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"Algeria's disruptive influence" in the Sahel region

2 min

Tensions escalate between Mali and Algeria as the Malian junta abandons a 2015 agreement, brokered by Algeria, with Tuareg separatist rebels. 

Since gaining independence in 1956, Morocco has claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara © Mena Today 

Tensions escalate between Mali and Algeria as the Malian junta abandons a 2015 agreement, brokered by Algeria, with Tuareg separatist rebels. 

Bamako was displeased by the reception of several figures from the Malian independence rebellion by Algerian authorities in late 2023, which led Colonel Maïga to accuse Algeria of treating Mali with "contempt and condescension."

In a statement released last Friday by the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Algiers expressed regret over this "unfortunate decision," which it sees as "a source of threat to regional peace and stability." This marks another loss of influence for Algeria in the Sahel region, as Mauritania also declined an offer from Algeria in favor of closer ties with Morocco.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has proposed an initiative to Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad aimed at boosting their economies. This initiative involves the establishment of a free-trade zone connected to the port of Dakhla in Western Sahara—a region over which Morocco claims sovereignty.

Morocco is prepared to provide its "road, port, and railway infrastructure" to these four Sahelian countries, which will need to establish a task force to enhance security in the region. The countries involved responded positively to this proposal in late December.

For Morocco, this represents a significant move to reduce Algeria's influence in the region. Morocco's strategy is based on mutually beneficial agreements, while Algeria's ability to influence the same area is limited to being a disruptive force.

Control over the Sahel is a crucial economic stake for both Morocco and Algeria. Both countries have separate gas pipeline projects with Nigeria, aiming to supply Europe and replace Russian gas.

The United States supports Morocco, while Russia backs Algeria.

Work on the Moroccan pipeline has recently begun, with the first section between Senegal and Morocco expected to be operational by 2028. Stretching 5,565 kilometers, this gas pipeline is the result of extensive negotiations between Mohammed VI and representatives of eleven African countries along the Atlantic coast. 

The final agreements with Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, and Benin were signed in June 2023.

In contrast, Algeria's Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project has experienced delays. Stretching 4,128 kilometers, it starts from Nigeria's gas fields, crosses the unstable regions of Niger, and heads to Algiers. Its expected commissioning date is 2027.

Since gaining independence in 1956, Morocco has claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara. This has led to a conflict with the independence movement Front Polisario, supported by Algeria.

Morocco maintains that prior to colonization, the Moroccan Empire encompassed Southern and Western Algeria, Northern Mali, Mauritania, and Western Sahara. This is why, for Mohammed VI, the Moroccan identity of Western Sahara is non-negotiable.

This dispute led to a diplomatic rupture between Algeria and Morocco in 2021. Could this ongoing feud intensify? 

Despite often being portrayed as fraternal nations, Moroccans and Algerians now have profound differences, including their international backers. 

The United States supports Morocco, while Russia backs Algeria. Moscow recently decided to support the Sahrawi independence movement, aligning itself with Algeria's position.

By Rifert Lahus 

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