Mali: now a three-way war —or four?
Jihadist militants continue to wage a low-level insurgency in Mali, targetting government troops and their French allies. Last week, the Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on French forces in northern Mali. The assault with two explosive-laden vehicles on a base in the Gossi area of Timbuktu region left one French soldier dead. (LWJ, July 30) But internecine fighting between jihadist factions has also started to take an increasing toll. Since an apparent truce broke down in February, there have been repeated clashes between JNIM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the self-declared Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS, or EIGS by its French rendering). The ISGS has also engaged another Qaeda-aligned faction active along the border with Burkina Faso, the Macina Liberation Front.
In a speech in May, a spokesman for the global leadership of ISIS, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, slammed al-Qaeda affiliates in West Africa as "apostates" who are collaborating with Western "crusaders." (WSJ, June 28; The Africa Report, June 4; BBC News, May 11)
Amid all this, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), seeking self-rule for the Tuareg people in the desert north of the country, maintains a precarious independence from both the jihadist and government forces. In a telephone interview with a Spanish reporter, MNLA secretary-general Bilal ag Acherif, who also now serves as rotating president of the Coordinating Body of Azawad Movements (CMA), accused the government of undermining a 2015 peace deal with the Tuareg rebels, which called for regional autonomy in Mali's north. Ag Acherif said the government is fomenting conflict in the region as a strategy to avoid ceding autonomy to the Tuaregs. He warned that the MNLA would not surrender its arms until terms of the peace accord are instated. (EFE, July 12)
Protesters meanwhile continue to fill the streets of Mali's capital Bamako, demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The protests represent the most serious threat 75-year-old Keita, commonly known as IBK, has faced since he was elected in 2013, a year after a military coup sparked by rebel groups seizing much of the north. Tensions have been rising across Mali since a disputed legislative election in March. Some of the results were later overturned by the country's constitutional court in a decision that was perceived to benefit IBK's party, sparking the protest wave. (TNH, July 10)
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been attempting to mediate a political settlement. Last month it called for some 30 parliamentarians to resign, including the speaker of the National Assembly, to allow for new elections. Following inaction, it warned of sanctions against those who block efforts at resolving the crisis. (Al Jazeera, July 28)