Mali's army is advancing in a large column toward the strongholds of a coalition of Tuareg armed groups in the country's north, signalling an intensification of the conflict that erupted in August. Fighting has been reported close to the town of Anefis, which is around 110 kilometers from Kidal, the main base of the rebels. The former separatist groups signed a peace agreement with Malian authorities in 2015, but relations soured under the current junta-led government, which views armed-group control over northern territory as undermining state sovereignty. Tensions escalated after the junta demanded the withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping mission, and its forces started taking over Blue Helmet bases in northern areas claimed as autonomous territory by the Tuareg coalition. The military convoy is now reportedly seeking to take over former peacekeeper camps in Kidal, Aguelhok, and Tessalit, risking further fighting.
The ruling military junta in Mali announced Sept. 25 the indefinite postponement of presidential elections that had been scheduled for February 2024. The announcement comes as one of the Tuareg rebel groups in the country's north, which have observed a ceasefire since 2015, called for renewed armed struggle to remove the junta from power. Fahad Ag Almahmoud, a leader of the Tuareg armed group GATIA, said in a statement: "We are in a war that the junta in Bamako wants. We will continue this war until all of Mali that has been taken hostage by the five colonels is liberated."
Mali's military reportedly carried out air-strikes Aug. 29 against Tuareg militants in the desert north—an escalation that risks opening up another conflict front in the country, which is already embroiled in a long counterinsurgency war with jihadist rebels. The accusation was made by the Coordinating Body of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Tuareg rebel groups that signed a peace deal with the Malian government in 2015. The government claims to have struck jihadist positions in the Kidal region, but the CMA rebels charge that they were targeted. Two weeks earlier, the CMA also accused Malian forces and Russian Wagner Group mercenaries of attacking its followers in the Timbuktu region.
In Episode 186 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the coup d'etat in Niger, which now threatens to plunge West Africa into regional war—with potential for escalation involving the Great Powers. Lines are drawn, with the Western-backed ECOWAS demanding the junta cede power, and Russian-backed Mali and Burkina Faso backing the junta up. Pro-junta demonstrators in Niger's capital, Niamey, wave the Russian flag—probably to express displeasure at US and French neo-colonialism. The Wagner Group, which already has troops in Mali and Burkina Faso, has expressed its support for the junta, and offered fighters to help stabilize the regime. Elements of the tankie pseudo-left in the West are similarly rallying around the junta. Amid this, leaders of the Tuareg resistance in Niger have returned to arms to resist the new regime, and the country's mine workers union is also demanding a return to democratic rule. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged free grain to six African nations. The announcement comes one week after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal, triggering a spike in global prices. Opening the Africa-Russian summit in St. Petersburg on July 27, Putin promised to send 25,000 to 50,000 tons of free grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Eritrea. The countries are among Moscow's closest allies on the continent, but they are not all the most food-import dependent. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that a "handful of donations" would not correct the market impact of Russia's termination of the year-long deal, which had cut cereal prices by more than one third. The African Union echoed Guterres' criticism.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on July 12 said it is concerned about reports that hundreds of Burkinabé refugees fleeing to Ghana, including women and children, are being deported. For the past years, Burkina Faso has been experiencing widespread violence and displacement amid an insurgency by extremist groups. According to UNHCR, more than 17,500 Burkina Faso nationals have fled to neighboring countries, also including Niger, Mali, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire, since January 2021 as a result of the ongoing conflict. Ghana is accused of having forcibly deported more than 500 Burkinabé seeking protection along the border this month. A video on Twitter showing expelled women and children sitting in a parking lot near the border has been widely circulated.
Mali's ruling junta has requested the immediate withdrawal of the UN's peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA, citing a "crisis of confidence" and a failure to deal with security challenges. The junta has held power since 2020, and has sidelined various regional and international partners while forging close ties to the Russian mercenary Wagner Group. Military officials resent MINUSMA's human rights investigations, and have severely curtailed its access and mobility. The latest move comes a few weeks after the UN released a report on a massacre by Malian troops and their mercenary allies in the town of Moura.