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High Council for the Azawad: A New Opportunity for Peace in Mali?
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A new organization that is not at all new... On Monday May 6th, Tuareg leaders of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, (MNLA) announced the beginning of a new organization with the title of High Council for the Azawad (HCA). Mohamed Ag Intalla, the president of the new organization claimed that this is the vehicle for the solution to the problems of the people of Azawad (northern Mali). It is not clear whether the MNLA is now history or if it functions as a parallel militia in a similar to Northern Ireland's Sinn Féin / IRA venue. The name however, and the announcements from the group so far indicate that they are not any more rejecting the solutions to the problems of the people of Azawad outside a unified sovereign Mali. And this is where the opportunity might hide. Skepticism and suspicion... Immediately after the announcement HCA was met with skepticism by the south and even by people in the north as many did not understand how a group of the same people simply changing their name can make a difference. Such skepticism is totally understandable and for those who have lost relatives and friends in the hands of the MNLA fighters during the war it is very much justified. According to the Associated Press 'an elected official from Kidal, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety' said “Nothing has changed. They've just given themselves a new name. They have just put on a different hat.” Echoes from Northern Ireland... The story echoes an incident going back to the 1993 period when Ireland and the UK were working on the Joint Declaration on Peace, also known as the Downing Street Declaration. During earlier stages, these negotiations included John Hume of the SDLP, and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin working along with the governments of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. While the parties were building trust a front page photograph appeared in the British papers with Gerry Adams carrying the coffin of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer Thomas Begley, whose explosive device had gone off prematurely. The public was furious accusing Adams for pretending to be a man of peace - by representing Sinn Féin while remaining in fact a man of war; a member of the IRA. If that man didn't carry that coffin... To restore the peace negotiations Albert Reynolds, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minster) met with John Major then Prime Minister of the UK and said to him: "What you have to understand is this... is that if that man (Adams) didn't carry that coffin... he couldn't deliver that movement. He's no good to you and me is he didn't carry that coffin." Even though John Major agreed, he decided to yield to his Protestant constituency and removed the Hume and Adams parties from these negotiations. The much weaker Downing Street Declaration failed to bring peace in Northern Ireland and the Troubles, the war, continued until the next cease fire in 1997. What Reynolds was trying to communicate to Major was that if Gerry Adams, and Sinn Féin had been a far off, separate organization from the IRA his credibility in speaking for the armed group would have been questionable. By remaining close to his republican constituency Gerry Adams demonstrated that he still enjoyed their support, and that he could actually speak on behalf of that community, including the IRA, and deliver his promises. That kind of credibility takes a life time to build and organizations such as Sinn Féin and people such as Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness are both hard to emerge, and remain indispensable once they do. The opportunity is in the name itself... If the people who found the High Council for the Azawad are the same with those representing the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, then even better. The point is that they remain in a position to make decisions which will be followed by their armed followers and comrades more likely than less. The new title alone "High Council for the Azawad" signifies a major step forward as there are no iridescent references to "independence" or "liberation" consistent with the latest announcements of the MNLA that they are willing to find a solution from within Mali and via negotiations. And if they can put it together then even better... In fact, it is a welcome development for another reason... The people of the north who supported independence during the war 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. This is not the well lubricated disciplined machine of the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland seasoned over the decades going back to the Easter Rising of 1916 and even centuries beyond. Giving such degree of fragmentation in the north in Mali, a more unified voice might allow Bamako to respond to the needs of the region much more effectively and beyond peace negotiations on issues of development, land, rule of law, etc. An untimely revolt... This war, triggered by those returning from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, found everyone under surprise including people who may have aspired an independent north yet were completely unready or unprepared to respond, and when they did, nothing really went according to plan. The revolution was hijacked by domestic and foreign Islamist militants who turned the tables against the separatists and into an affair of West vs radical Islam. After the French intervention and the removal of the immediate threat by the Islamist militants the separatists found themselves in a position where on one hand they cannot rule the north alone - for they will fall into the hands of the same Islamic militant groups they fell earlier - and on the other they have no guarantees that putting down their arms will be safe for them or will drive them into a trap unarmed against a Malian army anxious to restore it's honor and lost territory. Set up for failure... Furthermore the MNLA is facing the possibility of ending a two year war on a whim, without any gains or changes granted to the communities that they felt they represent and which they led into