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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs