Mali: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (11 January), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Mali and biannual letter on the operations, performance and implementation of the integrated strategic framework for Mali of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), both of which are dated 4 January. Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane and a youth civil society representative will brief. Council members may issue press elements after the consultations.
Much of the session is likely to focus on Mali’s political transition following coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021. The Council was last briefed on Mali on 29 October 2021, following its visiting mission to Mali and Niger. Subsequently, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed assets freezes and travel bans on 7 November 2021 on some 150 individuals from the transitional authorities over delays in preparing for presidential and legislative elections that had been scheduled for 27 February. The transitional authorities have cited the insecurity in many parts of the country and the need to continue reforms as reasons for the delays. The transitional President and leader of both coups, Assimi Goïta, and Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop were excluded from the sanctions.
Wane may report that the transitional authorities convened, with some delay, a national dialogue, or “Assises nationales de la refondation”, on political and institutional reforms, in which participants discussed a new electoral schedule. Despite the opposition coalition, the Cadre d’échange des partis et regroupements de partis politiques pour une transition réussie au Mali, saying it would not participate, the national dialogue began on 11 December 2021 at the local and regional levels, and on 27 December 2021 at the national level, concluding on 30 December 2021. According to the organisers, more than 80,000 Malians participated, in 725 out of 759 municipalities, 51 out of 60 circles and in all regions except for Kidal and Menaka. At its conclusion, the conference recommended extending Mali’s transition period from the original 18 months by anywhere from six months to five years, starting from 1 January. During a 31 December 2021 meeting between Foreign Minister Diop and the current chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, Diop indicated that a maximum five-year transition period had been retained.
Yesterday (9 January), ECOWAS met at the level of heads of state and government for a special summit on Mali in Accra, which Wane attended. In a communiqué issued following the summit, ECOWAS said that it “deeply deplores the obvious and blatant lack of political will from the Transition Authorities” and that the authorities’ proposed timeline for elections by the end of December 2026 would “imply a period of transition of six-and-half years”, which it described as “totally unacceptable”. ECOWAS announced additional sanctions on Mali effective immediately. These are: closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Mali; suspension of all commercial transactions between ECOWAS countries and Mali, excluding essential consumer goods, pharmaceutical products, medical supplies and equipment (including to address the COVID-19 pandemic), petroleum products and electricity; the freezing of assets of the Republic of Mali in ECOWAS central and commercial banks; and Mali’s suspension from all financial assistance from ECOWAS financing institutions. According to the communiqué, the sanctions would gradually be lifted only after an acceptable and agreed timeline is finalised and satisfactory progress is realised. ECOWAS also announced the immediate activation of the ECOWAS Standby Force, “to be ready for any eventuality”.
In response, Mali condemned the “illegal” and “inhumane” sanctions of ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union—which also met yesterday at the level of heads of state and government in Accra. Mali announced that it was recalling its ambassadors serving in ECOWAS countries and closing its land and air borders with the concerned states.
Since the August 2020 coup d’état, the Council has largely sought to support ECOWAS’ leading role and its position on keeping to the 18-month transition timeline. Resolutions 2584 and 2590, which renewed MINUSMA’s mandate and the Mali sanctions regime in June and August 2021, respectively, reaffirmed the need to respect the transition period and the 27 February electoral date. At tomorrow’s session, Wane may encourage the Council to continue supporting ECOWAS. Some members may express support for ECOWAS’ latest decisions, which Ghana outlined, on behalf of the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya), during this morning’s meeting on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). On the other hand, Russia, and to an extent, China have expressed greater sympathy with the Malian authorities in recent months over the challenges of holding elections because of the security situation and the risk of further political instability if elections take place prematurely.
The deteriorating security situation is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report observes that attacks by violent extremist and terrorist groups, as well as intercommunal violence, continue to shift from central Mali to the south. Another trend is an increase in improvised explosive device (IED) incidents. Fifty-three incidents involving IEDs were recorded since October 2021, encompassing the highest monthly total since MINUSMA’s establishment; 42 of these were attacks targeting MINUSMA, resulting in 16 peacekeepers injured and nine killed. An 8 December attack in the Bandiagara region killed seven Togolese peacekeepers and critically injured three when their vehicle struck an IED. Moreover, as part of France’s plan to reduce the size of Operation Barkhane, its Sahel-wide counter-terrorism force, to some 2,500 to 3,000 personnel, France concluded towards the end of last year its withdrawal from northern Mali bases in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu.
Wane is expected to reiterate the need to increase MINUSMA’s uniformed personnel and to address shortfalls in capabilities, such as in medium utility and armed helicopters. In his report, the Secretary-General reiterated his call to increase the mission’s force ceiling by 2,069 personnel to improve MINUSMA’s ability to protect civilians in central Mali. To be effective, the Secretary-General has also stressed that the troop increase be accompanied by Malian authorities’ developing a political strategy to stabilise the country’s centre. Council discussions on the Secretary-General’s recommendation had halted last September amid objections raised by Mali, which contended that additional peacekeepers would not make a difference without a more robust mandate for MINUSMA. In a 15 December 2021 letter, however, Mali informed Council members that it had agreed to MINUSMA being reinforced with 1,000 additional Chadian peacekeepers. At this point, the Council has not resumed negotiations on authorising more peacekeepers.
Tensions over reports that the Russian private security company Wagner Group has deployed to Mali are likely to be visible at tomorrow’s meeting. Fourteen European countries—including Council members France, Norway and the UK—issued a joint statement on 23 December 2021 condemning the deployment, which it said had been aided by material support from the Russian government. In its 9 January communiqué, ECOWAS stated that it remains deeply concerned, despite the transitional authorities’ denial, by consistent reports on the presence of private security agents in Mali. At today’s meeting on UNOWAS, Russia said that Mali should “be able to rely on those partners that it considered most appropriate”, while appearing to suggest that allegations pertaining to the Russian government are false.
Among other issues, Wane may also note that little progress has been made during the reporting period in implementing the Mali 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between the government and signatory groups, as stakeholders’ attention has been focused on the political transition.