Dispatches from the Field: Visit to Central Mali and Burkina Faso
Yesterday (22 October), Council members travelled to Sévaré and Mopti in Central Mali and ended their visiting mission in Burkina Faso.
In Sévaré, they visited the headquarters of the joint force of the G5 Sahel and received a briefing from the Force Commander, General Didier Dacko. In his presentation, General Dacko presented the force’s objective to bridge national strategies against the terrorist threat on a regional scale. He presented the timeline for reaching full operational capability by March 2018 and discussed the efforts to operationalise the seven battalions of the 5000-strong force.
Dacko described some of the key difficulties the force faces. In addition to logistical and operational deficiencies and the need for sustainable and long-term financial resources—issues that had been previously discussed during the visiting mission—he acknowledged the challenge of ensuring the cohesion of the force. As an example, G5 Sahel countries have expressed different priorities regarding the sequencing of the force, including on whether to focus on cross-border operations in a first stage and become a quick reaction force that can be projected throughout the Sahel later, or to do both concurrently. While at least one staff officer of every country in the G5 Sahel is currently deployed in the central command in Sévaré, progress in generating and mobilising the different battalions for the force among the G5 Sahel members is uneven. Responding to questions from Council members, General Dacko explained that even though the mission does not currently envision having a civilian component, it is counting on political and legal advisors to ensure compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law. In his 16 October report, the Secretary-General argued that any UN support to the force would warrant the establishment of a robust compliance framework under the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (S/2017/869).
Council members also traveled to the nearby town of Mopti, where they met first with the governor and then with civil society representatives. In these meetings, the governor and the civil society representatives emphasised the need to address the deterioration of the security situation and the limited access to basic services. Furthermore, they expressed high expectations regarding the role that the joint force can play in improving the security situation, even if the force focuses on cross-border operations at this point, rather than on Central Mali.
This is the third time that Council members have visited Central Mali since early 2014. During the February 2014 visiting mission, much of the focus was on the impact of the 2012 crisis and the difficulties in meeting the needs of the high number of internally displaced persons from northern Mali that had arrived in Mopti. By the time the Council visited Mali in March 2016, the security situation had deteriorated significantly, with the emergence of terrorist organisations that were exploiting inter-communal tensions filling the vacuum left by the limited presence of the state and taking advantage of the availability of weapons and resources generated by organised crime. This deteriorating security situation led to the adoption of resolution 2295 in June 2016, which mandated the UN Multidimensional Stabilization Operation in Mali (MINUSMA) to focus in the centre in addition to the north of the country. During this visit, Council members could see first-hand that the security and human rights situation continues to be critical. At the meeting with civil society, at least one representative identified human rights abuses committed by the Malian Security and Defence Forces and the lack of accountability as a factor contributing to the recruitment by terrorist organizations.
From Sévaré, Council members flew to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where they paid homage to the victims of the 13 August 2017 terrorist attack against the Aziz Istanbul Cafe that killed 19 people. In Ouagadougou, they held meetings with the President of Burkina Faso and some members of his Cabinet. In his meeting with Council members, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré addressed the needs of the joint force. He emphasised the importance of having sustainable and long-term resources, and expressed a preference for the establishment of a dedicated support office funded through assessed UN contributions.
In their meeting with Council members, several cabinet ministers highlighted the different manifestations of the security crisis in the country, such as the targeting of schools and the increased frequency of terrorist attacks, including through the use of improvised explosive devices. In this context, they emphasised that this crisis can be addressed by building the capacity of their security forces through better equipment and training, reducing economic inequality, decreasing poverty levels and youth unemployment, and ensuring that the territorial administration (including the provision of social services) reaches remote and border areas. The ministers presented the main elements of a development plan recently adopted by the government, maintaining that the funds spent on security-related measures had increased the budget deficit and could have been used instead to foster development.
Council members are now expected to evaluate the four options for UN support to the joint force recently presented by the Secretary-General (S/2017/869). An important objective of the visiting mission has been precisely to inform the thinking of Council members on this issue, particularly of those that have been reluctant in the past to agree to the provision of this kind of support. On 30 October, a Council ministerial meeting will be chaired by Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs. Secretary-General António Guterres; Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the AU Commission; and the Foreign Minister of Mali, Abdulaye Diop, as rotating President of the G5 Sahel, are expected to brief the Council. The other members of the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger) are also expected to participate at the meeting.