Morocco playing more active role in Mali

Stronger ties

The third day of Moroccan King’s official visit to Mali saw the signing of a raft of bilateral agreements, heralding stronger ties between the two African nations.
The ceremony of the signing of 17 agreements of cooperation in various sectors took place Thursday afternoon in Koulouba palace amid the presence of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and King Mohamed VI.
The Moroccan monarch’s decoration of Keita of the kingdom’s highest distinction preceded the official signing of the agreements, protocols and conventions in multiple sectors, including hydraulics, construction, agriculture, infrastructure, mining, energy, vocational training, telecommunications, insurance and banking, housing, health and education.
King Mohamed VI’s visit to Bamako is the second in less than six months after attending the Malian leader's inauguration in September.
The signing of these new agreements between Rabat and Bamako confirms King Mohamed VI’s commitment to consolidating Morocco’s ties with Mali which was thrown into chaos in January 2012 when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) launched an offensive in the northern desert helped by Islamist militants linked to Al-Qaeda who then cast aside the Tuareg rebels and took the region for themselves. Morocco overtaking Algeria’s role in Mali diplomacy
Morocco has increasingly supported Mali since Keita was sworn in as president last September. Rabat has been training Malian soldiers in their fight against radical extremists and is helping Bamako foster a more tolerant version of Islam through the training of 500 Malian Imams.
Mali descended into crisis two years ago when the MNLA, whose ultimate goal is the independence of Azawad, launched the latest in a string of Tuareg insurgencies in the north.
A subsequent coup in the Malian capital Bamako led to chaos, and Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists overpowered the Tuaregs to seize control of Mali's northern half.
A French-led military operation launched in January 2013 ousted the Islamists, but sporadic attacks have continued. Armed Islamists are regrouping in the desert and remain an ever-present threat to security.
Morocco backed the military operation despite having no border with Mali as it counts Islamist militants throughout the Sahel and Maghreb regions as a high priority security threat.
Last November, foreign ministers from countries across the Sahel and Maghreb discussed in Rabat ways to bolster border security and tackle Islamist linked-violence plaguing the vast desert region.
King Mohammed VI received MNLA chief Bilal Ag Acherif in January, encouraging him back to the table with the Malian government and commits himself to a political engagement towards the country’s stability after the rebels had walked out on UN-sponsored talks in Algiers, which was the preferred venue for various peace accords in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The Moroccan monarch’s successful diplomacy to bring the MNLA back to the negotiating table with Bamako proved that the North African kingdom is slowly overtaking Algeria's traditional position as mediator between the Malian government and the Tuareg.
Morocco, which is a major trading partner of Mali, is spearheading investments in the Sahel country after the devastating conflict, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of Malians.
Algeria, which shares a long and porous border with Mali, may react to Morocco’s latest diplomatic moves with bigger agreements with Bamako. Yet, Aziz Bouteflika’s government cannot supersede Morocco in its role as religious mediator in the region thanks to the kingdom’s export of tolerant Islam that counters the influence of Salafism and Wahhabism and its historic religious ties with Mali.