Middlemen : Swiss tread carefully in Mali mediation efforts

A handout picture released by the Azawad National Liberation Movement reportedly shows MNLA fighters gathering in an undisclosed location in Mali (AFP Photo/MNLA)

by Samuel Jaberg, swissinfo.ch
Jan 30, 2013 – 11:00

Switzerland is trying to leverage its 35-year history in Mali, a priority country for Swiss development aid, to mediate between the government in Bamako and the Tuareg of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA).

But French military intervention, a tense bilateral history and the MNLA’s former alliance with radical Islamist groups ensure the task ahead of the Swiss will not be easy.

Pierre Gontard, former deputy director of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and an expert on the region, says that Switzerland is well-positioned to maintain contacts with the different groups in northern Mali because it does not have direct interests in the region.

“When the moment comes, that could facilitate the discussions and negotiations. Because the crisis in Mali dates back to 1960 and the country’s independence and that was never resolved in a sustainable manner,” Gontard tells swissinfo.ch.

Gilles Yabi has a more nuanced view. “Switzerland has been present in the region for a number of years and knows all the players,” says the director for West Africa at the International Crisis Group. “This will be an asset when the hour comes to define a new political model for northern Mali. But still, Swiss mediation failed to prevent the current conflict.”

The alliance between the Tuareg of the MNLA and radical Islamist groups played a major role in altering the power struggle against the government in Bamako when the northern half of Mali seceded from the south last year.

“But very quickly, the MNLA realised it had been duped by the Islamists of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mojwa) and Ansar Dine (“defenders of the faith”), two other fundamentalist groups,” says Pierre Haski, co-founder of the French news website Rue89.

“The MNLA found itself marginalised and deprived of the victory to which it had made a decisive contribution and, above all, from embedding itself locally.”

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