Mali: monthly report November 2023

Malian armed force and Russian mercenaries from the former Wagner Group, have reconquered the city of Kidal. The takeover follows the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the country, marked by controversies on the lack of authorization for disengagement from the Bamako government. This has caused tensions especially with the government of Chad. Due to Malian obstructionism, N'Djamena's soldiers proceeded with an early withdrawal, speculating on tensions between the government and armed groups in the north. After the occupation of a MINUSMA base by the CSP alliance in Kidal, following the withdrawal of the peacekeepers, the Bamako government bombed the city, while Wagner Group mercenaries and the regular army gathered in Gao, preparing for the final offensive on Kidal. On November 14, the President of the Malian transitional government, Assimi Goïta, announced the retake of the city, a news confirmed by spokespeople of the CSP, who reported leaving the northern city "for strategic reasons" after inflicting losses on the army positions. The capture of Kidal represents a significant success for the transitional government reclaiming control of the city 11 years after the outbreak of the 2012 civil war. Congratulations to the Mali government were expressed by Burkina Faso’s, Ibrahim Traoré, who emphasized that the conquest of Kidal is a good omen for the nascent Sahel States Alliance. Thousands of people gathered in the streets of Bamako to celebrate the victory. The Ministry of Sports held a ceremony at the central stadium of Bamako, attended by the national football team. In the meantime, the Malian Armed Forces announce the discovery of a mass grave in the city, without providing further information on the circumstances of the find or the identity of the bodies. In the context of the city's reoccupation, there has been a notable increase in disinformation campaigns, with some Twitter accounts posting false images of tunnels allegedly built under the city of Kidal by rebels in cooperation with French forces. Meanwhile, jihadist attacks continued in central Mali, where 40 Dogon ethnic people were abducted by an unidentified armed group that attacked a bus traveling between the cities of Koro and Bankass in the Mopti region.

Diplomatic and economic isolation of Niger continues after the coup of July 26. The Niamey junta has opened to cooperation with ECOWAS on security and defense. This was announced by the Minister of the Interior of the transitional government, General Mohamed Toumba, who spoke at the first Forum for Peace and Security in Lomé, Togo. The minister acknowledged that sanctions are affecting the Nigerien economy, and when asked about the possibility of reopening relations with ECOWAS, Toumba stated: "We are men of dialogue. We would prefer to have the solidarity of ECOWAS and have it come to help us fight these terrorists." Meanwhile, Nigerien authorities reported an attempt to free the ousted president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum. According to Prosecutor General Salissou Chaibou, targeted searches have revealed materials indicating the involvement of 23 individuals preparing a raid to free Bazoum, but authorities have not disclosed names and qualifications of those detained. In this context, pro-Bazoum demonstrations have taken place in Niamey, where protesters called for the release of the ousted president, the removal of General Tiani, and the return to constitutional order. According to local sources, the members of the ruling junta are divided on the fate of the ousted president and the future of the transition. To break the isolation, the transitional government has asked Togo's President, Faure Gnassingbé, to mediate between Niamey and the international community, aiming at least for the cessation of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS. Niger’s Defense Minister, Salifou Mody, made this request public during a press conference. On the economic front, Niger's isolation is beginning to pose problems for the junta. The government failed to pay $305 million in interest on its debt within the specified timeframe. In this context, transitional authorities continue the construction of the Niger-Benin pipeline, financed by China, which will carry Niger's oil to international markets from the port of Seme.

Russia and Burkina Faso strengthen their relations furtherly. Burkinabe Defense Minister, Kassoum Coulibaly, met with Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu in Moscow to discuss on cooperation in military matters at the economic, logistical, technological, and training levels. Military cooperation between Russia and Burkina Faso appears to be deeper than officially stated. Following the meeting between Colibaly and Shoigu, local sources reported the deployment of Russian military personnel in Burkina Faso to serve as bodyguards for President Ibrahim Traoré. Russian military aircrafts reportedly landed at Ouagadougou a few days after the ministers' meeting, bringing Russian operatives in the country. Burkinabe government announced thwarting a coup at the end of September and subsequently carried out a substantial reshuffling of the top leadership of the military and intelligence agencies, indicating mutual suspicion between the incumbent head of state and the security forces. Meanwhile, under a new decree signed by Traoré, seven new Rapid Intervention Battalions were established to escort supply convoys for the army, which have been repeatedly attacked by insurgents over the past year. It is not yet clear whether the formation of the new battalions will be conducted by Russian armed forces as part of the new partnership with Burkina Faso.

The month in Chad was marked by the return of opposition leader Succés Masra. After weeks of negotiations, the leader of the Les Transformateurs and government authorities signed an agreement in Kinshasa to ensure Masra's return to the country after a year of exile. Although the details of the agreement have not been disclosed, this constitutes a step forward in relations between the government and the opposition. The "Les Transformateurs" movement has been severely affected by the repression of government authorities, with hundreds of members arrested and tens reportedly killed according to estimates from NGOs in Chad. Upon his return to the country, Masra encouraged the dialogue with the authorities as part of the transitional process that is expected to culminate in a referendum for the approval of the new constitution.

Download the November 2023 report