Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Mission Visits Mopti and Timbuktu in Mali
BAMAKO, MOPTI and TIMBUKTU. On their first day in Mali, Council members spent most of the day in Mopti and Timbuktu, following a meeting with Prime Minister Modibo Keita in Bamako. The visit to Timbuktu marked the first visit by Council members to the north of Mali where they were able to assess the security situation and the conditions in which MINUSMA was carrying out its mandate. Council members visited Mopti on their last visit to Mali in February 2014.
Council members had an early morning meeting with Prime Minister Keita in the Primature where they highlighted the importance of accelerating the implementation of the June 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. Members stressed the need to advance political and institutional issues that can provide concrete peace dividends to the population, such as national reconciliation and decentralisation, as well as the need for progress in the security provisions provided for by the agreement, such as cantonment, the deployment of joint patrols and steps towards disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed combatants. Council members stressed that urgently addressing the grievances and frustrations of different communities that are not seeing the impact of the political process in their daily lives, including youth at risk of being recruited by violent groups, is essential to garnering popular support for the political process.
They also raised the importance of ensuring the coherence of the follow-up mechanisms for the implementation of the Agreement, along with other initiatives such as the government’s recently appointed National Commission for the Coordination of the Implementation of the Peace Agreement, and the intercommunal and intra-communal dialogue process among armed groups that started in Anefis in September 2015. In response, Prime Minister Keita expressed the government’s commitment to the full implementation of the Agreement.
In Mopti, Council members discussed the security situation with the regional authorities, who stressed the security challenges in the region and the increasing reach of terrorist groups and widespread banditry. Council members were also briefed by the head of MINUSMA’s regional office in Mopti, Marc Spurling, who highlighted the need to match and adapt MINUSMA’s mandate to the needs currently identified on the ground. Council members who had been on the last visit in February 2014 were able to compare the situation today with a year ago. Mopti has often been overlooked in the negotiations and implementation of the Agreement (the prioritised regions are Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao in the north), but the security situation has deteriorated and Council members heard that MINUSMA needs to be more mobile and have greater presence in order to effectively protect civilians from terrorist attacks, as well as inter- and intra-community violence and crime. Spurling noted that the mission’s military personnel were largely focused on force protection and suggested that the mandate needs to be further prioritised, or its troop ceiling augmented, in order to ensure that it can be effectively fulfilled, particularly as regards the protection of civilians. Council members are likely to find this information useful as the Secretariat is expected to conduct a strategic review of MINUSMA from 13-20 March, ahead of the renewal of the mission’s mandate in June.
Council members were briefed on the potential use of data collection from the innovative All Source Information Fusion Unit within MINUSMA, but were also made aware of its limitations. Given the limited extent of state authority there are few local interlocutors the mission can coordinate with. An underlying theme in today’s briefings and discussions was the role that organised crime and illicit trafficking of all sorts play in disrupting the security situation north of Bamako.
The highlight of today’s programme was the Council delegation’s visit to Timbuktu, a town that was occupied by jihadist groups between April 2012 and January 2013. In Timbuktu, Council members discussed the security situation with the region’s governor as well as several mayors. Regional authorities stressed the challenges associated with youth radicalisation and banditry, and advocated an acceleration in the implementation of the Agreement, expressing frustration with the limited extent of state authority in the north and the restriction to access rural areas in the region. Council members also met with the Grand Imam de Timbuktu, as well as other religious leaders, and discussed the history of tolerance of the city, the UN’s role in protecting its cultural heritage, and the importance of social cohesion in the region, including as regards the youth.
Briefing Council members in Timbuktu’s MINUSMA camp, the head of the regional office, Riccardo Maia, expressed the need to equip the mission to address the current situation, and to realign the field presence of the mission to the political environment. He asked Council members to allow for flexibility in the allocation of resources in a context in which the mission has to react rapidly to a changing context in order to maintain its relevance.