by Scott Morgan
One of the best ways to describe events that took place in the Sahel was that the region slouched from crisis to crisis in 2023.
What shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone was the interconnectivity of the events that took place in the region. For the year three events dominated what took place in the region for 2023. They were the increased presence of the Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner, The July Coup that took place in Niger and the ultimate withdrawal of the French Military Presence in the region.
Currently these events have not done much to improve the political situation within the region. It may actually be causing further deterioration within the region. We now have evidence that further advances both the theory that has been presented which does not bode well for the future of the region. As a matter of fact there is evidence that issues that were previously considered to have been solved were in fact not solved and are now resulting in new issues.
Just before Christmas Mali and Algeria fell into a diplomatic dispute. The row would result in both countries recalling their ambassadors for consultations. The reason for the fallout should not come as a surprise to those analysts who track events in the region. The reason for the row was that the Algerians actually held a meeting with the Taureg Insurgents that reside within Northern Mali.
It should not be a surprise to learn that the Tauregs held talks with the Algerians. The Algerians mediated the talks between the Tuaregs and Bamako after the coup in 2012 and subsequent insurgency that led France to intervene under the auspices of what would later become Operation Barkhane. The French led effort would ultimately fail not just in Mali but also in Burkina Faso and Niger and would lead to a total withdrawal of the French Presence from the Sahel into Cote D’Ivoire and Chad.
Why is this row significant? Historically the Tuaregs have sought a third party to mediate in disputes that they had with Bamako. Prior to the events of 2012 that role was filled by the former leader of Libya Moammar Qadaffi, After his removal from power and subsequent death, the Tuaregs were left in a position where they did not have a mediator that they could trust to represent their interests in a manner that they felt promoted and protected their interests.
Now we come into 2023. Once again the Tuaregs are again having talks with the Authorities in Bamako. The situation in the Northern part of Mali has drastically changed. The French troops that were operating in the country under Operation Barkhane have left. They are not the only ones who have left. The UN Peacekeeping Mission MINUSMA has transferred several bases in Northern Mali over to Bamako. There is some question regarding whether or not the withdrawal of the peacekeepers will leave a void that will need to be filled.
It can be assumed that the presence of Wagner in Mali has not been the game changer that the Junta has sought. Portraying the French and UN missions as ineffective has provided a boon internally as the country prepares for expected elections in 2024.
Algeria is in a position where it seeks some positive pr. The country did monitor events along its border during the early days of the Niger Coup and did state that it was against outside intervention. Relations with Morocco have soured during 2023 over the activities of Rio del Oro as the Polisario have continued to agitate for the independence of the region. Dozens of Churches have been closed by the Country as well as part of an effort to prevent a Protestant sect from actually meeting.
Clearly this rift has the potential for violence to expand in a region where it not only would be unwelcome but would also be unnecessary. On the surface it appears that Bamako is overreacting to an effort by the Tuaregs to have Algiers once again raise some issues with Bamako.
This issue should be resolved quickly and the diplomats restored quickly to their postings. What an optimistic start to 2024 this will provide.