Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has received representatives of political and armed groups as well as civil society in an attempt to foster dialogue in his conflict-wracked country.
Saturday’s talks in the capital, Bamako, are being billed as a “national inclusive dialogue” and an opportunity after months of attacks and ethnic violence that have killed many people.
Armed groups operating in parts of the vast Sahel region, including in Mali, have stepped up attacks in recent years, with national armed forces, backed by 4,500 French troops, struggling to contain the violence.
In Mali, bloodshed between Fulani herders and sedentary farmers in the country’s centre has exacerbated the problem.
“Let us unite, let us join hands to plug the holes of a broken vessel,” Keita said on Saturday as he received some 3,000 delegates to Bamako’s Palace of Culture.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Bamako, said the event’s organisers were hoping to find a common ground between the country’s warring sides.
“This is a country that has been facing a lot of security challenges recently, especially in the north. There are also disagreements between the ruling party and the opposition who are unhappy with the outcome of the last presidential election,” Idris said.
Resolving crises existing at various levels – security, humanitarian, economic, as well as climate – requires establishing a political road map.
The failure to date of imposing a military solution has encouraged a broad feeling that dialogue, including with the armed groups, is the only way to move forward.
But not all political groups are attending the talks.
The West African country’s main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse refused to attend the talks, criticising the event as “pure political communication” and “contrived”.
The Anw Ko Mali Drown platform which groups several parties and associations also declined to show up, complaining of what it saw as a lack of inclusivity during months of preparations for the talks.
The government, however, rejects that view.
“There were consultations in 605 out of 703 communes,” organising committee chairman Cheick Sidi Diarra told the AFP news agency.
Despite the reticence of the likes of Cisse, the main Tuareg groups who signed the 2015 peace accord in Algiers, are attending the Bamako talks.
The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), an alliance of rebel groups which signed the peace deal, is at the talks, saying it has received government assurances.
“We are here because we are certain nobody will touch the peace accord during this dialogue,” CMA spokesman Almou Ag Mohamed told the AFP.
Given the slowness in implementing the accord and the continuing unrest in spite of it, some opposition groups have called for it to be unpicked – something the signatories reject.
Keita angered some of the rebel groups by opening the door to revising the 2015 accords which were meant to disarm armed groups and integrate them into the national army but have not been implemented.
A 2017 proposal to revise the constitution and introduce more decentralisation has also been blocked since Mali’s opposition has not endorsed that project.
The nine days of talks are intended to function as a crucible for debate for alternative solutions as Mali seeks a way out of the mire.