By Antonin TISSERON, Associate Fellow at the Thomas More Institute.
According to a wide range of commentators, the seven people captured at the Arlit mining project in the North of Niger on the night of the 15th to 16th September were rapidly taken to North-East Mali. One week later, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Change in the North of Mali (a Tuareg movement demanding political and ethnic recognition) claimed that the hostages were being held by the terrorist Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, whose stronghold, the spokesperson added, is located 70km from the Malian army’s military base in the North of Mali (1).
While Bamako has launched several initiatives to counter the insecurity affecting the North of the country (2) and committed itself to Algeria’s efforts to encourage the involvement of Sahel countries in the struggle against Islamist terrorism, there is no denying that Mali is trying to avoid finding itself alone in the front line in the armed struggle against Islamist terrorism. It was particularly telling to see the intervention of Mauritanian soldiers on Mali’s territory (3) on 22 July and, as was the case on 19 September, Mauritanian air strikes were responsible for the destruction of three vehicles belonging to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the North of Mali. Malian authorities made this choice for several reasons. Firstly, their decision concerns the limitations of Mali’s security forces. While Mali’s military expenditures exceed those of Mauritania, Mauritania has 15 870 soldiers at its disposal, in contrast to Mali’s 7 750 (4). Moreover, in spite of the efforts of countries such as the United States and France – on 20 October 2009, the US donated 43 Land Cruisers, military uniforms and new-generation communications media to the Malian army, to the value of 4,5 million dollars- Malian soldiers, with the exception of several units, do not have sufficient operational capacity to catch and destroy terrorist katiba. In addition, it is likely that Malian authorities, confronted by rebels from the North and the rampant Islamisation of Malian society, fear that they will feed religious antagonisms in the name of the struggle against certain criminal elements proclaiming Salafism and provoke general unrest throughout the country. On the national level, therefore, Malian authorities have chosen to favour negotiation and procrastination, all the more so as the postponement of the reform of the family code by imams in favour of woman’s rights in 2009 recalled the real risk of an increasing distance between Sahel states and their Muslim populations, against the background of the presence of Pakistani preachers in the region.
We cannot, however, reduce Mali’s counterterrorism approach to the low level of involvement of Malian security forces. Mali advocates a comprehensive regional approach to reducing violence in the region. Quite rightly, on 17 September, Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré recalled that terrorism is « not a Malian problem », taking issue, while he was at it, with the tendency to regard his country as the « weak link » and judging that « terrorism feeds on under-development ». Islamist violence, various types of trafficking and the lack of state control are all problems that concern the countries of the Maghreb and the Sahel and to which the response cannot be simply securitarian. Meetings held by the High Command and intelligence services are only a pre-requisite to a broader cooperation that is not limited to security issues, or to the few countries invited by Algeria to participate in its regional initiatives. For Mali, Islamist terrorism is a regional problem that feeds the terrorist dynamic and requires a political, economic and social approach aimed at minimising popular frustrations.
The kidnappings and assassinations of the past few months have served to remind us of the limits of the approaches currently adopted in this region. Similarly, they alert us to the catastrophic economic consequences that chronic insecurity could have for the region due to the effects that these events have on development programmes and tourism, regarded as one of the region’s most dynamic sectors. In any case, restoring security is only one means of allowing the region to develop; development alone capable of bringing about durable security. This is the advantage of the Malian president’s declared strategy of highlighting the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach in the Sahel region, as well as the broadest possible regional cooperation, even if this strategy does not conceal the need to improve the operational capacity of the Sahel armed forces as well as the Tuareg question.
