Tag Archives: UN

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni : Mali Song of the Week

At the beginning of the year we pointed out that some hold the view that China is on a “collision course” with radical Islamic militants in both the Middle-East and across North Africa. This analysis emerged in the aftermath of the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in November last year where around 170 hostages were taken by the militants and 19 were killed in a mass shooting – among them prominent Chinese officials. Jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun has since claimed responsibility for the assault which it carried out in co-operation with al-Qaeda. Unsure how China would deal with what could be interpreted as a targeted attack on their ambitious plans in Africa, the world speculated on how they would respond. It appears that a slow, shaky collision has begun. China has steadily built up its UN peacekeeping contingent in Mali since the attack and in December passed its first piece of ‘counter-terrorism’ legislation allowing that allows its military to venture overseas on counter-terrorism operations. With violence in Mali spreading, the conflict in the north of the country has now taken the life of its first Chinese peacekeeper and injured five others, two of them seriously. Ansar Dine has claimed responsibility for this particular attack.

So why is China getting involved in the first place? Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has spoken publicly about his view that China is both a positive force for peace and development in his home country. It is generally assumed you cannot have one without the other and therefore the argument usually follows that, even when looked at cynically, China has simply positioned its troops in Mali to better secure its investments there. Now, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a very good way to kick-start economic recovery and development so there is every chance that this arrangement can be just as beneficial for Mali as it is for resource-thirsty China. However there are no guarantees that the benefits of any infrastructural, commercial or industrial investments will trickle down to the local population. When social, political and environmental consequences are factored in this kind of arrangement can easily become highly detrimental to the host population.

Surely all foreign investors – not just the Chinese – have any interest in bringing peace to Mali? Well its appears that the powers that be have found a way to make the risk profitable. Not wanting to get into lengthy detail about the ins and outs of investing in Mali, one could assume that the presence of the war in the country would be enough to most people off. Despite this and the proliferation of the conflict throughout Mali over the past year or so a $67 million investment in a gold mine was made this week giving the project in Yanfolia near the Guinea border the green light. Arguably, the conflict is still overwhelmingly centred in the north of the country with the north/south divide more prevalent than ever. It is therefore difficult to ascertain whether the conflict has actually diminished, with the associated investment risks going with it, or that stability and reconstruction are now unnecessary and costly precursors to resource extraction. If the financial benefit for the international community is no longer inhibited by war what interest do they have in pursuing peace?

Of course, the war must stop and Vieux Farka Touré made this statement the focus of his song “Kele Magni” which translates roughly as “the war must stop” or “the war is no good”. Back in The Financial Times documented Vieux’s Queen Elizabeth Hall performance back in September 2013. Then the mood was triumphant; Vieux like many Malians was celebrating the success and assuming the finality of the French military intervention. As David Honigmann reported at the time:

“”War’s not good,” [Vieux Farka Toure] noted, introducing “Kele Magni”; “now they’ve stopped the war.” And appropriately the song, on record contemplative, here bounced with bass and drums in a joyous celebration.”

It has become apparent that the French did indeed stop the nation from collapsing. However despite a UN deployment and free-and-fair elections, three years on from Vieux’s declaration that the war was over violence is recurring and resurgent. Listening to it now the song becomes more a depressive plea; its been long, much too long. The war must end. In an interview in October 2013 Vieux descibes his hometown of Niafunke during the war and how he wrote songs like “Kele Magni” to fulfil his responsibility to “let people know” about what wass happening to their country. The radio interviewer describes the French defeat of the militant forces as a ‘rout‘. Unknowingly at the time this has become an apt portrayal. We now know that al-Qaeda and its patchworker of associate organisations was not a defeated after all, only withdrawn in disorder after sustaining heavy losses. It has been an opportunity for a change of tactics to a more wide-spread guerilla campaign – the one we see today.

