June 2022 Monthly Forecast

AFRICA

Mali

Expected Council Action

In June, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which expires on 30 June. Earlier in the month, the Council will hold its quarterly briefing on Mali, followed by closed consultations. Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief.

Key Recent Developments

Uncertainty persists over the establishment of a new transition timetable in Mali to restore constitutional order following coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021. Meanwhile, the security landscape has changed significantly as Mali’s relations with traditional ally France and neighbouring Sahel states have deteriorated, and transition authorities have reportedly partnered with the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company.

Concerns mounted over reported increases in human rights violations by Mali’s security forces and the Wagner Group in counter-terrorism operations in central Mali. In the worst such incident, Wagner and Malian forces allegedly executed about 300 civilians and suspected terrorists in the village of Mourah from 27 to 30 March. Mali claimed to have killed 203 terrorist combatants during an operation from 23 to 31 March in Mourah.

Mali’s military prosecutor in Mopti announced on 6 April that it was opening an investigation into the incident. However, the Malian authorities have denied MINUSMA access to Mourah.  This comes at a time when MINUSMA’s relations with the host country have become more difficult, with the mission facing increasing restrictions on its air and ground movements and areas of access, especially where Mali has been conducting military operations. On 22 March, a Malian armed forces helicopter fired rockets close to a MINUSMA patrol near Tessit. According to Wane’s Council briefing on 7 April, there were no casualties, but the UN was investigating the incident.

On 11 April, the EU decided to suspend the military training that the EU Training Mission in Mali provides to Mali’s armed forces due to the transition authorities’ cooperation with the Wagner Group and recent civilian killings. This followed the decision in February by France and other European countries to withdraw their counter-terrorism operations, Operation Barkhane and Takuba Task Force, from Mali because of the Wagner Group’s deployment. Despite concerns that Germany might end its participation in MINUSMA, the German parliament approved on 20 May the government’s decision to remain in the mission, including an increase in its contribution by 300 troops. That same day, Benin, which has around 400 troops and police in MINUSMA, announced that it would end its participation in November. Benin’s move occurred amid the rising threat of Sahelian terrorist groups to coastal West African countries.

On 19 April, France handed over its military base at Gossi to Mali’s armed forces. Following the handover, Mali said that it had uncovered a mass grave near the base, while France released aerial video footage that it said had been recorded on 20 April showing Wagner and Malian security personnel burying bodies that were transferred to the site. On 2 May, Mali informed France that it was terminating the Defence Cooperation Treaty between France and Mali and its Status of Forces Agreement. France responded by saying that it would continue the orderly withdrawal of its forces. Council members discussed the Gossi developments on 3 May under “any other business” at the request of Russia after Mali sent a letter to Council members accusing France of espionage.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a 5 May interview with French radio station RFI that an AU-authorised African force with a peace enforcement mandate may be more appropriate than MINUSMA, considering the security situation in Mali. In the same interview, however, Guterres stressed that he would not recommend ending the UN operation because the “consequences would be terrible”.

On 15 May, Mali announced that it was withdrawing from all institutions of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), including the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S). Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger founded the G5 Sahel in 2014 and created the FC-G5S as a regional counter-terrorism force in 2017. Mali said that it made the decision after some G5 members blocked its assumption of the body’s rotating presidency, which had been due to start in February. In a statement, Mali also criticised “a state outside the region for desperately seeking to isolate Mali”.

Two days later, Mali announced that it had foiled an attempted coup d’état on the night of 11 and 12 May, which it claimed had been “supported by a Western state”.

Mali and ECOWAS have remained at an impasse in talks to establish a new transition timeline. In March, ECOWAS rejected Mali’s proposal for an additional two-year transition, calling instead for a 12-to-16-month extension. On 5 May, the foreign ministers of Mali and Togo announced that Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé would mediate between Bamako and ECOWAS.

