As France prepares to withdraw its forces from Mali, the path can be opened for talks between Malians government and militants linked to Al-Qaida, a process that could bring the West African nation closer to peace.
Mali, a landlocked country of 21 millions people struggled to contain a brutal insurgency that emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed and 2 millions people displaced by the Sahelian conflict, of what mali remains the epicenter.
Analysts have long argued that there is no military solution to the conflict and many support engage activists in dialogue in to break the cycle of violence.
France, however, having intervened in mali in 2013 to combat activists, has long opposed dialogue.
“With the terrorists, on do not discuss. We fight”, French President Emmanuel Macron told the magazine Jeune Afrique. in 2020.
Thursday, Macron announced that he was withdrawing French troops from Mali because of a conflict with country’s decision military junta.
The possibility of dialogue with militants has now resurfaced.
Shortly after the announcement of the French withdrawal, the International Crisis Group declared that “the policy dialogue should to be considered with some (militant) leaders” to make face to insecurity.
Defenders of dialogue for most claim that Daesh affiliates group should be excluded.
Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated GSIM group previously said it was open to discussions with Malian government – but only if French and UN troops leave the country.
Moment of opportunity
Perspective of dialogue with activists have been looming for a long time over Malian politics.
In 2020, ex-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said he sent envoys to two of from mali main militant leaders, including Iyad Ag Ghaly.
the move followed two national consultations in 2017 and 2019 which recommended talks.
Keita was subsequently ousted in a military blow in August 2020, after weeks of the protests fueled in left out of frustration over a lack of progress against overwhelming conflict.
However, Mali new ruling junta also seems open to discussions.
In October 2021, the army installed prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga compared the situation in Mali to that in Afghanistan, stressing out that Washington had engaged the Taliban in talks.
“Why not do the same here?” He asked.
Ornella Moderan of the institute for The Safety Studies think tank said the current moment represents an “opportunity”.
But she also warned that Mali is “much more belligerent” than before.
The Malian junta recently proclaimed military victories against activists, after years of suffering devastating attacks.
the announcements coincided with what the United States, France and others are saying is arrival of russian paramilitaries private Wagner security company in mali.
However, the Malian junta denies the presence of Wagner.
How speaks with armed groups could worket when they could begin, remains not clear.
Malian researcher Boubacar Haidara has suggested that Mali government would only want initiate dialogue when he is in a strong negotiating position.
In December, the International Crisis Group said that neither Mali government neither GSIM had determined how to conduct negotiations – or “what compromises they would be willing to accept”.
the challenges facing such talks are daunting, yet government in Bamako and the activists have long had informal contacts.
Malian authorities used religious leaders as intermediaries to negotiate the release of hostages, for Example. And in the volatile northsome government officials cooperated with traditional Islamic judges linked to al-Qaeda.
A senior member of a militant group, who requested anonymity, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that dialogue has been already present at the local level.
“But nobody wants to endorse it politically or publicly,” he said.
Influential Imam Mahmoud Dicko – who spent government messages to militant groups – told a news conference this month he was “ready to reactivate”.