So if the war must stop, who will stop it? We must have faith that there are people in Mali that are willing to fight for it. Its musicians always will. But who within all these foreign interventions?  Amongst the Chinese MINUSMA peacekeepers was a soldier named Si Chongchang wounded whilst carring out his mission to bring stabilisation to the people and politics of Mali. Speaking from his hospital bed in Dakhar, it is perhaps right that he should have the last say: “When I recover, I hope to go back to join my comrades and finish what we started.” We must hope that in that mission, he is successful.

 

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Ali Farka Toure – Tulumba : Mali Song of the Week

Ali Farka Toure songs are never short of emotion. ‘Tulumba’ announces itself triumphantly which somewhat betrays the rest of the song. It continues in at the pace of a melancholic shanty, not despairing but grieving.

And there is much to grieve over in the last week of Malian life. On April 14th the great and widely celebrated Malian photographer Malick Sidibé passed away in Bamako aged 80. In a delightful tribute, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, International Correspondent with NPR, described the effect Sidibé’s death has had on the country through the words of Mali’s culture minister, N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo. He was undoubtedly a “national treasure” whose loss the entire country is mourning.

The war in the north of Mali has seen a bloody week. Civilians, soldiers and humanitarians all falling victim to the enduring instability, growing distrust and angst at a wretched situation of which no one appears to have the strength to control. In that void violence thrives. The International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Monday that for a month three of its aid workers on assignment in deep in the north in Abeibara had been missing. Only a week before this announcement, three French soldiers had been killed in a landmine blast during a routine drive from Gao with President Hollande expressing “deep sadness” upon hearing the news. And perhaps most troubling of all is the situation in Kidal. Reports from Mali on April 19th describe how a street protest formed to demonstrate against arrests made by French and UN forces which they allege were arbitrary and undermined peace efforts. The situation turned violent resulting in 4 deaths, 7 injuries – 2 seriously – a trashed airport, and shots fired, reportedly by UN soldiers as much as anyone else.

In these desperate times we must consider the wisdom of Toure and Sidibé – these two late, great Malians – and not slip so easily into sorrow and defeat. Artists leave us with gifts, new tools to understand and interpret the world. In 2008, Sidibé told The Daily Telegraph “For me, photography is all about youth…It’s about a happy world full of joy, not some kid crying on a street corner or a sick person.” Writing about the motivation to create the album Niafunké (named after his beloved home town) from which ‘Tulumba’ hails, Ali Farka Toure explained that:

“My music is about where I come from and our way of life and it is full of important messages for Africans. In the West perhaps this music is just entertainment and I don’t expect people to understand. But I hope some might take the time to listen and learn.”

So whilst we can rejoice in the magic that these artists produce, we must also consider their approach and look deeper. We must allow ourselves to be challenged by what is being presented to us. This may appear difficult without access to context or language and perhaps as a Westerner it can never be fully understood. But this spectacular photography and music is unquestionably stirring. It makes an impression on us. Let’s gather that feeling up and at the very least we can try and understand it, unpick it, respond to it and see what we learn from there. Perhaps there is a way through.

 

 

Ali Farka Toure – Tulumba

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Cheick-Tidane Seck – Watjoro

Nearly a month ago, the conflict that has been raging in Mali’s north ‘formally’ came to an end. At least with the Azawad rebel groups. In the weeks since violence has continued unabated with fragmented rebel groups continuing to war with Malian troops, UN Peacekeepers being massacred, high-profile assassinations and killings, and international organisations increasingly being targeted. Not really the peace we’ve been waiting for. Its a start however; the fact that Tuareg and Arab separatist leaders were present cannot be understated – these parties failed to attend a similar event in May which lead to fears that no solution was imminent. This ‘formal’ ending of conflict has ended political deadlock and has provided a roadmap, albeit just a sketch of one, to “federalism in all but name”, as an African diplomat put it.

