Saturday, November 10, 2012

Algeria's Role in the Sahel

Brussels, July 28, 2012.

Carnegie Europe hosted an informal roundtable discussion with a select group of experts engaged in issues of transitional liberalization processes, political violence, and terrorism in the Sahel. Carnegie’s Anouar Boukhars, en route from Algeria, provided an on-the-ground perspective on the crisis in northern Mali and Algeria’s central, but seemingly ambivalent, role in that conflict. Carnegie Europe’s Lizza Bomassi moderated.
Event Highlights
  • Political and Security Landscape of the Sahel: Boukhars described the political and security situation in the northern regions of Mali as complicated and the dynamics between the actors in power as even more complex. He outlined five sources of conflict and insecurity in Mali:
    1. Social Friction: Gradual political decay and the breakdown of state institutions, coupled with pervasive corruption, and weak governance, were critical sources of popular dissatisfaction. This general discontent created social tensions that helped lead to a military mutiny that overthrew the government in March 2012.
    2. Historical Grievances: There is still no serious settlement to the grievances of the historical Touareg Arab insurgencies, which occurred from the 1960s to the 2000s.
    3. Terrorism: Cross-border criminal and terrorist activity is tied to the history of the successive revolts in the northern regions. Boukhars noted the growing regional role of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and organized crime. He suggested that criminalization and radicalization in the region is chiefly motivated by lack of economic opportunities.
    4. Libya: The dismantling of the Gaddafi regime in Libya led to less security along Libya’s borders.
    5. Algeria: Algeria is perceived as reluctant to take a leading role in regional security now that its Libyan rival is currently unable to. Suspicion of a hidden Algerian agenda complicates the coordination of an effective response to the conflict, he added.
  • Security Challenges and Obstacles: Widespread corruption has had a debilitating impact on Mali’s national security, Boukhars explained. He stated that resources have been poorly allocated—the Malian army was underfunded, undersized, underequipped, and lacked the basic means necessary to keep order in northern Mali. Furthermore, the military has become a vehicle to express popular dissatisfaction with the political elites. To Boukhars, the major challenge facing Mali is how to support the civilian government, despite its faults and weaknesses, and to keep pressure on the junta leaders and their political supporters while ensuring that the army does not further fragment, weaken, or even radicalize.
  • Algeria’s Role: An official in attendance described an appropriate role for Algeria, given the current issue in Mali, Algeria’s geopolitical status, and its available resources:
    1. The Malian people should have the chance to fight for their peace and for the reestablishment of a Malian authority in the northern Mali, but this is a national, not international, affair.
    2. Algeria should respect the sovereignty of Mali by bringing the Malian people together to discuss matters amongst themselves.
    3. Algeria should identify legitimate groups and offer them the opportunity to rule within the Malian framework of sovereignty.
    4. Algeria should continue to financially support the region in order to avoid the escalation of the current situation into a humanitarian crisis.
  • A Local Solution and the International Community: Boukhars argued that mandate of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) does not necessarily warrant military offensive action against the Malian military, or against armed groups in northern Mali. It could, however, be a mandate to support rebuilding the command structure and the protection of civil institutions. Boukhars insisted that a local solution needs to be complemented by and coordinated with efforts of the international community. Looking forward, Boukhars urged that an ECOWAS, EU, or UN-mediated agreement must not fuel further tension.

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