In spite of the signing of the Alger Accord in July 2006 and the adoption, several months later, of a development programme for the three northern regions spanning a ten-year period (5), strong tensions persist between Tuareg tribes and the Malian government and, for that matter, the Nigerian government. A spokesperson for the Coalition for Change in Northern Mali reproached the government last April for its attitude towards the Tuareg people, notably concerning the fact that proposals drafted by previous accords had not yet been implemented (6). But the Sahel countries do not have the means or the capacity to secure their northern zone and the Tuaregs know the desert best. Moreover, the tribes armed by Alger and engaged in the fight against AQIM terrorists seem to have achieved meaningful results. Above all- and this concerns an alarming regional development- the ancient sociabilities of this nomadic people are disintegrating. Tuareg tribes, against a background of poverty, are increasingly confronted with the calling into question of traditional structures as well as the rising involvement of young Tuaregs in criminal activities in the service of AQIM, a large number of whom we risk seeing tempted by anti-western extremist Islamist discourse (7).
Nevertheless, there remain a large number of obstacles to cooperation within the region. Relations between Mali and Algeria are strained, not only regarding the strategy to adopt but also concerning the Tuareg question and the arming of tribes by Alger. Similarly, the meeting held in Bamako on 13 October that brought together experts from antiterrorist action groups from G8 member countries as well as G8 representatives and regional country representatives, revealed the limitations of regional cooperation today. Algeria’s reason for declining the invitation was twofold: Morocco was present and Alger considers that the African countries concerned can resolve the problem on their own. Throughout the meeting, Mali also defended the idea of a collective army for the countries of this region, whereas Mauritania reiterated its more offensive approach which involves direct strikes on armed groups (8). However, without regional cooperation in the security sector, the guarantee of a real improvement of security, any action that aims to promote development is at risk of being doomed to failure.
(1) « La Coalition pour le changement au nord du Mali accuse le Mali de complicité avec l’AQMI », El Khabar, 22 September 2010. Online: http://www.temoust.org/la-coalition-pour-le-changement-au,15154. Abou Zeid is the perpetrator of the kidnapping of seven expatriates from Arlit. Rigorous- he replaced Tuareg songs with readings of the Koran in AQIM training camps- he did not receive training in Afghanistan and he is regarded as embodying the transformation of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) into a branch of Al-Qaeda (by importing Al-Qaeda methods and internationalising combat).
(2) These initiatives include, among others : the adoption of a national policy to fight insecurity and terrorism in the Sahel-Saharan strip, setting up an analysis and proposal unit attached to the Malian Presidency, and the launch of an emergency programme for the reduction of insecurity and the anti-terrorism struggle in North Mali (PIRIN, 2010- 2011 period).
(3) This raid resulted in the death of six Al-Qaeda combatants.
(4) Jean-Pierre Filiu, Could Al-Qaeda Turn African in the Sahel?, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2010, p. 8. Online: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/al_qaeda_sahel.pdf. Niger has 5 300 combatants. By way of comparison, Algeria has 178 000 soldiers and Libya, 76 000.
(5) The Alger Accords for the restitution of peace, security and development in the Kidal region are accords that set the conditions of development for North Mali. According to the Malian daily L’Indépendant, Algeria pulled out of this agreement at the beginning of 2010.
(6) Hama Ag Sid Ahmed (spokesperson for North Mali Tuaregs), « L’impasse nous pousse à nous reorganiser militairement », interview conducted by El Watan, 21 April 2010. Online: http://www.temoust.org/hama-ag-sid-ahmed-porte-parole-des,14388.
(7) Maurice Freund, « Niger : "C’est une entrée en guerre qui se dessine" », interview carried out by David Servenay for Rue89, 22 September 2010, online : http://www.rue89.com/2010/09/22/niger-on-risque-une-somalisation-de-la-region-167787. See also : Isabelle Mandraud, « Al-Qaida, une tentation pour de jeunes touaregs », Le Monde, 14 October 2010.
(8) Laurence Aïda Ammour, La Mauritanie au carrefour des menaces régionales, CIDOB, October 2010, p. 3. Online :http://www.cidob.org/ca/publicacions/notes_internacionals_cidob/n1_19/la_mauritanie_au_carrefour_des_menaces_regionales.
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