Chamseddine: Bamako’s Big Weekend

by Reem Chamseddine | 5/17/15 7:25pm

Bamako, the capital and largest city of Mali, started this past weekend well — according to Radio France Internationale, on May 14, French President Francois Hollande visited Algeria to see the signing ceremony of a long-awaited peace deal between the Malian government and a Tuareg-led rebel alliance. The Tuareg-led alliance initialled the agreement, and negotations over the details are still up for debate. Mali is home to a large Tuareg population, and the traditionally nomadic Tuareg people, with their own language, culture and rich history, have inhabited much of the Saharan interior of North Africa.

Violence has plagued the region and surged in 2012, when Tuareg rebels took the northern region of Mali, which goes by the name of Azawad — in fact, the main Tuareg rebel movement, the MNLA, stands for the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad. The conflict led to the overthrow of then-president of Mali Amadou Toumani Toure, the temporary suspension of the country’s constitution and a struggle for control of major cities. Islamist groups in the region began to oppose the more secularist Tuareg rebels. For the past three years, fighting between rebel organizations, security forces and the United Nations peacekeepers in Mali has been near-daily news. When the Algeria-mediated peace and reconciliation agreement was drawn earlier this year, the MNLA refused to sign it. As Andy Morgan wrote in The Guardian on May 15, many believed at the time that the truce was “dead in the water.” On the contrary, I firmly believe that Mali is now closer to peace than ever before.

On May 14, a day before the preliminary peace agreement ceremony was to be held, the MNLA stated that it initialled — though not formally signed — the preliminary draft as a gesture of good faith. Although the MNLA wants to amend much of the proposed deal, they have shown their willingness to accept the truce in theory. This is important, as it represents the furthest that the group has gone in expressing support for the peace accord. Though they did not ultimately sign the peace deal this past weekend, their initialling — along with the actual signature of two groups under the separatist coalition — indicates constructive progress in this long conflict.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali — or in layman’s terms, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali — continues to maintain a presence in the country. Under the terms of the resolution calling for the mission, peacekeepers “would support the political process and carry out a number of security-related stabilization tasks ... protecting civilians, human rights monitoring, the creation of conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance ... and the preparation of free, inclusive and peaceful elections.”

Finally, foreign countries like Algeria and France continue to be supportive of the peace process. Algeria has deployed forces to secure Algeria’s border with Mali, which thereby ensures Mali’s northern border as well. France, too, conducted air strikes against certain rebel locations in northern Mali in 2013. These nations, with the help of the U.N., may help provide a more stable political future for the country.

Mali is also a major recipient of foreign aid and assistance. Major donors include the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Union, the United States, France and the Netherlands. While it is difficult to assess how effective the use of this aid has been, it is important to note that the Malian government has taken action to curb corruption with legislation since 2013. Foreign assistance, when used correctly, can help develop new opportunities for the country’s youth — hopefully giving them options to avoid joining and fighting with rebel groups.

Ultimately, despite lasting tensions, the components necessary for long-term peace exist — a peace accord that everyone has agreed to in principle, support from the international community and aid for future development. Of course, this is not to say that the situation in Mali will turn around overnight. One must wait to see how the implementation of all these factors will play out on the ground. For now, though, there are reasons to be optimistic about Mali, and there is much to which we can look forward.