The rapid demise of Algeria’s standing in the Sahel


Published on Tuesday, 28 November 2023 Back to articles

Southern Algeria’s border with Mali and Niger

Algeria Politics & Security – 21.11.23, described how President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s ‘new state’ is rapidly achieving international isolation. This has been ruefully brought home over the last two weeks following the Malian army’s recapture of Kidal, albeit with the help of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, on 14 November. 

Only a few years ago, Algeria — which shares over 1,300 kms of border with Mali — would have been at the centre of all that was going on in Kidal, only 200 kms from the border, but today there is only stony silence. The fighting for Kidal took place and may well continue in the coming days with the risk of it directly impacting Algeria’s national security. Despite this danger, the Algerian regime has remained silent and shown no reaction to the crisis on its border. 

It has previously played the role of arbiter, mediator and respected intermediary — being listened to and called upon to put an end to the violence and impose order or security — but that is no longer the case. The current junta in Bamako has no consideration for Algeria which it categorically rejects by refusing to allow it to play any determining role in northern Mali. 

The 2015 Algiers-brokered Peace agreement brought some stability to this volatile region but the Forces Armées Maliennes’ (FAMa) seizure of Kidal on 14 November effectively dealt a fatal blow to that agreement. Following Niger’s rejection of Algerian mediation last month, this latest snub from Mali illustrates the alarming decline of Algiers’ influence and marks the end of its hegemony in the Sahel.

There are many reasons for the decline of its influence in the region. Prior to 2015, the Sahel, especially the Kidal region which was often referred to as Algeria’s 49th wilaya, was under the strong influence, indeed, control, of the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS). Since 2015, the DRS has been fragmented and has mostly fallen under the command of the army: first under the late Army Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaïd Salah who died in December 2019; and then his successor General Saïd Chengriha. 

Much of the criminal activities in the Sahel, notably drug trafficking and hostage-taking, were previously under the control of the DRS, but with the shared participation of Mali’s State Security. With the demise of the DRS, ties between the political and security elites in the Sahel have weakened, whereas the army — under both Gaïd Salah and Chengriha — have operated more rapacious criminal activities and with less participation with their Sahelian counterparts. In short, Algeria is increasingly being seen as a less trustworthy neighbour which — through its support for both criminal and jihadist activities — has played a major role in turning much of the Sahel into highly insecure and ungovernable zones. Algeria is now seen more as a hostile than a friendly neighbour. While the blame for its current exclusion from Sahelian affairs rests heavily with its army, it also reflects the declining professionalism of the country’s diplomatic service.

This excerpt is taken from our Algeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact for subscription details.

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