Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is due to renew the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) before its 30 June expiry. It is also expected to hold a briefing and consultations on the situation in Mali with Special Representative and the head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane.
Key Recent Developments
The situation in Mali remains fluid, as the country’s fragile political transition, set up following the August 2020 coup d’état, was interrupted by a second coup d’état on 24 May.
Ahead of this new crisis, Mali’s transitional authorities on 15 April unveiled the upcoming electoral calendar for restoring an elected government within the 18-month transition period ending in March 2022 that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brokered last year. The constitutional referendum will take place on 31 October, followed by elections for regional and local positions on 26 December and for the presidency and legislative seats on 27 February 2022, with possible second rounds on 13 and 20 March.
From 9 to 12 May, the ECOWAS mediator for Mali, Goodluck Jonathan, undertook an evaluation mission. While the mission communiqué noted “remarkable progress”, it expressed concern about the prioritisation of reforms, the urgency of consensus on the choice of the election management body, the timelines of the territorial divisions, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. It also noted concern about inclusivity in the conduct of the transition.
On 14 May, transitional Prime Minister Moctar Ouane submitted his resignation and that of his government. President Bah N’Daw reappointed Ouane that same day, instructing him to form a new “broad-based” government. The reshuffle followed recent demands for the government’s dissolution by the June 5 Movement, which organised months of protests last year against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta before he was ousted in last year’s coup. Reflecting renewed social unrest, the prominent National Union of Malian workers began a nationwide strike on 17 May.
On 24 May, Ouane announced the formation of the new government. The military, which has maintained a strong role in the transition, retained the key ministries of defence, security, territorial administration, and national reconciliation, though two officers formerly leading these portfolios were replaced. Soon after the government’s announcement, the military arrested N’Daw, Ouane, and the newly appointed minister of defence, detaining them at a military base in Kati just outside Bamako.
The next day, transitional vice-president Colonel Assimi Goïta, leader of the August 2020 coup, announced that he had taken power. In a statement, Goïta maintained that he had not been consulted in the government reshuffle and blamed N’Daw and Ouane for nationwide strikes and protests. He said elections would go ahead as scheduled. On 26 May, N’Daw and Ouane resigned. They were released later that night.
The coup triggered international condemnation. A 24 May joint statement by the local transition monitoring committee based in Mali, comprised of the AU, ECOWAS, MINUSMA, and other representatives of the international community including France, Germany, the UK, the US, and the EU, demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of the transitional leaders. The committee further called for the transition to “resume its course and be concluded on schedule” and stressed that the “reckless action” risks “weakening the mobilization of the international community in favor of Mali”. The EU threatened sanctions. An ECOWAS delegation, led by Jonathan, deployed to Mali on 25 May to resolve the crisis.
Council members held consultations with Wane, who briefed from Bamako, on 26 May. In a press statement, they strongly condemned the arrest of the president, prime minister and other officials, calling for their immediate release. The statement further affirmed members’ support to the civilian-led transition and called for its immediate resumption, maintaining its 18-month timeline. It added, “imposing a change of transitional leadership by force, including through forced resignations, is unacceptable”.
Amid the deteriorating security situation across the Sahel, Security Council members recently restarted discussions about establishing a UN office to support the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S). The Secretary-General first recommended creating a support office in 2017 as a way to provide the force with more predictable and sustainable funding. Formed to combat terrorist and criminal groups and comprising units from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, the FC-G5S currently receives MINUSMA operational assistance, such as rations and fuel, and logistical support to units operating in Mali. The EU reimburses MINUSMA for this assistance.
At a 6 April Council briefing on Mali, Niger announced on behalf of the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) that they would propose a draft resolution in June to establish the support office. The Secretary-General’s 10 May report on the FC-G5S included an assessment of MINUSMA support, which noted that different partners consulted for the evaluation considered MINUSMA’s support critical for sustaining the FC-G5S’ activities but that the existing challenges warrant a new approach. During consultations on the FC-G5S on 18 May, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare briefed members about the potential activities of a UN support office.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council is to renew the mandate of MINUSMA and to consider how to update it in light of the past year’s developments, in particular the political transition and the security situation. Last year, in an October 2020 presidential statement, the Council requested that MINUSMA support the transition within “its mandate and existing resources”.
