Consultations on Mali: The Time for Inclusive Dialogue
Tomorrow morning (23 April), the Security Council is scheduled to receive a briefing, followed by consultations, by Albert Gerard Koenders, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). At press time, the penholder (France) had circulated a press statement expressing concern over the lack of progress on the peace talks in Mali that is expected to be adopted during the meeting.
Council members will likely be interested in Koenders’ assessment of the limited progress in the dialogue between the government and armed groups in Mali. After the perceived political momentum following the 1-3 February visit of the Security Council to Mali, when Council members received a document with elements for a political roadmap prepared by the government, it now seems the process is moving very slowly. There are concerns that the proliferation of potential mediators, the establishment of new preconditions for the dialogue to start, the divisions among armed groups and the lack of political will on the part of the government are contributing to the current stalemate. This state of affairs is further alienating unemployed youth, making them likely candidates for joining jihadist groups. So far, four workshops have been facilitated by MINUSMA with the participation of the government and armed groups: on the cantonment and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes; lessons learned from previous negotiation processes; development plans for northern Mali and an evaluation of the implementation of the 18 June 2013 Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement. However, the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) and a faction of the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA) decided not to participate in the two last workshops.
Even though the Council called in January on all the signatories of the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement to swiftly and fully implement its provisions, the two follow-up mechanisms to the Preliminary Agreement, the Follow-up and Evaluation Committee and the Joint Technical Security Commission, have not met since October 2013. The 29 March Communiqué of the 44th Ordinary Session of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) encouraged the Government of Mali to take full responsibility for the inclusive inter-Malian dialogue towards national reconciliation and did not renew the mandate of the ECOWAS mediators. Council members might be interested in hearing from Koenders how his good offices role fits into the different initiatives currently underway to promote dialogue. (Three armed groups and the government support Algeria as a facilitator in the political process. In late January, the Secretary-General of MNLA, Bilal Ag Sherif, requested the involvement of King Mohammed VI of Morocco and in March a series of meetings among armed groups took place in Rome under the auspices of the Comunita di Sant’Egidio.)
Council members might ask Koenders about the impact on the political process of the recent changes in the Malian government following the resignation of former Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly. These changes included the appointment of former Foreign Minister, Zahabi Ould Sidi Mohamed, as the new Minister for National Reconciliation and Development of the North in the cabinet of the new Prime Minister, Moussa Mara. Council members may also be interested in Koender’s insights on who President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita may appoint to negotiate with the armed groups, as he has expressed his intention to entrust someone with this responsibility under his direct authority.
Council members may also inquire about the progress of implementation of the 18 February agreement on the general principles for the cantonment by various armed groups, which includes a timetable for identifying cantonment sites and making them operational. They may also have questions about sites already identified, as well as security arrangements (such as joint patrols by Malian armed forces and armed groups) and logistical issues. In addition, they may highlight the need for this cantonment process to happen alongside a broader inclusive political negotiation process with the final objective to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate former combatants.
Koenders is also likely to provide an assessment of the security situation in Mali. The latest Secretary-General’s report, issued on 28 March, notes how “the overall security situation deteriorated in northern Mali as a result of the increasing activity of terrorist groups” (S/2014/229). Council members might inquire about the reasons for the recent spate in rocket and improvised explosive device attacks in the north. They are also expected to welcome the recent freeing by French forces of five aid workers kidnapped in Mali in February. (Four of them are national staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross.)
One year after its establishment, MINUSMA still faces considerable challenges in achieving its full operational capacity. The mission’s insufficient medical capability (including medical evacuation enablers) and limited air mobility remain areas of concern. Most of the force seems to have been generated, but only 57 percent of the total personnel (military and civilian) had been deployed as of 18 March. In light of the progressive withdrawal of French forces of Opération Serval (which were down from around 4,000 to 1,600 by the end of February), Council members might ask Koenders to develop further the Secretary-General’s idea to source some of these assets through inter-mission cooperation as a temporary measure. In this respect, there may be questions about how such inter-mission cooperation might affect the current efforts to reconsider the force layout to enhance MINUSMA’s projection along the Mauritanian border and in the Gao and Kidal regions, as the Secretary General stated in his latest report.
Finally, some Council members are likely to echo the 14 April Report of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict in Mali, which highlights grave violations against children committed by parties to the conflict including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Mouvement pour l’Unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO), the MNLA, Ansar Dine, and to a lesser extent the Malian Defense and Security Forces and pro-government militias (S/2014/267).