Mali: Two Years After Bamako Agreement, What Peace Is There to Keep?

MINUSMA head of mission Mahamat Saleh Annadif (left) shakes hands with Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta as UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, looks on.

Two years ago, the signing of the “Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, resulting from the Algiers Process” (the “Bamako Agreement”) was supposed to usher in a new era of peace and stability in Mali. However, not only has there been little progress in implementing the agreement, but insecurity has grown and spread to the center of the country. The terrorist threat has also reached the capital, Bamako, which was subject to another attack on June 18.

This state of affairs is all the more troubling given the international community’s mobilization in support of the Malian state. This has been both on the political front—through the international mediation—and on the military front, through the French regional counterterrorism force Barkhane and the 10,000-strong United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), first deployed in July 2013 and whose mandate was made “more proactive and robust” last June.

When briefing the UN Security Council on June 16, MINUSMA head of mission Mahamat Saleh Annadif made it a priority to accelerate the implementation of the peace agreement, including through “good offices” and pressure applied on the parties by the members of the international mediation team. Annadif also emphasized the need to reinforce the partnership between the UN mission and the Malian defense and security forces, as well as the future 5,000-strong “G5” joint counterterrorism force—consisting of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—welcomed by the UN Security Council on June 21.

In spite of this international mobilization, some continue to warn that the peace agreement may even be in danger of collapse. We ask why this is the case in a new IPI report that assesses progress on the implementation. The report draws lessons from the initial Algeria-led negotiations and analyses the impact of the mediation process on implementation to date and the sustainability of its outcomes.

At the turn of 2017, when both coalitions of armed groups in Mali (the “Coordination” and the “Platform”) decided to boycott the Follow-Up Committee to the agreement—in protest of the “lack of inclusiveness in the decision making of the implementation process and delays in implementing interim measures”—many indeed questioned whether the peace agreement was still worth holding onto, or if it was time to start looking for alternatives.

The international mediation team attempted to revive the process. On February 10 this year, Algerian Foreign Minister Lamamra convened a ministerial-level meeting of the Follow-Up Committee, which gave new momentum to the process. Following 18 months of little progress in the implementation of the agreement, some key milestones were finally reached.

The first government-Coordination-Platform joint patrol was launched in Gao on February 23 (composed of 600 members from the Malian army, Coordination, and Platform, and another 150 from other armed groups who had protested their exclusion). An agreement on the composition of interim authorities in the five northern Mali regions was reached, and, despite some initial contestation, these were installed in Kidal on February 28 (but without Platform representatives), in Gao and Ménaka on March 2, and in Timbuktu and Taoudenni on April 20. Further from this, the Conference of National Entente took place from March 27 to April 2 and was more successful than anticipated, as the armed groups and opposition political parties that initially announced they would boycott eventually joined in.

While implementation of the peace agreement is far behind schedule, the agenda was always ambitious given the conditions under which the parties signed the agreement, and there are now some small achievements to build on. The joint patrols will need to be expanded to Timbuktu and Kidal and equipped so that they can effectively fulfill their expected role of providing security to the interim authorities as well as the cantonment (restricting the movements of armed groups) and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process.

The interim authorities will need to be made operational—with competent staff and adequate financial means—so that they can start providing services to northern populations ahead of the regional elections that are supposed to be held in October or November 2017. And, following on from the Conference of National Entente, a “charter for peace, unity and national reconciliation” (the “Charte”) was produced. This was supposed to record some of the key root causes of the crisis and renew the commitment of Malians towards reconciliation.

Importantly, the government of Mali has accepted that June 20 cannot be the end of the interim period of the agreement and that the mandate of the interim authorities will need to be extended to honor the peace agreement’s requirement that they serve for at least six months. Appointed on April 1 this year, the new government of Prime Minister Maïga (a member of the president’s political party) has made the implementation of the peace agreement its top priority.

The government, Coordination, and Platform seem to have entered into a new positive dynamic. This started on the eve of the 17th session of the Follow-Up Committee on May 2, when some government ministers met with representatives of the armed groups and decided to create an informal technical and political committee under the aegis of the president’s high representative for the implementation of the agreement, Mahamadou Diagouraga. This committee is intended to move forward implementation in the periods between the monthly meetings of the Follow-up Committee, when it has typically stalled. A new implementation calendar could be helpful, as would be the establishment of a permanent consultation framework as decided during the February 10 ministerial-level meeting of the committee.