So with one war over, gaping holes remain in Mali’s overall security. Even the German Foreign minister, visiting Mali recently ahead of German take-over of the EU training mission, made it clear that “there is still a long way to go before the Malian armed forces can undertake the security of the country on their own.” A new frontier on the war has opened up on the border with the Ivory Coast, showing that conflict in the country is no longer isolated to the sparsely populated, desert expanse of the north.

There is still a place for Cheick-Tidane Seck then; the “Keyboard Warrior” and one part of the Malian, afro-cuban, super-group the “Ambassadors”. Of course, Seck is no conventional diplomat, preferring communication through his own brand of jazz. A great collaborator, Seck could probably teach the politicians and generals a few things about harmonising people from different cultures with different histories and ideas to create something that can be celebrated by all.

 

Cheick-Tidane Seck – Watjoro

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Cheick Tidiane Seck – Fera Na Fere

It has been a long time since Cheick “The Keyboard Warrior” Seck made his way onto the Hub. Inspired by last week’s post about the ‘Festival Sur la Niger’, Ségou-born Cheick Tidiane Seck is making a fitting appearance. Seck is well known for his political beliefs and is especially outspoken on the issue of war and peace. These views are not confined to protesting against wars fought with guns and armoured vehicles however as they also extend to a range of issues including liberal globalisation. For Seck this outspoken attitude has not come with age as it is evident that his personality and political passions have long been a defining part of his character, earning him the nickname ‘Che Guevara’ in his early years.

As with Seck’s previous selection by the Hub, this week’s Song comes from his 2013 album ‘Guerrier’ (that’s “Warrior”, in French). There is a key, confusing, and ultimately troubling, reason for this. Over the last 9 months, since defeat in late May 2014, Malian’s have been dealing with the fallout from the Malian government’s failure to secure Kidal, a key northern-eastern town, from Tuareg rebel group MNLA. Frustration is mounting into violent outbursts again the UN Peacekeeping force MINUSMA, which has been authorised with the mission of stabilizing the country, re-establishing state authority and notably in expanding  “…its presence, including through long-range patrols and within its capacities, in the north of Mali beyond key population centres, notably in areas where civilians were at risk”. It is on this specific point in which government and international agencies appear to be having most difficulty.

As often happens in these moments of high-tension and conflict, some have decided to take matters into their own hands. This is a quite confusing and troubling development. According to a patchwork of reports, this has manifested in a new, also Tuareg, rebel group called GATIA. It appears that GATIA are a loyalist outfit, a “self-defence” militia made up of Malian army veterans and until recently has drawn no comment of condemnation or praise from Malian officials – despite its emergence in August last year. In what appears to be a very grim state of affairs the BBC reported the following:

Correspondents say there are strong suspicions that the government is increasingly relying on militia groups such as Gatia to strengthen its position against the MNLA in the north. A UN source told the AFP news agency that two bombers blew themselves up in the attack near Tabankort town while a third was killed before he could detonate himself.

It is the BBC’s use of the word ‘relying’ which is most troubling perhaps. Is the state of affairs so bleak, the government’s strength so shattered that they are willing to rely on the bloody, twisted, tit-for-tat battles of suicide bombers to win their war? Its a frightening prospect. One which the UN in an ever familiar role seems, at best, only able to spectate over. And with this news another vicious blow is dealt to that other prospect, throwing it long past the horizon again. That is, of course, the prospect of there being an end to the war in Mali.

 

 

Cheick Tidaine Seck – Fera Na Fere

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Rokia Traore – Lalla

“I’ve never stopped being optimistic and also hopeful concerning Mali. And yes, I know the situation is still definitely fragile.” – Rokia Traore, speaking in August 2013

When does a conflict count as being over? After a very long, sluggish year of recovery the words of singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré are as relevant as ever. This week’s song is from Traoré’s album ‘Beautiful Africa’ released under Nonesuch Records in April 2013, meaning the album was written “amid constant news of torture and killings”. The dark days of 2012/13 are over, yes, but the conflict rumbles on, churning out death and injustice. In particular, UN troops, as opposed to local Malian’s, have been targeted. In the past 15 months over 30 UN peacekeepers have been killed, and over 90 wounded – with 9 killed in a single attack earlier this month. With the world distracted by the amassing violence in Syria and Iraq, you’d say is was perfect timing for the incumbent UN mission leader to do a runner. The French forces have been also busy, intercepting an al-Qaeda convoy full of weapons and militants.