In addition, implementation of the 2015 Mali Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between the government and northern armed groups has been at a standstill. During his 7 April Council briefing, Wane said that the past three months had been “marked by worrisome actions and rhetoric, not in line with the spirit of the Agreement”.

Key Issues and Options

The renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate and how the Council should update it to reflect the changing environment in which MINUSMA must operate is the key issue facing the Council during June. This includes assessing MINUSMA’s role in supporting the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement and the political transition. The lack of progress on the former has increased concerns about the risk of hostilities resuming between the government and northern armed groups. The transition is complicated by the continuing absence of a new timetable after Mali failed to meet the original ECOWAS-brokered 18-month period.

The mandate renewal process also involves considering the effects on MINUSMA of the departure of Operation Barkhane and the Takuba Task Force, which the Secretary-General’s last report asserted creates a “security gap”. MINUSMA was established in 2013 to carry out good offices and stabilisation activities and to protect civilians while parallel French forces would conduct counter-terrorism operations. Since then, the situation has evolved, and MINUSMA’s role has expanded to address not only the crisis in the north but the situation in central Mali, where the greatest amount of violence, including civilian casualties, occurs. Related to this are persistent challenges for MINUSMA of capability shortfalls, such as air assets, and national caveats of troop- and police-contributing countries on how their troops may be used.

A further key issue is the deteriorating human rights situation, which MINUSMA is mandated to monitor and report on. MINUSMA’s increasingly difficult relationship with Malian authorities and the authorities’ position on the mandate renewal are important issues. The presence of the Wagner Group, which has a history of difficult relations with the UN peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic, is another key issue.

In renewing MINUSMA’s mandate, the Council could request that an independent strategic review of the situation in Mali be conducted in light of MINUSMA’s new operating environment. The Council may further decide to identify areas where MINUSMA can concentrate its efforts. It may call on MINUSMA to place greater emphasis on supporting implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, the protection of civilians, and human rights reporting and monitoring.

With Mali’s withdrawal from the FC-G5S, the Council is likely to adjust MINUSMA’s mandate of supporting the joint force. Under the current mandate, MINUSMA provides engineering support and casualty and medical evacuation in Mali and the provision of life consumables, such as rations and fuel, for all FC-G5S contingents.

Council Dynamics

Council discussion on Mali has become increasingly polarised since reports emerged last fall about the possible deployment of the Wagner Group. Previously, the Council followed ECOWAS’ lead and supported its positions on Mali’s political transition, but Council members are no longer united over this approach, with Russia and China expressing sympathy with the Malian authorities over the challenges of holding elections because of the security situation and the risk of further political instability if elections take place prematurely.

The P3 and other European members criticise the Wagner Group’s deployment, citing its history of human rights abuses, and are concerned about the risks it presents to MINUSMA and of MINUSMA indirectly supporting its activities. Russia and Mali deny the group’s presence, claiming that Russian personnel in Mali are there as military instructors as part of their bilateral cooperation. Many members are further concerned about the increasing reports of human rights abuses by security forces and have called for independent investigations, while Russia and China have pushed back against such allegations. Several members have appeared frustrated that MINUSMA, at the time of this writing, had not yet released its quarterly report on human rights, usually published in April, and by the UN’s caution in reporting on other obstructions by Malian authorities. Such dynamics prevented agreement on statements on Mali in the Council in January on the political transition and in April on the incident in Mourah. They also played out at the 3 May meeting on Gossi.

Ghana is the West African Council member and champions ECOWAS’ positions, with the support of the other African Council members, Gabon and Kenya. Its president, Nana Akufo-Addo, currently chairs the ECOWAS Authority.

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
30 August 2021S/RES/2590 This resolution renewed the Mali sanctions regime until 31 August 2022 and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts until 30 September 2022.
29 June 2021S/RES/2584 This resolution renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2022.
Secretary-General’s Report
30 March 2022S/2022/278 This was the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Mali.
Security Council Meeting Record
7 April 2022S/PV.9012 This was a briefing on Mali.