But this new positive dynamic may have less to do with a sudden change of heart on the part of the government than with the realization that, at a time when the Malian army finds itself unable to control the deteriorating situation in the center of the country, the government must find ways to make good on President Keïta’s promise to deliver stability. This is all the more important as the new government, which does not include ex-rebels, is primarily geared toward preparing for the July 2018 presidential elections, in which Keïta intends to run for a second term.

From this electoral perspective, the population of southern Mali, which represents 80% of the electorate, will be more important than that of northern Mali. Even so, there are signs of a growing realization among southern Malians that there is no military solution to the crisis in the north and that the agreement is still the best chance to stabilize that part of the country.

Judging by the push for a constitutional referendum slated to take place on July 9—since postponed to a later date in the face of political and civil society opposition—the government may not have completely moved away from its past practice of merely “ticking the boxes” and unilaterally implementing the provisions of the agreement it deems most relevant to preventing derailment. On June 20, the Coordination rejected the Charte, which it again felt was done unilaterally and did not factor in the recommendations it had made to the expert drafting committee.

Implementation will also depend on the two coalitions of armed groups, the Coordination and Platform, working out their differences and working together in good faith. The latest series of deadly clashes between the two groups and affiliated Tuareg clans in the Kidal region these past few weeks risks not only stalling the implementation again, but also degenerating into larger scale intercommunal violence, as has been seen in central Mali in recent days where clashes between Dogon and Peul communities left more than 30 dead.

Many observers remain concerned that the parties—and some of their appointed representatives in the various follow-up mechanisms—are more interested in the process than in peace itself. These observers remain concerned that, to date, the parties have done just enough to stay in the process—and not be –labelled “spoilers”—but have not committed themselves to it fully, as illustrated by the fact that they have barely implemented interim arrangements and not moved on larger institutional reforms. There are fears that any major incident could be used to once again stall a process that has not yet reached the point of being irreversible. In particular, the modalities and timing of the redeployment of the Malian army (whether reconstituted as per the agreement or not) to northern Mali—and particularly to Kidal—and of the DDR process could lead to renewed tensions as they have in the past.

There is also a possibility that the international mediation team and the lead mediator, Algeria, may disengage from following up on implementation. Already, the mediation team has repeatedly threatened to cut monthly allowances to representatives of the armed groups on the Follow-Up Committee and Technical Security Commission. In a departure from standard diplomatic practice and from the Follow-Up Committee’s usual conciliatory style, its president recently sent a letter to the president of the Coordination—apparently leaked to the press—accusing the group of “once again and one time too many” failing to meet their commitments for not vacating Camp #1 in Kidal, where the Operational Coordination Mechanism and joint patrols were supposed to be installed. The pressure seemed to pay off, as Coordination forces finally vacated the premises on June 2 to allow for the rehabilitation of the camp. In the latest meeting of the Follow-Up Committee, the parties agreed to launch the mechanism and joint patrols in Kidal by June 20, but this was delayed again.

Some question whether the change in government in Algeria at the end of May, which saw the replacement of Foreign Minister Lamamra—the architect of the peace agreement—may affect Algeria’s commitment to Mali, and also whether the heavy Follow-Up Committee structure should be maintained as such as implementation extends past the interim period.

This has led to discussions regarding the designation of an independent observer by the Follow-Up Committee to objectively evaluate the state of implementation, as per Article 63 of the peace agreement. While it is difficult to imagine how such an observer could assign blame (or recommend sanctions, as certain Security Council members seem to hope), his or her designation could prove a useful mechanism to replace the Follow-Up Committee down the road. However, the observer’s role will be limited to just that—observing. As a result, amicable but sustained pressure from countries in the region—all members of the international mediation team but each with leverage over different parties, including the government—will be essential to ensuring that this peace agreement, unlike past ones, is ultimately implemented.

In this context, the G5 Sahel counterterrorism force should aim to support a difficult political process rather than be a substitute for it. MINUSMA, which remains the only member of the international mediation team with a significant presence in the north of Mali, should continue to play a strong political role at both the national and local levels. In the absence of alternatives, the best rampart against terrorism and a return to violence continues to be the implementation of the peace agreement and the return of a more legitimate state presence to northern Mali.

Arthur Boutellis is Director of the Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations at the International Peace Institute (IPI). Marie-Joëlle Zahar is a visiting Senior Fellow at IPI and Director of the Research Network on Peace Operations and Professor of Political Science at the Université de Montréal.