The north of the country sees the least amount of progress. The familiarity of military vehicles and the absence of tourists and trade continue to grind away at the residents of Timbuktu.A lack of resources is coupled with a lack of a strong presence from national institutions. For the most part, the basic ‘legal machinery’ needed in the north is still missing. The people of northern Mali are not seeing justice for crimes committed during the height of the conflict. This was a key Presidential promise going awry. Inventively, the government has responded with mobile information clinics which have been set up to gather testimony and deal with the back log. Soliders are being questioned too which is a positive sign. However, there is a major fear that even with the correct information in the right hands the population are still reluctant to give offenders up, especially if they are from the same ethnic group. A commentator warns “if there is no justice, others might seek revenge.

Besides the conflict, the ever global spectre of ebola looms large. It must be of some national pride that the Malian health ministry has been selected by Oxford University and the Centre for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland to trial an experimental vaccine against the virus. It is urgently needed by their West African compatriots on the ‘front line’ in the battle, where health workers have died in their hundreds. Whilst Bamako remains bruised from the continuing conflict it must count itself lucky that it hasn’t had any reported cases despite a land border with Guinea which has had over 1,200.

The song has been chosen this week to reflect this mood. The conflict rumbles on. But Mali is rumbling on too. It is relatively peaceful, but the situation is very volatile as any number of enduring issues could explode at any time. Patience is the order of the day. That and frustration. The steady but fiery rhythm of Lalla symbolises these competing emotions, and in the heart-felt, floating and roaring lyrics of Traoré there is sorrow and anger. An abrupt finish – a call for Mali to simply get its act together?

Rokia Traore – Lalla

Peacekeeping and Elections: logistics reveal flaws of both

#Photo Peacekeepers put on new blue berets marking start of #UN Mission in #Mali @UN_MINUSMA http://ow.ly/mych9 pic.twitter.com/F5wrCAvoXQ – Courtesy of @unpeacekeeping

Mali’s economy had been torn to pieces over the last months. Economic growth figures indicated a 1.2% contraction for 2012 – the first contraction since 2001. This is despite “a good agricultural season” and steady revenues from gold extraction which are thought to have helped buffer Mali against even further economic woe.

Conflicts are inherently tumultuous but life simply has to continue. Where it cannot, it flees. People still need to find food, barter for materials, find shelter and fuel. War and violence in does not only destroy economic activity but in can also warp it; corrupting conventional channels of trade and commerce and therefore creates new opportunities for illicit and sinister ways of generating wealth. Mali has seen thousands lose their livelihoods. Though in the security void and amongst the chaos organised crime and drugs trafficking – its primary source of finance – has thrived.

Conflict-hit economies must be understood to have winners as much as they produce losers. It is with this in mind that the issue of peacekeeping must be approached. Why? Only recently has the United Nations been made aware of the enormous economic impact the deployment of a peacekeeping force has. By simply being deployed in Mali, the 12,600 strong UN Peacekeeping force – called MINSUMA – that has just arrived is already interacting and influencing Malian economics.

