Mali: intervention, power-sharing —or ‘national liberation’?

Mali’s military said Aug. 14 that troops from the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) could assist in a campaign to take back the country’s north from Islamist rebels, but would not be allowed in the capital, Bamako. “There is no question of soldiers from ECOWAS bloc in Bamako but [they could send] some to the North. We could have 600-800 ECOWAS troops in support of ours,” said chief of staff Col. Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele. (Reuters, Aug. 14) One week earlier, Iyad Ag Ghali—leader of Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups in control of the north—met with Burkina Faso’s foreign minister, Djibril Bassole, in the northern town of Kidal, and said he is open to mediation efforts to reunite the country. “We are going to work together to find peace,’” Ag Ghali told reporters at Kidal airport.

Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré has been appointed as ECOWAS mediator on the Mali crisis. He has called on Ansar Dine and the other Islamist militias to distance themselves from “terrorist groups” and join the peace process. Bassolet also visited Gao, currently under the control of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), where he met with civil society groups but not MUJAO members. (IRIN, Aug. 8)

Hundreds of young Malians are meanwhile setting up camps in Mopti, the northernmost region of government-held Mali, where they are training in ad hoc militias with names like the “Liberation Forces for the Northern Regions,” preparing to invade the Islamist-held north—despite being poorly armed. (NYT, Aug. 6) Impatience with government inaction is growing as nightmarish reports from the north mount. For months, schools and clinics in the north have been empty, as the region has been abandoned by the state. (France24, Aug. 6)

There are also growing signs of unrest under Islamist rule in the north. On Aug. 5, hundreds protested in Gao and set fire to the car of the MUJAO-appointed police chief after he ordered the beating of a local radio journalist who had reported on an earlier spontaneous uprising, in which residents prevented Islamist “police” from amputating the hand an accused thief. Youth in Gao have also taken to the streets to oppose Islamist orders banning TV and football. (AFP, Aug. 14; RFI via AllAfrica, Aug. 6)