Leaders of Tuaregs in northern Mali have formed a new group under presidency of Mohamed Ag Intalla which they say will aim to negotiate with the Malian government, as questions linger over the future of the Kidal region.
In a statement announcing the launch of the High Council for the Azawad, organizers said they are not seeking independence from Mali and instead want dialogue. But the new body appears to be led by several of the same Tuareg dignitaries who earlier backed the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, a rebel group which invaded northern Mali last year and declared independence.
The French have since succeeded in liberating all three provincial capitals in the north from extremists. However, they were only able to hand back control to the Malian army of two of the three – the cities of Timbuktu and Gao. French Special Forces are based at the Kidal airport, but they do not control the town, where roadblocks are manned by NMLA fighters. Kidal is now ruled by the Tuaregs, who have refused to allow Mali’s military to return, accusing the army of systematically targeting the lighter-skinned ethnic groups in the north.
In the first decade of May, the spokesman for the Malian military confirmed that the army is preparing for an assault on Kidal, the last rebel-held town in northern Mali. Lt. Colonel Souleymane Maiga refused to give a timeline, saying only that preparations for the deployment are “in an advanced stage”. Kidal is currently controlled by Tuareg separatists from the NMLA rebel group.
In opinion of Da Vinci AG, the new Tuareg’s group is an attempt to create a new appellation that is not tainted by the NMLA’s fight for independence but that consists of repositioned MNLA’s leaders. Mohammad Ag Intalla in January 2013 was a member Of the State of Azawad Transitional Council, responsible for Social Cohesion and National Reconciliation. All members of Council belonged to MNLA. Analysts believe, he could be a relative to the chief of the Ifoghas, the dominant ‘noble’ Touareg tribe in the far north east of Mali.
Intalla declined to provide the names of other Tuaregs who belong to the council, but a local official who had been briefed on the membership of the group said that the new body consists of the same people who were in the NMLA. That means that after defeat rebels are trying to maintain their positions that will allow them to participate in negotiations in Malian government and save political influence in the region. Moreover only rebranding of MNLA could save its legal status and deny any links with radical Islamists in the eyes of Bamako and Paris. Obviously, the group changes strategy, trying to keep distance from the policy of independence of Azavad. The statement of the High Council notes that they are a peaceful movement that does not call for independence for part of northern Mali and is against the whole idea of partition.
Such position could be a present for Algerian government, that views strong and unified Touareg movements in the Sahel as a clear and present danger to the unity of Algeria and an impetus for the long-neglected Algerian Touareg to demand local rule in the Ahaggar. Algerian authorities perceived MNLA success as a threat to the central government fifty-year campaign of ”destruction for assimilation” that targeted the Touareg’s ancestral land.
Those who supported independence during the conflict and more radical in their views than MNLA are themselves fragmented into many fronts and groups defined by traditional tribal and family lines spread across an enormous territory which will take a great deal of inner negotiations and give-and-takes to maintain a unified front.
In Da Vinci AG say, the new group has focused on the development of Tuareg’s self-government in north Mali instead of independence claims. And it should be free of any accusations in connections with radical islamists forces. At the same time we should underline, that Tuareg’s elites consist of tribe’s and clan’s leaders. So it is impossible to expect appearance of new faces there.
This may be an intermediate strategy that will enable the long-term set of de-facto Tuareg governance and to form conditions for changing the idea of independence movement for real governance in legal sheet. Kidal, unlike Gao and Timbuktu, actually has a Tuareg majority, and the MNLA is relatively popular there. After the extremist Ansar Dine rebels fled from Kidal, the MNLA welcomed the foreign troops, cooperating with the soldiers from France and Chad.
In Kidal just announced that they had appointed their own governor, a position outside the framework of the Malian state, indicating that they were going ahead with plans to create their own administration.
