In Mali, the High Islamic Council officially responsible for negotiating with jihadist leaders

In Mali, the official designation of the High Islamic Council (HCI) as the body responsible for “Negotiate with the Malian jihadists”, confirmed Tuesday, October 19 by the transitional government, formalizes a situation that has existed for several years. The Malian authorities have, since 2017, expressed their willingness to open negotiations with the armed Islamists, affiliated with Al-Qaida, who have continued to increase their radius of action in the north and the center of the country. At the same time, the HCI, a link between political authorities and religious associations, had already increased contacts.

Under the direction of its former boss, Imam Mahmoud Dicko, this structure had notably negotiated, in 2012, the releases of soldiers. The Wahhabi religious then presented himself as the best tool for “To bring back to the right path his lost brothers”, in the first place Iyad Ag Ghali, the emir of the Support Group of Islam and Muslims, and his lieutenant Amadou Koufa at the head of the katiba Macina.

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Passed since 2019 under the rule of Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara, a preacher of the Maliki rite, very popular in Mali, the HCI has not lost its status as a facilitator. But this role had not been formally formalized, neither by ex-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, overthrown in August 2020, who hardly believed in dialogue with the jihadists, nor by the first transitional authorities who left this project in fallow. This function is now openly recognized, the HCI having, according to an internal source, received its mandate on July 14 by letter from the Minister of Religious Affairs and Worship.

Position of weakness

“We are going to find a Malian solution to prevent the blood of Malians from flowing again. We will sit down without an intermediary ”, promises Moufa Haïdara, first secretary of the HCI. The latter does not say when the discussions could begin, nor what will be the scope. “We will discuss everything. There are red lines but they have not yet been set by the government. The main thing is that we have in common blood ties and brotherhood between Muslims ”, he advances as a pledge of compromise. Iyad Ag Ghali, for his part, was more explicit on his conditions for peace: the departure of foreign troops, especially French, from Mali and the application of Sharia, Islamic law.

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Faced with armed Islamists, the transitional authorities present themselves in a position of weakness, with no territorial reconquest to oppose, in a form of capitulation which does not speak its name. “One of the limits of this dialogue is that the desired end and the offer that the government can produce have not been defined, worries Baba Dakono, executive secretary of the Citizen Observatory on Governance and Security. Another is to place this question in the hands of religious when the problem cannot be reduced to this dimension. “

The prospect of these negotiations with the jihadist leaders risks pushing Paris even further away from Bamako, in a context of tension around the possible arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali. By diplomatic pressure or by public outing – “No dialogue and compromise” with the jihadist leaders, exhorted Emmanuel Macron in June – France has so far endeavored to dissuade the Malians from moving in this direction. But no one can say that she still has the means.