Bamako, Mali: My most recent piece for Think Africa Press argued that choosing the right analytical approach is paramount when thinking about Algeria’s northern Mali policies:
As noted by Alexis Arieff, Algeria’s policy- and decision-making processes are characterised by opacity, especially in the security realm. Divergent interests among different players – which might include at any given time the presidency, military, state intelligence services, various ministries, the Algerian legislature, local government entities and informal actors – all play a role in shaping and even implementing foreign policy.
This lack of transparency makes it nearly impossible for those on the outside to be sure they have a clear understanding of how Algeria defines its interests. The allure of theories that focus on the state intelligence services and its ties to actors in northern Mali rests on their ability to offer a false parsimony. But what seems like an untangling of a complex reality is really a selective connecting of convenient dots. Some of these accounts may have merit, but scholarship grounded in anonymous sources, circular citations and tautology cannot be engaged or acted upon in any meaningful way.
A more effective approach, and one sure to be less gratifying for those in search of concise answers to complex questions, would be to view Algeria’s past behaviour and current posture in realist terms. That the Algerian regime is a repressive one, and that elements within it have demonstrated a willingness to employ ruthless violence on a large scale, does not disqualify it from having legitimate security interests, nor does it preclude Algeria from defining these interests in ways that might resemble those of less perplexing nation-states.
Readers who appreciate this approach and want to dig deeper on Algeria would do well to check out The Moor Next Door. Kal’s analyses of Algerian foreign policy and Islamist militant groups in northern Mali are always thought-provoking. Whereas my writing lives in a world of concision and word counts, Kal takes full advantage of his platform and the depth of his expertise to examine just about every angle dispassionately. I certainly value his learned insight, but for me, it is Kal’s approach to thinking about Algeria and northern Mali that makes The Moor Next Door required reading.