Author (s): EPON (Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network) research team
Affiliated organization: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: April 2019
Effectiveness explained in dimensions
MINUSMA’s response to the asymmetric threats it faces has often been bunkerisation in ‘supercamps’ and in military bases and allocating significant resources to convoy protection. As civilian staff members rely on military escorts to conduct their field missions, the Mission’s ability to reach out to local populations in a people-centred approach has been constrained. In spite of this, MINUSMA is trying to have an impact on the lives of local populations. The Mission tries to engage with a broad range of civilian stakeholders, mainly at the operational level and through quick impact projects, stabilisation and recovery projects, etc.
However, since the majority of its mandated tasks are ‘in support of the Malian government’, it is the Malian state that in many respects sets the agenda and not the ordinary Malian citizenry. This is a challenge because MINUSMA’s principal interlocutor does not always act in the interests of ‘the people’. More importantly, the state, the government, and its agents are viewed as illegitimate and outright predatory in some localities in central and northern Mali. This limits the Mission’s broad inclusivity at the strategic level.
Primacy of Politics
For MINUSMA to prioritise a political solution in all its activities, its engagement would have to move beyond its current counterparts, the government, and the Compliant Armed Groups. Giving way to the growing domestic opinion, which supports the Malian government entering into dialogue with key jihadist leaders, would need to be seriously considered. With regard to the Centre, the Malian government would have to lead a political process that the Mission can support.
MINUSMA would need to deal with not only the North or even the central regions, but with the entire country and, to some extent, the Sahel region as a whole. It would also need to engage beyond the current themes – including issues such as exclusion, criminality, and the governance aspects of natural resources and climate-related challenges. This would, however, risk overstretch.
National and Local Ownership
Although not always supported by their rhetoric, the current parties to the Algiers Agreement have by and large taken ownership over the work of MINUSMA. To some extent, they depend on the Mission. However, that does not mean they invest in it. This is also evident in the limited progress made so far. Rather, parties, like the government, often use the Mission as a scapegoat for their own failure to deliver.
Moreover, related to the legitimacy of the Mission described above, local ownership of MINUSMA’s efforts is limited by a lack of understanding of or dissatisfaction with the Mission’s mandate among large sections of the Malian population. In order to strengthen national and local ownership, the discourse on a political settlement would need to be broadened, and the parties would need to explain to their population what agreement they have signed.
Coherence and Partnerships
Apart from MINUSMA, Mali hosts a range of multilateral peace operations and interventions: the AU Mission for Mali and the Sahel (MISAHEL), the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali), the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali), Operation Barkhane, and the JF-G5S. Although this has been described in the past as a ‘security traffic jam’, most of the time, these missions are complementary, as there is enough to be done.
The main challenge in terms of coherence and partnerships is that the different operations each focus mainly on their own areas or niches, and do not coordinate their efforts enough to speak of an international ‘strategy’. Coordination means more than having coordination meetings. As such, the missions operate as islands in the sea of the Malian conflict, rarely conflicting with one another, but also rarely working together in an international joint strategy
STRATEGIC POLICY DILEMMAS
Currently, MINUSMA finds itself at a crossroads. It needs time to succeed, but this is also valuable time Mali does not have at this moment. In the meantime, civilians suffer from attacks, while the US particularly is losing interest in supporting a costly UN peace operation that is not able to deliver quick results. MINUSMA might regain momentum for the stabilisation of Mali, and the broader Sahel region, if strategic choices are made on a number of policy dilemmas. On the other hand, if the Security Council makes budget-driven choices, the results may be disastrous.
To decentralise the Mission, or not?
Although originally large parts of MINUSMA’s civilian component were meant to be deployed in the field, logistical and security reasons have prevented this from happening. Currently, large parts of the civilian component are concentrated in Bamako. This has as an advantage easier communication with the central government, and it facilitates the institution-building side of the mandate.
However, the Mission might not be able to completely decentralise, as that could exacerbate negative public perceptions in the South of the Mission being partial, in favour of rebel forces, and unwilling to deal with terrorism.
To concentrate on the North, the Centre, or both?
Originally, MINUSMA was set up to deal with the conflict in the North. Over the past two years, the conflict has intensified in the central regions of the country. For several reasons, the Centre requires attention. First and foremost, the protection of civilians requires the Mission to deploy there actively. MINUSMA could conduct patrols in rural hardto-access areas where civilians are in dire need of security guarantees, and more could be done to ensure the FAMA can deploy a more permanent but non-predatory presence in these areas that are difficult to access.
MINUSMA could conduct patrols in rural hardto-access areas where civilians are in dire need of security guarantees
On the other hand, attention to the central regions requires resources. For security reasons, troop-contributing countries hesitate to send their troops to the Centre. Moreover, given the current budgetary and resource limitations, if more attention is paid to the central regions, gains made in the North may be lost. Although some progress has been made in the North, it is likely too early to drawdown.
To link with the government, or not?
MINUSMA’s current strategic aim is to restore and extend state authority throughout Mali’s national territory. This task, like MINUSMA’s supportive role for the JF-G5S, is at times at odds with the Mission’s good offices, confidence-building and facilitation tasks that are required to support dialogue, reconciliation and social cohesion within the context of the implementation of the Algiers Agreement. The latter tasks require impartiality, which is lost by linking the Mission with the current government.
