On June 16, Mali called on the UN to withdraw its peacekeeping mission – UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) from the country, stressing its “failure” to respond to security challenges. El Ghassim Wane, the head of the UN mission in Mali, stressed that the UN peacekeeping operations were “nearly impossible” without the consent of the host country. The unexpected demand for the withdrawal of the UN Peacekeepers – MINUSMA raises fears that the chaos along with the Islamic insurgency, may worsen. Furthermore, the withdrawal could potentially pave the way for an increased Russian influence within the country and therefore jeopardise the sustainability of the Algiers Peace Accords. The 2015 agreement ended the protracted conflict between the government of Mali and the Tuareg insurgents.
MINUSMA was set up in 2013 to help stabilise the country after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012 gave rise to a protracted rebellion currently dominated by Jihadist and Islamist groups connected to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. While rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a French-led military operation, they regrouped in the desert and continued launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies.
Despite reaching a force of approximately 15,000 peacekeepers, MINUSMA’s capacity to counter the longstanding Islamist insurgency, which has progressively extended its influence throughout West Africa, has been greatly curtailed. Frustrations about the growing insecurity led to two coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021, and the ruling military government has been increasingly at loggerheads with MINUSMA and other international allies. Besides breaking Mali’s longstanding alliance with former colonial power France and forging an alliance with the Wagner Group, linked to the Kremlin, Ministry of Defense, and Federal Security Service, in 2021, Mali’s military imposed increasingly stringent limitations on MINUSMA’s air and ground operations, significantly hampering MINUSMA’s effectiveness.
In spite of the restrictions, MINUSMA forces managed to hold the line of the northern cities, including Gao and Timbuktu, which are surrounded by militants. Along with providing shelter and medical evacuations for Mali’s under-equipped army and patrolling camps for displaced people, MINUSMA further provided employment and assistance and distributed the development, which provided an important lifeline for Mali’s citizens. Especially concerning the latter, it is unclear what the situation might look like following MINUSMA’ s withdrawal.
The rise of Russian influence
Mali’s military junta has since August 2020 negotiated for approximately 1,000 Russian mercenaries to arrive in Mali to conduct training, close protection, and counterterrorism operations. The intervention of the Wagner Group in Mali has, as in the Central African Republic, replaced partnerships with French and other international partners. In exchange for the protection against prospective coup attempts and other security services, the Wagner group was granted financial and mining concessions, which are estimated at €10m a month. However, the actual concessions could far exceed the aforementioned estimate. Considering the closeness of the two, it is highly likely that Mali’s military junta will want to use Wagner to take over MINUSMA’s activities in the north. It is unclear whether a 1000-strong Wagner force could stand against Islamic militants linked to the Islamic State and al Qaeda. However, it is for certain that without MINUSMA’s 15,000-strong force, it will be increasingly difficult for the military junta to hold off the Islamists. Ultimately, replacing peacekeepers with Wagner mercenaries, who have been accused of numerous human rights abuses against civilians in Ukraine or the Central African Republic, is a disturbing signal for international organisations and, most importantly, the population of Mali.
The collapse of the Algiers Peace Accords
In June 2015, the Malian government, the Platform (a coalition of pro-government armed groups), and the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA – an alliance of Tuareg rebel groups from northern Mali) gathered in Bamako to sign an agreement ending the Tuareg led-rebellion in the north of the country. The mediation team was led by Algeria and involved multiple stakeholders, including the), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union, the United States, and France. The agreement aimed to restore peace in Mali by decentralisation – implementing regionalisation measures, establishing a national army comprising former armed group members who were signatories, and fostering economic growth, especially in the northern region. However, the implementation of the agreement has proven immensely difficult. The Carter Center reported virtually no progress in terms of implementing government provisions. In 2017, 22 per cent of the agreement’s provisions had been enacted, compared to 23 per cent in 2020. Furthermore, none of the agreement’s five pillars have been satisfactorily applied. As the spokesman for the CMA remarks, the withdrawal of the peacekeepers would be premature and might further strengthen the position of the Islamist insurgents. Furthermore, the withdrawal of MINUSMA goes hand in hand with the end of the Algiers Peace Accords, as there will be no guarantor to facilitate the implementation of this treaty. Ultimately, Russia’s grip over Mali will significantly enhance, outlining an unclear future for Mali in terms of peace, security, and stability.
Photo credit: flickr.com/Mission de l’ONU au Mali – UN Mission