareg rebels withdrew from negotiations with the military authorities in Mali scheduled to take place in Algeria lately over fears that their political grievances would not be addressed, highlighting tensions between Algeria and Mali. Meanwhile, representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (NMLA) left Algiers after concluding the talks were intended to emphasize reconciliation without addressing the group’s political grievances including their push for full autonomy.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, however, did emphasize in his speech in the Algerian Parliament in December 2023 before Algerian deputies and senators in December 2023 that the only solution that preserves the security and unity of Mali is the Algiers Accords, and Algeria will not concede to any party that was trying to separate the north from the south in Mali, and will never accept that.
This rhetorical tensions between Algeria and Mali do not rise to the point of permanent tensions or crisis, but rather an odd political miscalculation from the military leaders in Bamako, knowing that Algiers adheres fully to its foreign policy doctrine and principles toward its neighbors: of non-interference in the countries’ internal affairs.
Algeria’s primary concern is to accompany the breakable state in Mali and across the neighboring countries in the region in order to restore peace and security, and permanent stability that greatly affects Algeria’s national security and ethnic cohesion in the south. Algeria shares 1,400 kilometers (869.92 miles) of land borders with its Sub-Saharan southern country. Mali, a country in the heart of the African Sahel, was hit recently by two military coups in August 2020 and May 2021. This political crisis goes hand in hand with a serious political and security crisis that has been underway since 2012 and the outbreak of territory cessation and the threat of supranational terrorist groups insurgencies in the north of Mali.
The series of military coups that struck the Western Sahel African countries since 2020, has exacerbated the diplomatic crisis and tensions with France, whose traditional military hegemony in the region is declining in the aftermath of the collapse of the G5 Sahel created in 2014, a military task force wanted by France to carry out heavyweight lifting in the region against supranational terrorist groups in the region. Only two countries are left, Chad and Mauritania, after the withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. On Jan. 27, the latter (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) decided to leave the irrelevant Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a sub-regional political and economic union of 15 countries located in West Africa.
Algeria on the other hand, is positioning itself as a stabilizing force and a trustworthy mediator through the political reconciliation process it calls al-Wasatia (moderation), and the economic development strategy paradigm in the entire region.
In sum, these tensions between Algiers and Bamako would enhance Algeria’s connection in the African Sahel region, notably, with its southern countries in light of the giant trans-Sahara highway project: Lagos-Algiers, a milestone for Algiers and Juba alike – as well as the 773 kilometer road between Algeria and Mauritania on the southwest. The road link will improve commerce between the southern Wilaya of Tindouf in Algeria and Zoerate in Mauritania – a geoeconomics paramount would thrive for peace, security, prosperity, and stability across the sub-Saharan countries to the Atlantic Ocean.
So the tensions between Algeria and Mali could have been just a passing seasonal sandstorm, but if it lasts following all the turbulence, and endogenous and exogenous factors that are poisoning stability and security in the region; it could turn into a consequential desert storm to instability in the horizon.
Algeria, on the other hand, has solid political, ethnic, religious, military and intelligence leverage in the entire region. So its role and presence in the region would ease all the top geopolitical and economic realities, ethnic and religious complexities, counterterrorism, migrants, and human, weapon and drug trafficking, but also makes the West African countries constantly in doubt of any pioneering role for Algeria in the region.