Briefing and Consultations on Mali and Security Council Visiting Mission to the Sahel
Tomorrow (29 October), the Security Council will hold its quarterly briefing, followed by consultations, on Mali. Special Representative and head of the UN Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief. In addition, France, Kenya and Niger—the co-leads of the Council’s visiting mission to Mali and Niger, which took place from 23 to 25 October—are expected to provide a briefing on the visit. This afternoon (28 October), the co-leads circulated a draft press statement on the visiting mission, which may be issued following tomorrow’s meeting.
The political transition in Mali is an expected topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. During their visit to Bamako, Council members focused on evaluating the status of the country’s political transition and preparations for elections that are scheduled to take place on 27 February 2022. Since the 24 May coup d’état that ousted the transition’s top civilian leaders and made Colonel Assimi Goïta transitional president, Mali has appeared increasingly unlikely to hold these elections as planned. The Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on Mali, dated 1 October, expresses “great concern” regarding delays in “preparations for the holding of general elections and the completion of the political transition”. During his briefing, Wane may mention challenges to keeping to the electoral calendar as time is running out to implement necessary electoral reforms and legal steps.
The role of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Mali’s political transition is another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. ECOWAS brokered Mali’s political transition last year, and it has continued to insist that the transition authorities comply with the transition’s 18-month timetable and the February date for elections. At a special session in September, ECOWAS decided that it would impose sanctions on those negatively impacting the transition’s completion. An ECOWAS delegation travelled to Mali earlier this month, led by Ghanian President Nana Akufo-Addo, ECOWAS’ current chair, who was accompanied by ECOWAS’ mediator to Mali Goodluck Jonathan and ECOWAS commission president Jean-Claude Kassi Brou. During their visit, the ECOWAS representatives reportedly reiterated the regional bloc’s position that the elections should be held according to the current calendar.
Wane is likely to mention the transitional authorities’ 25 October decision to expel Hamidou Boly, ECOWAS’ special representative in Mali, who was declared a “persona non grata” and given 72 hours to leave the country. A government statement said that Boly’s expulsion was a result of “his actions that are incompatible with his status”—a move reflecting the tensions between Mali’s government and the regional bloc. Malian authorities subsequently arrested Issa Kaou N’Djim, a vice president of Mali’s transitional parliament, after he criticised the decision to expel the ECOWAS representative. An ECOWAS Commission statement yesterday (27 October) described the expulsion as an “extreme measure” and noted that the regional bloc remained committed to supporting Mali’s transition.
Wane may also observe the lack of progress in implementing Mali’s 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement—which has stalled due to the focus on the political transition. He may note, as described in the Secretary-General’s latest report, that the security situation in parts of central Mali has deteriorated significantly, particularly in Niono Cercle in the Ségou region, where violent extremist groups continue to lay siege to villages. Wane is expected to repeat the Secretary-General’s recommendation in a 16 July report to increase MINUSMA’s force level, with the aim of bolstering its capacity to protect civilians in the centre. He is also likely to stress the need for Malian authorities to address the security crisis in the centre by developing a political strategy to protect civilians, reduce intercommunal violence, reinforce the presence of the state, and deliver basic services.
France, Kenya and Niger are expected to present a summary of the Council visiting mission to Mali and Niger at tomorrow’s session. Upon their arrival in Bamako, Council members issued press elements noting the Council’s continued support for Mali since 2012 and saying that they were there “to listen to the transition authorities and determine the best way to support them in their efforts to fully realise this transition”. They also expressed their intention to deliver “clear messages on the need to organise the elections, implement the peace agreement and stabilise the centre of Mali”. These were points that Council members apparently conveyed consistently over the course of their visit.
In Mali, Council members held meetings with Goïta and with transitional Prime Minister Choguel Maïga, who was joined by 11 cabinet ministers. It seems that the Malian authorities indicated that they intend to extend the transition, noting the need to continue reforms and improve security. They reportedly informed Council members that they will hold a national dialogue conference in December to determine the path forward for organising elections.
The Council’s approach to the transition has been to support ECOWAS’ efforts and its positions. Resolution 2584 that renewed MINUSMA’s mandate in June reaffirmed the need to respect the transition timetable and the 27 February 2022 electoral date. It seems that most Council members continue to take this position. At tomorrow’s meeting, members may emphasise the need for the transitional authorities to develop and present a timetable with plans and steps to conduct the elections— a point they have apparently raised in Bamako.
During the visiting mission, members also discussed the Secretary-General’s proposal to reinforce MINUSMA with 2,069 additional uniformed personnel. Last month, Mali objected to the new troops as Council members were beginning to consider the recommendation, contending that the additional peacekeepers would not make a difference without a more robust mandate. During the visit, the transitional authorities apparently questioned MINUSMA’s value since it is not able to fight terrorist groups.
Other meetings in Mali were held with the signatory parties of the peace agreement, civil society, MINUSMA leadership and the UN country team, and representatives of the international mediation to the peace agreement and the follow-up committee on the political transition.
During their visit to Niger, Council members met with Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, other senior government officials, the UN Country Team and representatives of the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S)—which comprises forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—including FC-G5S force commander Major General Oumar Bikimo. The meetings included discussion about the need to increase support to the FC-G5S. In this regard, participants mentioned the Secretary-General’s proposal for a dedicated UN office to provide logistical support to FC-G5S operations, of which France and Niger are strong proponents. The idea remains controversial, however, and the UK and US apparently voiced their objections to establishing the office during the meetings.