News / Africa

    Algeria's Stance on Northern Mali Remains Ambiguous

    Peter Tinti
    Algeria is a key military power in the Sahel region and could play a decisive role in the outcome of the crisis in Mali, where al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants control the northern half of the country. Questions remain as to what exactly is Algeria's position in this crisis.

    Mali has officially requested military assistance from West African regional bloc ECOWAS to help retake the country’s north, which fell to heavily-armed militant groups in April, shortly after a March 22 military coup in the capital, Bamako.

    As ECOWAS defense chiefs work to finalize plans for regional intervention, other actors continue to call for a negotiated solution to the crisis.  
     
    Among those calling for talks is Algeria, Mali's neighbor to the north.
     
    West Africa Director for the International Crisis Group Gilles Yabi says Algeria is hesitant to endorse fighting on its southern border for fear that it could destabilize its own territory.

    Yabi says Algeria should clarify how serious a threat it believes armed groups in northern Mali pose to regional security. He says ECOWAS intervention at this time is unlikely to yield a durable solution, as armed groups might resort to reprisals and localized violence.
     
    Algeria has been fighting al-Qaida's North Africa franchise, AQIM, for more than a decade. The movement, now active in northern Mali, is rooted in an Algerian Salafist movement called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a legacy of the Algerian civil war in the 1990s.
     
    During previous periods of instability in northern Mali, Algeria helped negotiate peace agreements between the government in Bamako and armed rebel movements.
     
    During the past decade, Algeria has sought to lead attempts at regional cooperation against criminal and terrorist activity in the region, in part, analysts say, to minimize Western military influence in the Sahel. These efforts included the creation of a four-country joint military command center in the Algerian city of Tamanrassat.

    Africa analyst Alexis Arieff authored a recent report examining Algerian policy toward the Malian crisis for the Washington-based Congressional Research Service.
     
    "Algeria has positioned itself as a regional leader in counter-terrorism," said Arieff. "It has attempted to marshal a collective regional response to cross-cutting security issues in the Sahel region. The states bordering Algeria's south, these are poorer, less militarily equipped, less militarily capable states that are nonetheless effected by terrorism and violent extremism. So Algeria has tried to convince the West and the Sahel region that a collective regional response is needed."
     
    Algeria has kept a low profile with regards to the current situation in northern Mali.  Aside from rejecting the idea of the creation of a new state in the occupied territory, Algeria has been unclear about what it views as an acceptable outcome.  

    Analysts told VOA Algeria's ambiguity should not be confused with inactivity or disinterest.  

    Its capital, Algiers, has hosted diplomatic envoys from nearly all key players, including Mali's transitional government, France and a delegation from Ansar Dine, one of three militant Islamist groups in control of northern Mali.  

    Another group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, emerged from AQIM last year.  Though the group says it wants to spread jihad south of the Sahara, it has focused its attacks on Algeria. These attacks included the kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats from a consulate in northern Mali in April.

    The militants claim to have executed one of the diplomats in early September after Algeria refused a prisoner exchange, a decision that sparked a domestic debate concerning Algerian policy toward Mali.

    Analyst Arieff says it is difficult to pin down what exactly that policy is, in part due to Algeria's opaque internal decision-making processes.

    "There are a lot of different players," says Arieff. "A lot of decisions are made through a process that does not involve public discussion. There are, especially in the security realm, sometimes divergent interests among these different players, which might include at any given time, the Presidency, the military, the military intelligence apparatus, different ministries, and then of course the Algerian public, the Algerian legislature, local government entities ... and so it is not surprising that given that opacity and that complexity that Algeria's position towards Mali has at times seemed difficult to decipher."
     
    ECOWAS has taken the lead, on behalf of the international community, in dealing with both Mali's post-coup political crisis and the militant occupation of the north, but its mediation has been controversial and some analysts question whether ECOWAS is the right organization for the task.
     
    “ECOWAS is an imperfect framework because it does not include Algeria and Mauritania, the two most influential states in northern Mali," says Wolfram Lacher, a researcher focusing on security issues in the Sahel and the Sahara at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "And in fact, both Algeria and Mauritania have been opposed to the ECOWAS approach to the conflict in northern Mali, particularly the plans for military intervention, but also the mediating role of Burkinabe president Blaise Campaore.”

    ECOWAS defense chiefs wrapped up a two-day summit on Mali on September 16 and said they would be “soliciting the support” of non-member states Algeria and Mauritania to “help facilitate the deployment of the ECOWAS Mission in Mali.”

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.