The MNLA now also operates a checkpoint in Anefis, on the border of Kidal and Gao regions, and has defended itself against other rebel groups in the surrounding desert as well as in the town of In Khalil on the border of Mali and Algeria. In such way tribal warlords could prove that they are still part of negotiations and Bamako can give them responsibility of control the region.
Because the idea of negotiating with Tuareg leaders remains deeply unpopular in the south, in Da Vinci Analytic Group say that scenario of offensive on Kidal is highly probable. But such offensive is impossible by Malian forces alone without support of French troops. However it seems to be, that Paris looks at MNLA as on partners in peacekeeping process in Mali. Such strategy was underlined in Da Vinci AG’s previous breaking reports on Malian conflict. So analysts think that unlikely the French forces will participate in such operation.
However in the case of Malian troops enter Kidal, the negotiations with the Tuareg’s factions will reach an impasse and the conflict will be frozen.
Experts think that if Paris will continue to insist on MNLA or High Council for the Azawad participation in dialog and convince Malian authority to enlarge the political integration of Tuaregs in Northern Mali, the possibility of stabilization of situation in the region is very high.Activation of attacks by militants in the past three months indicate that to date they have regrouped their forces on the territory of contiguous states and established logistic base for the sabotage operations in northern Mali. So such relocation has the potential to further destabilize the conflict in Western Sahara.
‘Full scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray
A “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday.
More than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan through crossing points in Kassala and Gedaref states, as well as a new location further south at Aderafi, where Ethiopian refugees started crossing over the weekend, according to UNHCR.
The scale of the influx is the worst that part of the country has seen in over 20 years, according to the agency.
“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, briefing reporters in Geneva.
“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings”, he added.
According to news reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has indicated the military operation that was launched in response to the reported occupation of a Government military base by Tigrayan forces nearly two weeks ago, would continue, although he said it was now in its “final phase”.
‘Needs continue to grow’
UN agencies, along with relief partners have ramped up assistance – delivering food rations, hot meals and clean water, as well as setting up latrines and temporary shelters. They are also supporting the Sudanese Government in its response. But the needs continue to grow.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also supporting other humanitarian workers in its response, providing fuel for vehicles and generators in remote locations. The UN Humanitarian Air Service, managed by WFP, has also increased flights from three times per week to daily flights for aid workers.
Since Saturday, UNHCR has relocated 2,500 refugees from the border to Um Raquba settlement site, in eastern Sudan. There is however, a “critical need” to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services, said Mr. Baloch.
‘On standby’ in Tigray
Meanwhile in the Tigray region of Ethiopia itself, lack of electricity, telecommunications, fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper any humanitarian response, the UNHCR spokesperson said.
“After nearly two weeks of conflict, reports of larger numbers of internally displaced grow daily, while the lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move in goods to the region, remain major impediments to providing assistance,” he said.
UNHCR and partners are on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow.
The conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.
“Potential for further displacement of refugees inside the country is increasingly a real possibility … The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly” he warned, reiterating UNCHR’s call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.
Russia to Build Naval Facility in Sudan
Emerging from the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi a year ago, Russia will make one huge stride by establishing a naval facility in Sudan. This marks its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the same strategic coastline along the Red Sea.
According to the executive order, the published document says “the proposal from the government of the Russian Federation to sign an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Sudan on creating a facility of the Navy of the Russian Federation in the territory of the Republic of Sudan be adopted.”
It also authorizes “the Defense Ministry of Russia to sign the aforementioned agreement on behalf of the Russian Federation.” The document stipulates that a maximum of four warships may stay at the naval logistics base, including “naval ships with the nuclear propulsion system on condition of observing nuclear and environmental safety norms.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the draft agreement on establishing a naval logistics base in Sudan and gave instructions to submit the proposal to the president for signing. The draft agreement on the naval logistics facility was submitted by Russia’s Defense Ministry, approved by the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia and preliminary agreed with the Sudanese side.
