Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Bamako
For the last one and a half days, Council members have held several meetings in Bamako focusing on the situation in Mali, the role of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and the operationalisation of the G5-Sahel Force. For the first time in a visiting mission, Council members are joined by the Chair of the EU Political and Security Committee, Sofie From-Emmesberger. Saturday’s (23 March) discussions are expected to feed into a ministerial-level Council meeting on Mali next Friday (29 March) that will be chaired by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and feature a briefing by Secretary-General António Guterres and the participation of Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga.
The situation in Mali and the role of MINUSMA
Upon landing in Mali on Friday afternoon (22 March), Council members were briefed by Special Representative of the Secretary-General Mahamat Saleh Annadif and other members of MINUSMA’s senior leadership. Annadif said that the country is at a critical juncture, as local and legislative elections are expected later this year, and significant institutional reforms are to be undertaken. He emphasised the important role played by the mission, given the limited presence of state authority in some areas of the country. Regarding implementation the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, he highlighted how the provisions in operative paragraph 4 of resolution 2423, which requested MINUSMA to assess progress on several priority areas, had been helpful in putting pressure on the parties to accelerate efforts.
Council members arrived to Mali recognising some of the progress achieved over the last six months, as reflected in the 5 March report of the Secretary-General (S/2019/207), but expressing significant impatience over the persistent delays in the full implementation of key provisions of the agreement and highlighting the need to move from words to deeds.
To discuss these issues, Council members held meetings with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and members of his Cabinet, including Prime Minister Maïga. While acknowledging delays, government representatives reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the agreement and described efforts to carry out reforms. One of the main reform efforts is revising the 1992 Constitution, which was foreseen in the agreement. The government has initiated a process aiming to review the constitution by June, and for this, has established two mechanisms to push the process forward: a committee of experts on constitutional reform and a national consultative framework.
However, this process has been met with resistance from the political opposition. While Council members expressed support for an inclusive constitutional reform process in their meetings, opposition members told them that these efforts cannot be rushed, even though they acknowledged that there is a need to accelerate reforms. Opposition members further warned against a process that is not consultative enough and takes place in a context of economic, social and political crisis.
In addition to the matter of constitutional reform, Council members have identified two other key priorities where progress is needed: the reconstitution and redeployment of the Malian Defence and Security Forces (MDSF) in northern regions (including former members of armed groups), and the creation of a development zone for the north. Furthermore, Council members have urged the parties to develop a binding action plan to achieve these goals with concrete and realistic priorities and a timeline. These messages were echoed in a meeting with the Comité de Suivi de l’Accord, the main follow-up mechanism to the agreement, which includes representatives of the government and the Platform and Coordination coalitions of armed groups. Some Council members also emphasised the importance of providing basic services in areas where the absence of state authority requires the rebuilding of a social contract.
There were three main topics presented in a meeting with civil society representatives. A first topic of discussion was the impact of the Malian crisis on women and on children, including the challenges of impunity for sexual and gender-based violence and of dealing with child soldiers. Women’s participation in the implementation of the peace agreement remains limited, notably in the composition of the interim authorities in the five northern regions and in the Comité de Suivi de l’Accord. Council members raised this issue in several meetings throughout Saturday (23 March). Some also raised the difficulties of education in the country, which has been interrupted in some regions since the outbreak of conflict in 2012 and in other areas by ongoing protests and strikes.
A second topic of discussion in the meeting with civil society, addressed at length, was the situation in the centre of Mali, including the impact of operations of different actors, including jihadist groups and other armed groups, on the lives of civilians, as well as the exploitation of inter-communal tensions by these groups. Earlier the same day (23 March), more than one hundred Fulani civilians, including women and children, were killed in the village of Ogossagou in central Mali, reportedly by Dogon armed elements.
A third issue civil society representatives highlighted was the impact of climate change as a multiplier of conflict, particularly its impact on the decreasing availability of resources, successive waves of displacement and rising ethnic tensions. Several Council members noted how these issues are also priorities for the Council, including at the thematic level.
Council members, who will consider the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate in June, also discussed the role of the mission with different stakeholders. Responding to budgetary concerns ahead of the mandate renewal, a government representative suggested that Council members also consider the cost in instability and human lives if MINUSMA were not there.
The importance of coordination, exchange of information and, in some cases, support among the different military and security presences deployed in Mali was discussed in a meeting with Opération Barkhane, the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S), MINUSMA, the EU Training Mission and the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali). Even though all of these missions operate in Mali, their mandates are distinct; their representatives emphasised their cooperation and complementarity. The EU missions are non-executive and rely mostly on training, advice and capacity development of Malian counterparts. Barkhane conducts targeted counter-terrorism operations to decrease the level of the threat so that it can be addressed by the Malian Defence and Security Forces (MDSF). The FC-G5S is currently only operating in border areas (fuseaux). MINUSMA does not conduct counter-terrorism operations, but provides support, and coordinates with some of the other security presences, given its capabilities and the fact that it is the only force with a significant presence throughout the country.
Council members participated in the laying of wreaths at MINUSMA’s headquarters in memory of the 195 MINUSMA peacekeepers who have fallen in the line of duty since 2013. Among them, 122 have died as a result of malicious acts, 16 since the beginning of the year.
The FC-G5S Force Commander General, Hanana Ould Sidi, Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel, Maman Sidiko, and the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso and Mali briefed Council members on efforts to operationalise the joint force. The FC-G5S Force Commander described how three operations were conducted at the beginning of 2019 despite delays stemming from the attack against the headquarters in Sévaré in June 2018. The discussion also addressed the territorial constraints of the support that MINUSMA can provide to the joint force under resolution 2391 of 8 December 2017. Given the terms of the resolution, support can only be provided to forces when operating on Malian territory in the framework of the joint force. Thus, only two of the force’s seven battalions (that is, those from Mali) can benefit from this support.
The sustainability of the force’s financing was also raised. While Council members have expressed their willingness to discuss international support to the joint force after its full operationalisation and in parallel with its first operational results, they remain divided on this issue. Several Council members requested information about the implementation of the joint force’s human rights compliance framework, which is being developed with the support of OHCHR and other partners. There will be a high-level meeting in New York on the FC-G5S on 28 March, with further discussions on issues related to the force expected in the Council in May.
Among the elements highlighted when discussing the regional dimension of the security crisis was the increased reach of terrorist organisations beyond the Sahel and into coastal West Africa. This dynamic, as well as the marked deterioration of the security situation in Burkina Faso since the last Council visit there in October 2017, is expected to be high on the agenda during the Council’s meetings in Ouagadougou today.