Mali: Showdown between Assimi Goïta and Alghabass Ag Intalla threatens peace process

By Manon Laplace

Posted on Wednesday, 22 February 2023 15:28
Image by JA

After several months of tension, the dialogue has broken between Mali's government and the separatist rebels of the CMA. Despite international mediation efforts, the Algiers peace agreement is on the verge of implosion.

Since its signing in 2015, the Algiers peace accord, which ended the Tuareg-dominated rebellion in northern Mali, has never seemed so threatened. For months now, the main coalition of signatory armed groups, united within the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA), and the Bamako authorities have been looking at each other like feral dogs.

While the silence of the Assimi Goïta regime on the subject is surprising, the CMA – chaired by Alghabass Ag Intalla – has since increased its warnings and shows of force. Recalling that they had been forced, “in the name of peace,” to sign a text that did not suit them, the Tuareg signatories withdrew from the mechanisms for monitoring and implementing the Algiers agreement last December, coming as a response to the government’s perceived inertia in the implementation of the provisions of the agreement, they then indicated.

Successive breaks

Despite Algeria’s efforts as a leader in international mediation, efforts appeared to have fallen short of influencing Bamako enough to relaunch dialogue. Instead, tensions have grown when the government declined the Algerian proposal to hold a meeting in neutral territories.

Without officially commenting on this new refusal from Bamako, the former rebels responded by withdrawing from the commission in charge of finalising the draft Constitution before announcing with great fanfare their merger into a single movement and launching a vast security operation to address the État islamique au grand Sahara (EIGS) in the North.

If relations have intensified since the arrival of the coup-leading colonels in power, it can be seen through episodes of armed conflict well before the regime change.

Since the signing of the 2015 peace agreement, the CMA has continued to flex its muscles by suspending its participation in the process of monitoring the agreement; thereby boycotting the delivery of peace, unity, and national reconciliation charter to Ibrahim Boubacar. Problems persisted upon the termination of national dialogue opportunities.

Terrible reports

The CMA’s tenuous relationship with Bamako, according to the former rebels, has not seen much improvement in part due to Bamako’s alleged denials of the Azawad, compounded by administrative inertia and Bamako’s perceived desire to unilaterally determine terms.

“Today, the dialogue is totally broken, and each is waiting for the other to take action that will mark the final break, so as not to be the one who will have shattered the peace agreement,” says a source.

On the CMA side, the merger was recently held up as further proof of its strengthening and determination. Through his Minister of National Reconciliation, Colonel Ismaël Wagué, who maintains lamentable relations with the leaders of the CMA, Goïta continues to shuffle the deck.

Relative appeasement

Cut to 2020, when the different departments of the nascent transition were being established, a hand was extended to the former independence rebels. Several of their representatives had thus been appointed to the Conseil national de transition (CNT) and the government.

A notable figure in the rebellion, Mohamed Ag Intalla, brother of Alghabass, became the third vice-president of the CNT. The government team had also opened its ranks to former rebels, like the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mossa Ag Attaher, who was once the CMA’s spokesperson.

But these moments of improvement turned out to be short-lived.

From 2021, the year of the coup within the coup which led Assimi Goïta to the presidency, but also the assassination of the president of the CMA at the time (Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati), the warning signals intensified.

The Wagner red line

In September 2021, while Bamako was buzzing with rumours about the possibility of the Wagner Group’s imminent arrival in Mali, the CMA made it a red line.

Firmly opposed to any agreement with Russian mercenaries, it warned: “It is the civilian populations, already bruised and weakened by a decade of crisis, who will pay the price for the use of Wagner Group mercenaries, known for their serious human rights violations in the countries where they are deployed.”

Confidence then continued to wane, leaving the government and former rebels irreconcilable in a state of flux.

No action seems to have appeased the situation. “Relations between Bamako and the North are historically complicated, but the current authorities are particularly hostile to the former rebels,” summarised the aforementioned researcher.

Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga, a long-time detractor of the Algiers agreement, has long pleaded for a re-evaluation of the text before favouring the idea of its proper application.

As for the colonels in power, most were on the ground in 2012 during the Tuareg rebellion. Although there is no formal proof of his presence at the front against the independents, Assimi Goïta led battalions engaged in the North between 2011 and 2013.

Its Defence Minister, Colonel Sadio Camara, is said to have narrowly escaped the Tuareg rebel offensive in 2012, before joining Niger with Colonel-Major El Hadj Ag Gamou with a feeling of revenge, according to some observers, against the perpetrators.

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