harms way. All this at a moment in Malian history when huge amounts of development aid is about to flow in through Bamako which if held from the north it will doom the region into perennial misery. In addition to the security issue, the north faces challenges including the return of a quarter to half a million displaced people including internally displaced (IDPs), as well as refugees from camps in Mauritania, Niger Burkina Faso and Algeria. Those victims of war are to return back to a ruined country facing in many cases a hostile environment from fellow Malians of different ethnic backgrounds than themselves due to the tension that the war has created. Or making the best out of it... Even if the MNLA could have held the Islamist militants at bay they would have to administer a collapsed state infested with drought, poverty, constant inter-ethnic strife and an isolation from a rapidly developing, and increasingly stable south. In such predicament it is no surprise that the MNLA is in search of negotiating a deal with the south, part of which is this new organization, the High Council for the Azawad. Not much better for the other side either... For the Malian government, the incentives to cooperate in finding a non-violent solution to the stalemate in the north are just as compelling. Engaging in a new war just as the country is trying to return to democracy with a newly trained army against seasoned fighters in a most inhospitable terrain - in light of e better alternative - might be an error of historic proportions. Recognizing the geopolitical and strategic value of a stable Mali, the international community has pledged to invest heavily, very heavily on Mali's reconstruction and development in the south and north. If the country falls back into the fog of war against the MNLA, and who knows who else at this point, it will risk any chances for this aid being directed to the places where it matters the most for the sake of the Malian people and the security in the region in general. Money will be spent in all the wrong paces and away from where the sources of the MNLA rebellion were to begin with... poverty, isolation, corruption and severe neglect of the north by the Malian governments before the MNLA even existed. A better alternative scenario, playing already next door... The Niger example in which case development was and remains the best guarantee in holding up the peace with the Tuareg population there might present a better option for Mali than any other alternatives and for that scenario to materialize a peaceful resolution of the MNLA problem is imperative. If the High Council for the Azawad is to become a vehicle for further negotiations towards peaceful elections, truth and reconciliation dialogue, transforming from arms to politics, and the disarmament of the separatists as development and stability begins to flow toward the country then this is an opportunity that has to be acknowledged and capitalized on. And if the HCA is the same people with the MNLA then one more reason to take their step seriously and dance along with them into negotiations. A narrow, and closing, window of opportunity... Considering that the time table for elections is July 7th, the sooner these negotiations are completed, at least on the role of the HCA/MNLA in working along with the Malian government for a fair and peaceful general Presidential election, the better. And the further into substance these negotiations go, again, the better. An elected President now, and then the other elected representatives in September will have far more to lose from peace negotiations than a national unity government ever will. The weakening of the 1993 Downing Street Declaration was a result of John Major's concerns of losing political capital among his Protestant Tory constituency due to the coffin scandal. Tony Blair, elected soon afterwards with the Labour party, had no such considerations and he took far more risks towards peace than Thatcher and Major could even contemplate on. If in Mali most elected representatives end up representing heavily the south or none-Tuareg population, they will be less likely to take any political risks in order to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation against the will of their own voters. That will probably apply also to distributing development aid on an unequal basis favoring their own electorate and political party clientele. Fixers or spoilers? Remains to be seen whether the HCA will be able to maintain a cohesive Azawad political front so that no splinter groups will jeopardize the peace, and the truth and reconciliation processes. The long history of corruption and extensive crime-activity including smuggling, trafficking (arms, drugs, and people) in the north, going back from before the war started, in addition to hibernating but potent Islamic militants who are looking for an opportunity to reassess their agenda, is an explosive mix for any country heading towards elections, how much for vulnerable Mali today. Such "spoilers" thrive better in a state in chaos than in a stable, prosperous, and democratic country, and they will do their best to disrupt the effort towards peace and stabilization. Just as in the case of Catholic communities in Northern Ireland the HCA might emerge as a temporary stabilizing factor in north Mali until a regular police force takes over. With healthy lenses... finding the way towards peace... Where suspicion and cynicism may provide a healthy balanced view so as to avoid driving Mali into dangerous adventures collaborating naively with groups which have proven they can choose their alliances in a very opportunistic manner, in no way should they block any opportunities presenting themselves for a non-violent solution to the conflict in Mali. If the High Council for the Azawad can hold it together and speak on behalf of all the armed separatists of the Azawad, then it is a positive development and it should be taken seriously and capitalized on, towards building peace. Dr. Christos Kyrou is currently Research Director at the Center for International Relations and an Adjunct Associate Professor at American University.

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Tue, May 14, 2013 12:56 AM (about 97230 hours ago)
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