Bottom Line: Oil exploration deals signed by interim and the new government of Mali for operations in the restive north won’t make it far with a relaunch of radical Islamist attacks and separatists Tuareg who have signaled they’re pulling out of the new-born peace deal.
Analysis: Renewed attacks in Mali both by radical Islamist groups and MNLA Tuareg separatists threaten the country’s short-lived peace, and there are indications that the peace deal put in place with the July elections has already been sidelined. During the week of 6 October, Islamic militants shelled Gao, in northern Mali, for the first time in some five months and since, French forces succeeded in halting attacks. At the same time, Tuareg separatists under the MNLA umbrella attacked Kidal, the main town north of Gao, saying they would withdraw from the peace deal with the new government, which has failed to turn the Tuareg into stakeholders as it deals with oil companies preparing to explore for fossil fuels in the north.
The elections ushered in former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubecar Keïta as Mali’s president, but he was cutting energy deals well before he won the vote, through the transitional powers. The new exploration licenses, ratified in August, went to Czech-based New Catalyst Capital Investments, Ireland-based Circle Oil PLC, and UK- and Canadian-based Raven Resources Group. (Italy’s Eni has been there since 2006, when it acquired five exploration licenses in Mali’s portion of the Taoudeni Basin in partnership with Algerian state-run Sonatrach and Australian-based Baraka Energy and Resources Limited. These blocks are in a completely unexplored area and cover over 190,000 square kilometers.)
Recommendation: Investors should eye plans to explore in Mali’s north with a great deal of caution. As we have warned repeatedly, the French intervention in Mali and the July elections have not resolved tensions, and the new government has so far shown little will to turn the Tuareg into proper stakeholders, which is the only way exploration will be possible. That the Tuareg are already on the offensive and ready to pull out of the peace deal signals that the government has wrongly hedged its bets.