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Home / news / Shifting relationships, growing threats: Who’s who of insurgent groups in the Sahel

Shifting relationships, growing threats: Who’s who of insurgent groups in the Sahel

In the six years since a separatist rebellion broke out in northern Mali in January 2012, armed groups in West Africa’s Sahel region have grown considerably in both number and the complexity of their ever-evolving relationships with one another.

Some of Mali’s armed groups signed a peace accord in 2015. But implementation of its provisions has been very slow, while insecurity – especially in the central region – continues to deteriorate with the emergence of new jihadist elements, which are also active near the borders in Burkina Faso and Niger.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria and some of its neighbouring states, Boko Haram is still causing havoc almost a decade after it started its insurgency.

Here’s a brief overview of the key non-state armed actors in the region:

Signatories to Mali’s 2015 peace accord

These comprise two opposing camps:

Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (The Coordination of Azawad Movements, or CMA)

A loose coalition of former rebel movements with shared interests, such as self-determination (full independence is no longer on their official agenda). Azawad was the name given to the short-lived and unrecognised state in northern Mali in 2012 by the separatist Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA). The CMA also includes the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA), and the Haut Comité pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA).

La Plateforme des groupes armées (The Platform of Armed Groups)

This is a diverse range of nominally pro-government groups, which purport to defend Mali’s territorial sovereignty and sometimes fight alongside the regular army. They also have their own individual interests.

The Platform comprises the Groupe d’autodéfense touareg Imrad et alliés (Tuareg Imrad Self-defence Group and its Allies, or GATIA), a branch of the MAA, and the Coordination des mouvements et Front patriotique de résistance (Coordination of Movements and Patriotic Resistance Front, or CM-FPR).

Since the peace accord was signed, clashes have frequently broken out between the two camps, delaying the deal’s implementation, worsening the plight of civilians, and playing into the hands of jihadist groups.

In 2016, CMA and Platform members were implicated in 174 cases of abuses against civilians, and a further 72 in the first quarter of 2017, according to the human rights division of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

Tensions eased somewhat between two camps after they signed a ceasefire in September 2017.

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