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The UN in Africa: MINUSMA has failed. So did Mali

  Nithyashree RB

On 30 June, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to terminate the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and end its mandate. According to the resolution drafted by the French government, MINUSMA is to continue responding to violence, safeguarding civilians, and providing humanitarian assistance until 30 September 2023. Further, MINUSMA will limit its operations providing security to UN personnel and infrastructure until 30 December 2023, when its mandate will completely cease. MINUSMA’s withdrawal from Mali is to begin on 1 January 2024.
Permanent Representative of Mali to the UN, Issa Konfourou, commented: “The Mission has not achieved its fundamental objective of supporting the Government’s efforts to secure the country.” Konfourou welcomed the UNSC decision and acknowledged MINUSMA providing humanitarian and social assistance. He assured cooperation with the UN during the withdrawal process and ensured that Mali would implement the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation 2015.
Amidst the voting, representatives raised concerns over the role of the Wagner Group and the impact of the termination of MINUSMA on the Malians. Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN, Barbara Woodward said: “We do not believe that partnership with the Wagner Group will deliver long-term stability or security for the Malian people.” Acting Deputy Representative to the UN, Jeffrey DeLaurentis stated: “While we deeply regret the transition government’s decision to abandon MINUSMA and the harm this will bring to the Malian people, we voted in favour of this resolution as we are ultimately satisfied with the drawdown plan this Council has just adopted. We call on all signatory parties to continue their cooperation and avoid any actions that would jeopardize the ceasefire.”
A profile on MINUSMA
On 25 April 2013, MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) was established by the UN Security Council. On 1 July 2013, MINUSMA took over from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). MINUSMA was adopted on 25 June 2014 and the UN Office in Mali (UNOM) was included under it. 

The mission aimed at providing security, stability, and civilian protection, supporting political dialogue, and reconciliation, and ensuring human rights promotion amid rising insurgent and jihadist movements in Mali. 

Since 2019, the insurgency in the region has exacerbated significantly in Central Mali. MINUSMA, already understaffed, made its operation difficult once Central Mali was mandated under it. On 29 June 2022, MINUSMA’s mandate was renewed and was extended for one more year. The mission is the largest, with over 17,000 personnel deployed as of February 2023. Chad is the top military contributor, and Senegal is the top police contributor. The mission has lost 303 personnel, making it the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission.

MINUSMA’s termination: Three reasons why
1. Rising anti-West sentiments
Following the withdrawal of the French government’s Operation Barkhane in 2022, anti-West sentiments demanding non-intervention by the West are rising. For the Malians, deploying French and other European troops is seen as a colonial occupation. Following the coup of 2021, the Malian military’s relationship with France was strained and the French troops withdrew stating the lack of cooperation by the government. The call for the termination of the mission was based on the same ground along with its failure to achieve stability and peace.

2. Mali’s accussations
Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop accused MINUSMA of deepening internal divisions and conflicts and called for withdrawal for its failure to contain the militants. Diop added that there exists distrust towards the mission. He commented: “MINUSMA seems to have become part of the problem by fueling community tensions exacerbated by extremely serious allegations which are highly detrimental to peace, reconciliation and national cohesion in Mali.”
3. Role of Russian mercenaries 
US National Security spokesperson John Kirby asserted that the Wagner Group was responsible for the Malian government's decision to push MINUSMA out. Kirby commented: "We know that senior Malian officials worked directly with Prigozhin employees to inform the UN Secretary-General that Mali had revoked consent for the MINUSMA mission." The condemnation of the Wagner Group's involvement in Mali is increasing. Since 2022, the Russian mercenary has been operating in Mali, taking hold of the vacuum left by the French.
MINUSMA and Mali: Two Takeaways
First the MINUSMA’s failure. According to MINUSMA’s renewed mandate, its priority is “to support the implementation of both the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation 2015 in Mali and the full realization of the political transition.” Regardless of the realization of the transitional government under Colonel Assimi Goita, the 2015 peace agreement between the actors has not been achieved. Crucially, stability has not been established. Despite having significant achievements, MINUSMA was unable to contain the spread of conflict from Northern to Central Mali. The mission was understaffed despite its strong financial reserve. The increase in civilian deaths and food insecurity exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis and MINUSMA was unable to prevent it.    
The termination of the mission indicates the limitations of the UN. The lack of cooperation of the actors with the UN obstructs the peacekeeping missions from fully providing their services. Regardless of offering civilian protection, peacekeeping missions do not project deterrence, and lack of intelligence from host governments, slows them down, making them irrelevant. In the case of MINUSMA, it lacked readily available military resources, unlike the Wagner Group.
Second, role of Mali. The failure of MINUSMA cannot be solely attributed to the mission. The MINUSMA mandate 2022 vividly states: “The Malian authorities have the primary responsibility to protect civilians in Mali.” The lack of cooperation from the Malian government and its instability is also a significant cause. As a consequence of the military takeover in 2021, dwindled collaboration between the government and MINUSMA limited its operations. For instance, the Malian military government demanded authorization for each flight of MINUSMA which slowed ensuring security and humanitarian assistance. The Malian Defense and Security Forces (MSDF) sometimes denied access to conflict zones requiring immediate assistance.
Following the back-to-back coups, the Malian government’s relationship with the G5 Sahel and the ECOWAS deteriorated. Several countries held back humanitarian assistance. The partnership with the Wagner Group resulted in several countries including the UK, and Germany pulling out their troops from MINUSMA. The arrest of 49 personnel from Cote d’Ivoire by the Malian government, made the country pull out its troops.
The Malian government is ill-equipped to face the humanitarian crisis. MINUSMA was responsible for supplying aid across the country. The mission monitored and reported human rights violations. Termination of the mission is most likely to increase human rights violations as there is no more accountability for the government. Amid growing internal clashes, and the deployment of the Wagner Group, pushing out MINUSMA puts the Malians at a greater humanitarian risk.

About the author

Nithyashree RB is a Postgraduate Scholar at Stella Maris College, Chennai.

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