by Alice Pistolesi

The military regimes of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have signed a defensive military alliance. The agreement, known as the Liptako-Gourma Charter (the region where the borders of the three countries meet is the scene of constant attacks by jihadist militias), was signed in Bamako on 16 September and establishes the Alliance of Sahel States (Aes).  According to the head of the Malian junta, Assimi Goita, the aim is to “create an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance”. The 17-point agreement stipulates that “any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more of the parties shall be considered an aggression against the other parties”.

The three states, led by military juntas, have also pledged to work together to prevent or suppress armed rebellion, to fight terrorism in all its forms and to combat organised crime in the Alliance’s  common area. “Our priority is the fight against terrorism in the three countries,” said Abdoulaye Diop, Mali’s foreign minister. Indeed, the region where the agreement was drawn up has been one of the hardest hit by jihadist terrorism in recent years.

All three states were members of the French-backed G5 Sahel Alliance joint force with Chad and Mauritania, launched in 2017 to combat armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Observers point out that the new military alliance is intended as a deterrent to the threat of an attack on Niger by France and Ecowas, but the first real test will be putting down the insurgency in Mali’s Azawad region. After the post-coup threats, Ecowas has indeed toned down its war rhetoric.

Instead, the Alliance will immediately have to deal with the resumption of hostilities by predominantly Tuareg armed groups in Mali. Since the end of August, militiamen from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), who had already isolated the city of Timbuktu, have claimed to have captured two military bases in Lere, in central Mali. On 12 September, the Tuaregs briefly captured the town of Bourem, a strategic road junction between Gao and Timbuktu. The rebels claimed to have taken control of a military camp and positions in the town of Bourem after weeks of fighting against the national army and Wagner mercenaries, threatening to undermine the 2015 peace agreement.

The CMA is made up of the semi-nomadic Tuareg population of northern Mali, who have long complained of government neglect and sought autonomy for the desert region known as Azawad. The Tuareg alliance said it was at “war” with the state army, which collaborated with Wagner Group forces after driving out French troops last year.

Indeed, clashes have resumed in the area following the withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (Minusma). The mission has until 31 December to leave Mali after a decade of fighting to stabilise the country. The 13,000-strong force was ordered to leave earlier this year at the request of Mali’s military rulers, following the withdrawal of French troops.

The covr photo is by hyotographics/Shutterstock