By Raby Ould Idoumou
Mali on Monday (April 9th) moved closer to a return to civilian rule, with coup leader Amadou Sanogo and the country’s future interim president meeting for the first time in Bamako.
Under a power transfer deal negotiated by international mediators, parliament speaker Dioncounda Traore was tapped to replace toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure.
Since Sanogo seized power on March 22nd, Touareg rebels and Islamist fighters have captured the entirety of northern Mali, raising fears among neighbouring states over the impact of the deteriorating situation.
The rise of the Islamist fighters came amid calls by Sanogo for international military intervention in the region that Touareg separatists call Azawad.
Mauritania, which sees itself as the tip of the spear in the war on terror in northern Mali and the Sahel, expressed particular concerns. Last Thursday, Mauritania deployed troops along the Mali border.
The sudden appearance of well-known terrorists in northern Mali has only worsened fears.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar (aka “Laaouar”) was first spotted in Gao last week. Mauritanian terrorist Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou has also surfaced, claiming that his al-Qaeda splinter group, Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO), was behind the conquest of Gao
He vowed to impose the MUJAO’s interpretation of Islamic law on the region.
Meanwhile, AQIM has taken advantage of its relationship with Iyad Ag Ghaly’s Harakat Ansar al-Din (Supporters of the Faith). The group intends to declare an Islamic emirate in the region, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told France’s Le Monde.
“Indicators suggest that the jihadist movements in the Sahara and the Sahel in general, and Azawad in particular, are preparing a declaration of a Salafi jihadist emirate that will have reach and loyalties in the region,” terrorism analyst Mohamed Mahmoud Abou El Maali told Magharebia.
This will be achieved, he said, by using the “Boko Haram organisation in Nigeria and jihadist sleeper cells spread out in Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania”.
“The possibilities surrounding the situation in the area of northern Mali are vague and unclear,” said El-Mokhtar El-Tamim, editor in chief at Nouakchott-based Radio Mauritania. “The map in northern Mali is multifaceted, between the separatist movements and the armed movements living in the area originally.”
El-Tamim does not expect the situation to remain confined to the region.
The flood of weapons puts the security of the Sahel at the tipping point”, he said, adding that foreign investments would also be “exposed to security instability”.
“Mali’s regional surroundings are already threatened by flow of Libyan arms,” terrorism analyst Aslam Ould Mustafa told Magharebia. Now Mali confronts both “the rebellion and the Islamists’ exploitation of the situation”.
The crisis in the north is best resolved, he argued, not by military action but rather by “negotiation and the restoration of constitutional life to the Republic of Mali”.