The situation in Mali worries many in Africa and beyond. Neighbouring countries – politically united in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – swing from fear of being involved in a war it is not theirs and the uncertainty of dealing with thousands of refugees. The African Union wishes to resolve matters through dialogue, while calling on the UN Security Council to draft a resolution and approve a military mission. The European Union and the USA have reservations about terror groups getting a grip in the Azawad. Yet, “using force is not the first option. The first option remains to get results through negotiations with the ones with legitimate demands,” ECOWAS Commission President Kadré Désiré Ouédrogo said.
Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré has pursued talks with spokespersons of both Ansar Dine and the Mnla. Ansar Dine and the Mnla co-exist in an uneasy alliance, with evidence emerging of serious hostility towards Ansar Dine from within the Mnla; clashes broke out between the groups in the northern region of Kidal in early June.
ECOWAS objectives are to preserve Mali’s territorial integrity, maintain the liberty and human rights of Malians, and create a setting in which the region can manage the country’s humanitarian crisis, according to Burkina Faso’s foreign minister, Djibril Bassolé. Thus far, the regional body focused its main energies in removing from power Junta head Capt. Amadou Sanogo and his National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy. In March ECOWAS imposed comprehensive sanctions against Sanogo; suspended Mali from the regional body; recalled ambassadors; closed borders with Mali and imposed a travel ban on the coup leaders.
The current Malian transition government is pushing for a negotiated process before contemplating a military response, and has never given approval to an ECOWAS mission. However, over the past weeks it has boosted contact with ECOWAS, France and Algeria to discuss the issue. French President, François Hollande, said France would be ready to support a military operation, as “there is a threat of terrorist groups taking root in northern Mali”, but it was “up to African nations to take the initiative in leading any military operation”. France’s Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, after meeting with his Italian counterpart, on 18 June asked for European direct action in the Malian crisis, without clarifying what this meant.
With Islamists and Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) affiliated groups controlling major parts of the north, a foreign intervention might trigger more hostility from terrorists and Islamists. It is possible that some of the armed groups in the north would like to see such Western engagement, and use it as a way to mobilize anti-Western foreign support and internationalize the conflict. It is also not clear if Malians in Bamako and the south want to see visible military activity from Western countries.
Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered logistical support to a Malian military operation. Algeria could provide airlift capabilities, which the Malian army lacks, said a military analyst, but Algeria is maintaining its position of non-interference, even though seven of its diplomats were kidnapped in the northern town of Gao by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, a small Islamist Aqim-affiliated group.
The Mauritanian government, which has over recent years launched robust military operations to stamp out Aqim activity in its territory, is taking a deterrent approach, stepping up surveillance on the Mali border. European and American security actors are also providing some technical help to support a containment strategy to try to protect the Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso borders from infiltration by military groups.
Olbag ag Hautin