Monday, 11th December 2023

Hopes and fears in Mali after call for UN peacekeepers to pull out

Malians appear divided over the military junta's loud call for UN peacekeepers to immediately leave the west African country in the throes of a jihadist insurgency.

United Nations peacekeeping (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

Malians appear divided over the military junta’s loud call for UN peacekeepers to immediately leave the west African country in the throes of a jihadist insurgency.

The foreign minister called Friday for the UN Security Council to withdraw the nearly 15,000 peacekeepers from his country “without delay”, denouncing their “failure” to meet security challenges

The mandate of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) expires on June 30 and plenty of people in the capital Bamako back getting rid of the foreign forces.

“MINUSMA’s presence has served no purpose,” Bamako resident Ladji Diallo told AFP.

“They’ve been here for 10 years with no result. Their arrival even made the situation worse,” he added.

Mali’s military has increasingly imposed operational restrictions on the peacekeepers and also broken a longstanding alliance with former colonial power France.

The landlocked Sahel state has been battling a security crisis since jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in the north in 2012.

The deepening crisis covers not just security but politics, the economy and human rights.

The ruling junta came to power in 2020 and has turned to Russia for political and military assistance. On Sunday it stages a referendum on constitution reform that would strengthen the president’s powers and amnesty previous coup leaders.

At the Security Council Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop rejected the UN secretary-general’s offer to change the mandate, covering soldiers and police.

“MINUSMA seems to have become part of the problem by fuelling community tensions exacerbated by extremely serious allegations which are highly detrimental to peace, reconciliation and national cohesion in Mali,” Diop said.

Mali can take care of its own security, according to the minister.

Mohamed Diallo, another Bamako resident echoed the anti-MINUSMA feeling.

“They have brought no solution,” he said, claiming on the contrary they stoked “problems between Malians”.

“Since they’ve been here for 10 years without results, why not ask them to leave?”

But the popular narrative about restoring sovereignty over the desert nation does not reassure everyone.

In Bamako, Moussa Traore said he did not really oppose MINUSMA’s departure.

But he did voice concerns about the impact it would have, particularly on the large numbers of locals employed by the force.

“If they lose their jobs, it will add to the numbers of those of us who earn nothing and have to manage whatever way we can,” he said.

“There has to be some serious thought given to this decision which worries me.”

The junta’s call for the UN peacekeepers to go followed months of sporadic demonstrations calling for them to leave. Counter-protesters have also taken to the streets to demand MINUSMA stay in Mali.

Security curtain
Despite criticism of MINUSMA, established in 2013 to help stabilise a state threatened with collapse under jihadist threat, the blue helmets offered a security curtain and logistical support in remote areas, including some where the state no longer has control.

“MINUSMA ensure the logistics for towns, it kept the access open and avoided the situation facing places in north Burkina Faso which are under a state of siege,” from jihadists, said Jean Herve Jezequel, head of the Sahel Project for conflict resolution organisation Crisis Group.

At Menaka, in Mali’s northeast, which is under pressure from the Islamic State group, thousands of displaced people have sought safety around the UN base there.

“In many places, the Malian army is cantoned in the MINUSMA base. There’s a risk that the jihadists will take control of these places,” said Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadan, spokesman for a group of political and military movements in the north known as the Cadre strategique permanent or permanent strategic framework.

There are also fears for the future of the key 2015 peace agreement between the government and former rebel groups in the north.

While MINUSMA has not been the main mediator between the two parties, it has played “an important role in implementing this agreement which is already in bad shape,” according to Ramadan.

MINUSMA’s departure also threatens the fragile economies of northern towns, already weakened by the conflict.

“MINUSMA represents hundreds if not thousands of jobs. From an economic point of view, that will leave a hole that nothing can fill at the moment,” Jezequel said.

The peacekeepers fulfil “a major role in development and humanitarian aid. The state has not yet been restored and to a large part it’s MINUSMA that has looked after the people,” said Elmaouloud Ramadan.

But Jezequel noted that the 2022 withdrawal of French troops from Mali saw predictions that the country would collapse with a year. “That’s not what happened,” he said.

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