Africa: Will Mali Cope Without UN Peacekeepers?

MINUSMA peacekeepers on patrol in Niafounké in Mali.
31 October 2023

Cape Town — Peacekeeping operations have played a crucial role in stabilising fragile situations across Africa for more than 60 years. United Nations (UN)-led missions in Africa and about 27 African-led peace support operations since 2000 incurred billions of dollars annually and cost thousands of peacekeepers' lives. Now Somalia, Mali and the DR Congo face significant security vacuums, which will undermine safety and worsen humanitarian conditions, the Institute for Security Studies reports.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, which for many years was described as the deadliest place to serve as a UN "blue helmet", is due to draw down fully by December 31, in accordance with its Security Council mandate. Close to 13,000 uniformed personnel will be repatriated and civilian staff will leave while equipment is relocated to other missions or sent back to the countries which supplied items such as vehicles.

There are concerns that the departure of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) will be affected by heightened tensions and an increasing armed presence in Northern Mali. The UN said its personnel and assets will not be able to travel safely, particularly during the air operations for protection.

As the concern over an escalating fighting in Azawad in northern Mali grows, Mali's Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said the government does not foresee any extension of this deadline.

Radio France international reported that since late August, rival armed groups were seeking to seize territory while the UN mission focuses on its withdrawal. The junta in power in Bamako responded by sending an influx of troops there. The departure of MINUSMA by the end of 2023 is part of an ongoing security plan launched by the military junta, which seized power in 2020. It also said that in northern Mali, also known by Tuaregs as Azawad, fighting increased between groups who left the peace process with Bamako and the junta's troops. The jihadist Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which is affiliated to Al-Qaeda, has also stepped up attacks on Malian army posts.

This leads to questions about the timing of the withdrawal - combined with the departure of the French, arrival of the Russian Wagner group, and now the UN withdrawal.

And it could be viewed as the first test for the Alliance of Sahel States, formed as a mutual defence pact by Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in September 2023.

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