The challenge is that support for the national government and its security sector is required to overcome one structural cause of instability in Mali – state weakness. However, in the absence of sufficient human rights due diligence, legitimacy and inclusivity, it may further contribute to another cause of instability.
To support counter-terrorism and stabilisation, or go back to basics?
The Malian government and, by proxy, international counter-terrorism support, insufficiently distinguishes between jihadism and the legitimate concerns of sections of the Malian population. These grievances are, in turn, exploited by ‘terrorist’ actors. This has amplified inter-communal violence, further radicalised parts of the population, and led to mass internal displacement. The complex Malian situation places the Mission in difficult situations in which the choices that have to be made are not binary or clear cut. At the same time, returning to political tasks alone may risk further destabilisation of the country and potentially the whole Sahel-West African region.
STRATEGIC POLICY OPTIONS
As a result of these strategic policy dilemmas, a number of strategic policy options are conceivable. The Brahimi report states that the Secretariat ‘must tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear.’ This responsibility extends to analysts. The section below endeavours to do this.
- Drawdown and possible continuation as a political mission
Drawing down the military force and concentrating on the civilian component appears to be the most cost-effective solution in the short run. However, the risk and serious consequences of the North breaking away, or of a collapse of the Malian state affecting the broader region, should be enough to drop this option. In the absence of its military presence, MINUSMA is probably less able to continue its military and civilian confidence-building role, particularly in the North, and with regard to the peace process. Moreover, a military drawdown would signal a lack of interest from the international community in the developments in Mali, would give momentum to those forces that want to continue the conflict, and would undo the current peace dividend.
- Continuation as a peacekeeping and stabilisation operation
This is the most likely option, and there are several variations of this scenario, depending on the regional focus of the Mission, the resources available, and the extent of decentralisation of the civilian component.
Focus on the North
The Mission might be considered unsuitable to deal with the local and diversified problems of the Centre, and could focus on its original mandate of supporting the political process and stability in the North. Resources would not be increased, and attention would not be further shifted to the central regions. This option risks effectively allowing the Centre of the country to collapse, which in turn might lead to the breakup of the country, as the connection between the South and the North would be lost.
Focus on the Centre
Considering the above-mentioned risks for the territorial integrity of Mali, the serious need for the protection of civilians in the central regions, and the likelihood that the available resources will remain the same, a strategic refocus for MINUSMA might be to deal with the most urgent and current issues. Shifting existing military and civilian capabilities south would enhance MINUSMA’s outreach and representation, and might prevent the central regions from collapsing. In the short term, it would have to focus on the protection of civilians and advocate strongly for the disarmament of ethnic militias operating in central Mali.
Having a riverine and a designated helicopter unit could enable the protection of civilians in areas that are currently inaccessible. MINUSMA could deploy a Quick Reaction Force to hotspots where inter-communal violence is rife, such as in Bankass or Koro. However, to have the most impact, patrols must be conducted in rural areas affected by insecurity. At the same time, solutions need to be found to ensure stability in the long term.
Furthermore, political engagement could continue on the peace process in the North, and a military presence in the hotspots Kidal and Menaka is advisable. However, in the absence of the Mission’s confidence-building presence in other areas in the North, the stability of the whole region might be at further risk and, depending on the level of success in the central regions, it might eventually break away again.
Struggling on with the current resources and focusing on the Centre and the North
The deployment would stay grosso modo (i.e., relatively) the same, with some redeployments within existing resources from the North to the Centre. For example, MINUSMA could reconfigure its troops for a short-to-medium time period so that a fully-fledged military and UNPOL contingent can be deployed to hotspots in central Mali, with the possibility of functioning as an inter-positional force when inter-communal conflicts flare up. This might not directly further destabilise the situation in the North, but it may not be enough to help stabilise the Centre. Most likely, it would continue Mali’s slow process of destabilisation, but prevent the immediate collapse or break-up of the country.
Expansion and focus on the Centre and the North
Expanding the Mission to the central regions without affecting the current deployment in the North and, therefore, not risking the stability of that region, would require the Mission to have additional resources for the central regions (as described above). This would clearly be the best option for Mali. However, in addition to the higher costs, which would be a challenge for the UN under the current budget constraints, this would also allow certain parties to dodge their responsibilities further, as the UN would be taking care of them.
- Readjustment to a counter-terrorism mission
Although this is a less likely and more a problematic option, it is clearly the preferred option of the Malian government, many Malian stakeholders, particularly in Bamako, and key regional players. Currently, MINUSMA is only meant to provide logistical support to the JF-G5S, but the military counter-terrorism efforts of JF-G5S on the Malian side of the border could be integrated into MINUSMA. In fact, the Malian government and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initially hoped that, upon deployment, MINUSMA would continue the counter-terrorism role of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA).
Since MINUSMA as a whole is unlikely to receive such a counter-terrorism mandate, the JF-G5S could be deployed as a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) comparable to that of MONUSCO, as was originally foreseen by ECOWAS. Alternatively, a model could be envisioned, like the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), in which MINUSMA is replaced with a regional counter-terrorism force that is supported by UN logistics.
The benefits of both models are that the military counter-terrorism strategy would be better integrated into the international approach for the region and it would be better resourced, more accountable in terms of human rights obligations, and more legitimate as it would be part of the UN system, among other benefits. Two major disadvantages are that the JFG5S in Mali is essentially the FAMA, which is not yet reconstituted, and Mali’s problem is mainly a breakdown of its social contract, which cannot be solved militarily.
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