Resolving the current crisis and restoring a civilian-led transition is a key issue. Ahead of the new coup d’état, there was already concern about the fragile state of the transition and whether the authorities could undertake key reforms, including electoral decisions, to hold elections within the transition calendar.
Terrorist activity in north and central Mali is another key issue. There is also intercommunal violence and violence by ethnic militias, largely fuelled by the presence of terrorist groups and insecurity. A dire humanitarian situation and the fight against impunity for violations of human rights, including by Malian and international security forces during counter-terrorism operations, are related issues. Additionally, there is concern about terrorist activity spreading to southern Mali.
MINUSMA’s ability to help stabilise central Mali and to protect civilians is another related issue. When the Council mandated that MINUSMA focus on the situation in the centre as its “second strategic priority” in 2019, it did not authorise an increase in the troop ceiling. The UN subsequently developed an adaptation plan to make MINUSMA more mobile and provide it with more specialised capacities and units. But the mission has faced challenges, including difficulty generating critical air assets.
Another key issue is MINUSMA’s support to the FC-G5S. Council consideration of this role could be affected by parallel negotiations on creating the support office if the “A3 plus one” push forward with their initiative since the office, if established, would take over such activities from MINUSMA.
For MINUSMA’s re-authorisation the Council may retain the two strategic priorities: to support implementation of the 2015 peace agreement—which is its “primary” strategic priority—and to support efforts to stabilise central Mali and protect civilians, the mission’s “second” strategic priority. The Council may subsume within its primary strategic priority MINUSMA support for Mali’s political transition. Another option is to instead make support for the transition a new, separate priority. Separately, the Council could consider imposing sanctions on perpetrators of the coup if they impede the restoration of civilian leadership of the transition.
Building on the creation of benchmarks since 2019 for implementing the peace agreement and stabilising the situation in the centre, the Council could also add to the mandate benchmarks for the political transition. It may do so by drawing from the benchmarks and objectives suggested in the Secretary-General’s roadmap, presented last March, on conditions to be met for a possible MINUSMA exit strategy.
Regarding central Mali’s continued instability, the Council may request an assessment from the Secretary-General on the situation and the MINUSMA adaptation plan with recommendations on how to improve MINUSMA’s support in the centre and its ability to protect civilians. Until the Council agrees on a support office for the FC-G5S, it is likely to maintain the current support model involving MINUSMA.
Following last year’s coup d’état, the Council sought to support ECOWAS’ mediation efforts. Once a political transition was agreed, the Council welcomed the new arrangements in its October 2020 presidential statement, setting out its expectations that the authorities should complete the transition in 18 months while continuing to implement the 2015 peace agreement and carry out efforts to stabilise central Mali and combat terrorism. Members repeated their expectation that the transition be completed within 18 months, and their support for regional mediation in their 26 May press statement.
Mandate negotiations on MINUSMA in recent years have been marked by a US push for a consolidation of the mission. This was in large part driven by the previous US administration’s desire to cut back spending on UN peacekeeping, so this dynamic is likely to be less pronounced this year. Overall, members often raise concerns about the slow progress in implementing the peace agreement and political transition.
The question over how to improve international support for the FC-G5S divides the Council. The “A3 plus one” and France, which is a strong proponent of the force, have made clear that they will pursue a resolution authorising a support office. The US and the UK continue to oppose the proposal, as they did in 2017 when the Council debated the recommendation, because they object to the use of UN assessed contributions to fund non-UN missions and prefer bilateral support of the FC-G5S.
France is the penholder on Mali. Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez (Mexico) chairs the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MALI
|Security Council Resolutions|
|31 August 2020S/RES/2541||This renewed the Mali sanctions regime for one year.|
|29 June 2020S/RES/2531||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2021.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|15 October 2020S/PRST/2020/10||This presidential statement welcomed the new transitional arrangements in Mali following the 18 August coup d’état and outlined expectations of the way forward.|
|10 May 2021S/2021/442||This was a Secretary-General’s report on the G5 Sahel Joint Force.|
|Security Council Letters|
|8 April 2021S/2021/336||This letter contained the record of briefings and statements from Council’s 6 April videoconference on Mali.|
|25 March 2021S/2021/300||This letter from the Secretary-General contained a road map on conditions for a possible MINUSMA exit strategy, as requested in resolution 2531.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|26 May 2021SC/14532||This press statement strongly condemned the arrest of Mali’s transitional president and prime minister.|