The eight-year Islamist insurgency in the West African nation of Mali shows no sign of ending and after an August coup toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The country’s transitional government has indicated it is willing to open dialogue with all armed groups. France, which has more than 5,000 troops in the country, has warned against any discussions with jihadists.
“With terrorists, we do not discuss. We fight.” The statement made recently by French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview is — to some analysts — a clear rebuke of the strategy initiated by transitional Malian authorities who are willing to open discussions with jihadists.
“This is at odds with the Malian, with the desire of the Malian opinion, to undertake a dialogue with Iyad Ag-Ahly, Amadou Koufa," said Nicolas Normand, a former Ambassador of France to Mali. "Actually, there is nothing to negotiate because jihadists leaders do not ask for a pardon or reintegration in the Malian society. They want to impose a totalitarian regime. Of course, Bamako resists to such a will. I think the population is not really aware of what it is at stake with its own liberty.”
Following the signature of the so-called Algiers Peace Agreement, armed groups were supposed to join the national army.
Five years after that agreement, little progress has been made toward its implementation according to Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher with the French Institute of International relations.
“If the dialogue that the new authorities in Bamako want to start is about the implementation of the Algiers agreement, this is actually a very good development," he said. "So far, the implementation of the Algiers agreement has been blocked by the previous Malian president who was opposed to it and did not make any progress. The only way to make a progress in the Malian conflict is actually to implement this agreement.”
Macron’s comments about the dialogue contrast with the pro-French sentiment in Mali in early 2013 when French forces stopped jihadists from going to seize Bamako, the capital.
Nicolas Normand says Macron’s remarks show a growing gap between the Malian population and the former colonial power.
“In 2013, when the French army intervened in Mali to combat the armed groups, they supported the separatists and fought only the jihadists," he said. "After eight years, there is no real improvement in the security situation despite many jihadists killed. Eight years is too long for the former colonial power’s army to stay in the country. The population does not understand.”
Macron also said he would make decisions in the coming months on how to develop the French force, known as Barkhane, in the Sahel.
With more than 50 French troops killed and little progress to report since the deployment, observers say France is considering pulling back its forces and encouraging other European nations to commit more forces to the region.