Mali: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (15 January), the Security Council will have a briefing, followed by consultations, on Mali. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre LaCroix will present the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Mali and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Secretary-General’s bi-annual letter on security challenges, MINUSMA’s performance, and transition planning. In what has become a regular practice following the quarterly briefings on Mali, Council members are likely to issue a press statement prepared by France, the penholder on Mali.
The session is likely to focus on assessing progress in implementing the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and the new adaptation plan for MINUSMA. The meeting takes place following Monday’s (13 January) summit meeting in Pau, France, which focused on the deteriorating security situation in Mali and the wider Sahel, with the presidents of France and countries of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)— Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The Secretary-General’s report is frank in presenting a lack of progress in the implementation of the peace agreement, including in the areas identified by the Council in resolution 2480 when it renewed the mandate of MINUSMA in June 2019. These are: constitutional reform, decentralisation, security sector reform, development of the north, and the full, effective and meaningful participation of women.
LaCroix is expected to provide an update on the Malian “inclusive national dialogue” that ended on 22 December 2019 and could enable reforms envisaged in the peace agreement. The national dialogue concluded by adopting four resolutions to: hold legislative elections before the expiration of the National Assembly’s mandate on 2 May; organise a referendum on the revision of the constitution; redeploy throughout Mali the reconstituted defence and security forces; and review certain provisions of the 2015 peace agreement, within the framework of its article 65 specifying that all signatory parties must agree to any changes to the accord. A series of recommendations from the conference also included engaging in dialogue with Iyad Ag Ghaly and Hamadoun Koufa, the leaders of Mali’s main extremist groups. Most of the political opposition, including the Front pour la sauvegarde de la démocratie, and influential civil society movement Anw Ko Mali Dron, boycotted the dialogue, however. LaCroix may highlight this and other obstacles in moving forward with the peace agreement’s implementation.
Council members may welcome the conclusion of the national dialogue, while reiterating frustrations about the slow implementation of the peace agreement. They could call on the opposition and civil society groups that did not participate in the national dialogue to contribute positively to the resumption of the peace process, echoing the Secretary-General’s call in his report. Members may further express concern that the Agreement Monitoring Committee has yet to meet since the government cancelled its last planned meeting in September 2019.
LaCroix is also likely to provide more details on the MINUSMA adaptation plan, which the UN developed in response to resolution 2480, adding as a second strategic priority for MINUSMA that the mission support the Malian government in addressing the deteriorating situation in central Mali while continuing to devote close attention to the north. The report notes that the added focus on central Mali has placed greater pressure on MINUSMA, as units have redeployed from Mali’s north to the centre. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the adaptation plan would make MINUSMA more agile, mobile and flexible through additional air assets, in particular, as well as other specialised capabilities and infrastructure. “This will not entail an increase in MINUSMA’s authorised strength but will require additional resources,” according to the Secretary-General. LaCroix could call on member states to support the plan and actively contribute to the generation of necessary resources.
Members appear supportive of the proposal, though they are likely to use the consultations to gather more information, including regarding the UN’s capacity to generate additional air assets and possible costs. In the coming months, both the Council and the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee are expected to consider the proposal further.
Related to these issues are developments on the security front. Malian armed forces experienced heavy losses with 193 soldiers killed during the reporting report, up 116% from the previous period. On 9 January, 18 MINUSMA peacekeepers were injured, six seriously, by a rocket attack on a base in the northern town of Tessalit. While the last six weeks have seen a reduction in the larger-scale attacks by terrorist groups that caused heavy casualties to Malian forces in October and November, a series of devasting attacks has been carried out in neighbouring Niger. On 10 January, assailants killed at least 89 Nigerien soldiers in the western town of Chinagodrar near Mali’s border. This follows an attack on 10 December 2019 claimed by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) that killed 71 soldiers in Inates, also in western Niger.
The session is likely to include discussion of yesterday’s heads of state summit in Pau, which Secretary-General António Guterres and LaCroix attended. France organised the summit following the deaths, this past November, of 13 French soldiers in Mali who were part of its regional counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane. The soldiers died when two helicopters crashed during combat operations, in the single deadliest incident for French forces since 1983, according to the French Defence Ministry.
In a joint statement, the presidents of France and the G5 Sahel countries reaffirmed their commitment to fight together against terrorist groups in the region. They announced the establishment of a new political, strategic and operational framework, open to other partners, called “Coalition for the Sahel”, that will combine efforts to combat terrorist groups, strengthen state capacities and encourage development assistance. This includes concentrating their immediate military efforts on the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso border region under the joint command of Operation Barkhane and the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FC-FGS), targeting ISGS as a priority. Members may be interested in how the decisions from Pau could affect MINUSMA, which since resolution 2480 has been authorised to provide “life consumables support” such as food and fuel to all contingents of the FC-FGS, and not just those operating in Mali (provided that the FC-FGS or other third parties deliver this assistance).
New elected Council members this year include Niger, which has been severely affected by Mali’s instability and suffered over the last five weeks the two deadliest attacks in the history of its military. Estonia, which is also a new Council member, recently approved an increase in the military personnel it contributes to Operation Barkhane.