Last month a new transitional government — albeit it one in which the junta which overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) on 18 August retains the most powerful portfolios — took office in Mali. International and regional sanctions were therefore lifted and elections have been promised within 18 months. However, the country still has a long way to go to rid itself of its failed state status and this period is expected to be turbulent.

We anticipate that both the Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) terrorist leader, Iyad ag Ghali, and Algeria playing significant roles in Mali’s transformation over the next year or two. One implication of the early October exchange — when the head of Mali’s political opposition and three foreign hostages were released in exchange for around 200 Islamist terrorists and civilians — is that the groundwork is now set for possible negotiations between the transitional government and both JNIM and the Macina Liberation Front. If this materialises then the military effort is expected to focus more on targeting the État islamique dans le Grand Sahara (EIGS).  However, any such negotiations are expected to involve pressure from Iyad ag Ghali for the withdrawal from Mali of both France Barkhane troops and the UN forces.

JNIM leader Iyad ag Ghali – the main winner following the release of over 200 terrorists

Irrespective of whether such negotiations may lead to the diminution of the French military presence, Algeria is expected to lend military assistance to Mali once its amended Constitution — which will allow its army to be deployed abroad for the first time — has been approved by the controversial national referendum which was held on 1 November. Such military assistance from Algeria will put further pressure on Mali’s transitional government and the United Nations to ensure that the Algiers Peace Accord of 2015 is finally implemented.  Any such Algerian involvement in Mali is likely to see it assisting in the development of Kidal and other northern regions. Algeria sees terrorism and jihadism in the Sahel as being the result of underdevelopment and bad governance, and not the other way around.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the region, Niger faces a real threat of social unrest associated with the December 2020 local, legislative and presidential elections. This is because of the massive manipulation of the electoral lists by the ruling Parti nigérien pour la démocratie et le socialisme (PNDS-Tarayya), along with other fraudulent and disruptive practices.

The attempt by President Idriss Déby’s to seize control of the Tibesti gold mines — in a desperate attempt to find alternative sources of revenue to make up for the significantly reduced oil revenues — is likely to lead to further unrest in Chad’s volatile northern region.

So far Mauritania has been spared much of the chaos currently being endured in the rest of the Sahel. However, despite overwhelming evidence of massive state-wide corruption by former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the almost farcical state of the investigations suggests that he may never be brought to court. If so, then he and his supporters could become a major destabilising force that could severely damage Mauritania’s recovery from his ten years of despotic and corrupt rule.

This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region. Click here to receive a free sample copy.