If Mali does go ahead with its deal with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group to supply Russian mercenaries, it will come at a high, and possibly unaffordable, financial, and military price. Financially, the country is not only likely to be subjected to widespread sanctions but will lose major inputs to its budget from international donors. Militarily, it is doubtful whether the Wagner Group could replace what will be lost from the withdrawal of the French, other European, and regional partners. This could therefore lead to another collapse of the Malian state rather than its reinforcement. The Wagner deal is also likely to lead to further unrest and irredentism in northern Mali.
There is an unlikely view that France’s increasingly assertive foreign policy — which is likely to become more independent of the US and post-Brexit UK — could ultimately engage with Russia over Mali and find a common understanding with Moscow on other international issues.
If Algeria continues with its escalating economic and diplomatic war with Morocco, the conflict — which currently looks as if it will be played out in Western Sahara — could shift into the Sahel and West Africa where both protagonists are seeking greater commercial and diplomatic influence.
The Malian junta is not abiding to the proposed schedule of restoring civilian rule by holding elections in February 2022. This will result in the country being subjected to ongoing regional and international sanctions and, if the Wagner Group deal does go ahead, further military rule and international isolation.
If Chad’s transitional regime continues its current dialogue with foreign rebels and the domestic opposition, it would receive considerable international support, which has hitherto been lacking, and a return to a semblance of political stability that has not been achieved for a long time.
If Chad does achieve a successful transition, the Sahel could see a more stable situation emerging along a Niger-Chad axis, vis-a-vis the emergence of a more chaotic, politically unstable and insecure pole developing around Mali and possibly Burkina Faso.
If the issues underpinning the current spate of unrest in Burkina Faso are not resolved quickly, it could lead to the collapse of the state and the jihadist insurgency taking over much of the county.
This scenario in Burkina Faso, combined with the deteriorating situation in Mali, could see the emergence of an east-west divide in the Sahel, with emerging political stability in Chad and Niger set against the emergence of potentially chaotic situations in Mali and Burkina Faso.This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region. Click here to receive a free sample copy.