As the draft agreement says, the Russian Navy’s logistics facility in Sudan “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”
The signing of the document by the Russia president shows the positive results of negotiations, the possibility of constructing a naval base in the region, over the years with African countries along the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.
During a visit by then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, agreements were reached on Russia’s assistance in modernizing the Sudanese armed forces. Khartoum also said at the time it was interested in discussing the issue of using Red Sea bases with Moscow.
On the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Russia had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days. Currently, Djibouti hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.
Will South Sudan follow its northern neighbour’s lead?
As the world watches to see whether President Trump accepts the US election results, few have noticed thatcivil war is looming in Ethiopia, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he was sending troops to the Tigray province. This imperils not only Africa’s second most populous state but its neighbours, Sudan and South Sudan, as well.
Sudan has had a good run recently and is in a better position to weather any regional conflict. In a surprise movelast month, President Trump announced Sudan’s removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST)in exchange for normalising relations with Israel. The US is understood to have sweetened the deal with a raft of economic and political incentives, including humanitarian assistance and high-level trade delegations. It would also support Sudan in its discussions with international finance institutions on economic and debt relief.
Since the toppling of President Bashir in 2019, the new transitional government, led by Prime Minister Hamdok, has focused on reviving Sudan’s economy and managing its $60bn debt burden. Hamdok faces a severe economic crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation and the worst flooding in decades, that has affected more than 800,000 people and destroyed homes and large tracts of farmland just before the harvest. Food, bread and medicine are in short supply.
Thesanctions removal means that Sudan can now expect substantial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bankand unlock investment into its fledgling economy.
This is good news for Sudan. But where does it leave its neighbour, South Sudan?
The international community had high hopes for South Sudan when it announced independence in 2011. But its optimism was misplaced. It never understood the Sudanese conflict that began with British colonialism and erupted after the British left in 1956. It wasn’t just a war between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudanese rebels. Nor was it a fight between the Islamic North and the Christian South. It was a fight over resources and power.
South Sudan continues to fight. After its first post-independence civil war in 2013 and its endless cycle of violence and retribution, South Sudan is now as unstable as it was before it seceded from Sudan. To accommodate the different factions and keep old military men in power, the South Sudanese government and bureaucracy is peopled with those loyal to the former rebels.
Few have the skills needed to manage the country properly. They have squandered their oil opportunity, through mismanagement and corruption. With falling oil growth demand, oil is unlikely to remaina sustainable revenue source. This will challenge the South Sudanese economy which is 90% reliant on oil.
South Sudan is also facing multiple sanctions. In 2014, the international communityimposed travel bans and asset freezes, as well as an arms embargo. In 2018, the EU designated sanctions against individuals involved in serious human rights violations, alarmed by “the outbreak of a destructive conflict between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces in December 2013.” Most recently, the US added First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Gai to its Global Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the disappearance and deaths of human rights lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and SPLM-IO member Aggrey Idry.
If US foreign policy towards Sudan was driven by religious and ideological interests in the 1990s and 2000s, what we are now seeing is a shift to transactional diplomacy. There is no reason to think that President Biden would change course.
South Sudan is watching closely. It may be why it has instructed a US lobbying firm to allegedly lobby for their own sanctions removal. It is also why it welcomed a peace deal between Sudan and five rebel groups in September, paving the way for increased oil export cooperation with its neighbour.
But stability in the youngest African state is fragile. Even with a recently signed peace agreement between former foes, President Kiir and Vice-President Machar, violence is always lurking. South Sudan is plagued with the same environmental challenges of flooding and poor harvests. The fighting in Ethiopia will not help.
As South Sudan looks to the North, it will see a New Sudan, unshackled by the weight of its history and benefitting from international goodwill. Will this encourage South Sudan to look forward instead of back? Or will it unleash demons from the past?
Let’s hope that the international community pulls itself away from Trump’s horror show and starts paying attention to East Africa. It may be a long winter.
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