Home News Mali tasks religion ministry with overseeing jihadist talks

Mali tasks religion ministry with overseeing jihadist talks

Published on October 20, 2021

Mali’s interim government has entrusted its religious-affairs ministry with talking to jihadist groups, making public a policy fiercely opposed by former colonial power France.

Dame Seck, a member of the religion minister’s cabinet, said on Tuesday that the High Islamic Council had engaged Islamist groups in dialogue for months on behalf on the Sahel state.

But the government has now formally taken charge of the portfolio and handed it to the religious-affairs ministry, he explained.

The move marks the first time Mali’s government has formalised dialogue with extremist groups, which are waging a brutal insurgency across much of the north and centre of the vast nation.

Many Malians see talks as one of the few ways to end the violence that has raged in the country since 2012, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more.

However, Paris has long viewed talks with jihadist groups as anathema.

In a statement published last week, Malian Religious-Affairs Minister Mahamadou Kone acknowledged the existence of previous talks, but said they had been informally mediated through the High Islamic Council.

The influential group will continue to coordinate with contacts on the ground, according to a statement, but Mali’s interim government will also set “red lines not to be crossed”.

Formalising the process of jihadist talks comes with relations between Mali and France at their lowest point in years, amid frustration in Paris over a serious of recent military coups in the nation of 19 million people.

Mali slid into political turmoil last year, culminating in a putsch led by Colonel Assimi Goita in August 2020 against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Under the threat of sanctions, the military then appointed an interim civilian government tasked with steering the country back to democratic rule.

But Goita overthrew the leaders of that interim government in May — in a second putsch — and was later declared interim president himself, drawing international condemnation.

France first intervened against jihadists in Mali in 2013, but announced this summer that it would reduce its military deployment in the Sahel.

Mali is considering hiring mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group in response, which has incensed Paris.