Peacekeeping soldiers and their support staff are usually paid enormous salaries compared to the average citizen of a country they operate in. Also the UN’s expenditure on associated services like offices, mechanics and accommodation represent an enormous injection for the local economy. The UN’s peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous stated earlier this month that Mali represented “unique challenges” due to its ravaged infrastructure. The arrival of a Peacekeeping force can be massive for small economies, and change them forever. For example, in the case of the UN Peacekeeping forces that were deployed in Timor-Leste (UNTAET), Liberia (UNMIL), Kosovo (UNMIK) and Burundi (ONUB) mission expenditure in the local economy accounted for up to and over 6% of the host country’s entire Gross Domestic Product. To put that into perspective: all the expenditure on education in the UK public and private – including student subsidies – is only 5.6% of Britain’s total GDP. For Mali the arrival of a peacekeeping mission may not only mean security, but prosperity.

Mali’s economy certainly needs a boost. This article reminds us of the continuing devastation in the country. However, Peacekeeping money can be dangerous, especially when we remember that in a conflict economy illicit and sinister forces are usually better placed to exploit new opportunities. The Peacekeeping force has already gained some recognition for its ability to negotiate access with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in some remote northern territories to provide a safe environment for brave Malians to come out and vote.

A #Mali refugee proudly shows his NINA card, a biometric ID doc to vote in #elections http://twitpic.com/d53v8v by @HeleneCaux – Courtesy of @refugees

However, like the Presidential elections, the current Peacekeeping operation can be equally criticised for having a regional bias. In Bamako the election looked like an election – campaign rallies and billboards. In the north, however, 500,000 Malians remain displaced. Some feel that the impact of Ramadan, especially in the sparsely populated north, has not been fully considered. It has been suggested that Malian authorities were under intense pressure to have early elections by western donor countries (that have constitutional requirements surrounding the need for elections that blocks aid payments) which meant that national voting cards were only sent out a month before the date of election – a huge administrative challenge. A good audio interview weighing up the difficulties of holding the Malian elections is available here. There is nothing to suggest that the impacts and benefits of a peacekeeping operation will not fall victim to similar bias. Even worse, in a case like Mali – where the conflict contained historic grievences about regional political and economic inequality – a poorly managed peacekeeping mission logistically could do more harm than good.

This has happened before. Benedikt Korf argues in reference to Sri Lanka that the benefits of UN interventions are usually overwhelmingly confined to the capital city. Theoretically, there are many instances whereby unintended outcomes of peacekeeping could foster, rather than diminish, the root causes for the original conflict. In the case of Sierra Leone over ninety percent of the socio-economic benefits were thought to have been confined to Freetown. This pattern was reported in other UN missions. In Burundi the UN handed out more contracts to Tutsis than Hutus. Conflict in Burundi, and neighbouring Rwanda, has revolved around the rivalry between the Tutsi and Hutu. The view that produced this conflict was partly built on the perception that the Tutsi have earned their socio-economic dominance through favouritism from external actors, from colonial times to present day. The resonance of the favouritism displayed by the UN could easily become propaganda in renewed tensions. Carnahan explains that in this instance the Tutsi show a greater ability to navigate the UN bureaucracy and therefore can better obtain contracts. Nothing sinister, but the UN possibly is not always aware of its impact on recurring historic grievances and economic divisions that have led violence in the past.

UN peacekeeping is a very fine art and incredibly difficult to get right. Regrettably, corruption within peacekeeping missions has also been a problem historically. Provision of poorly trained troops has resulted in terrible and inhumane practice, arguably the worst example of which being the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mineral exploitation in the DRC provides a perfect example of a conflict economy. The exploitation of gold and other minerals in the DRC has been the way to raise funds for rebels to pay their troops and obtaining weapons. The case of the DRC shows the most abhorrent example of peacekeepers not only contributing to the economic aspects of political violence, but become an embedded aspect within it. Pakistani peacekeeping troops abused their position to establish a network of gold trading with some of the militia groups they were supposed to be suppressing and demobilising. Some Pakistani peacekeepers participated in handing back weapons to militias they had demobilised in exchange for gold and access to the mines rich in precious metals and minerals. The scheme resulted in multiple million-dollar deals networked out of the DRC through corrupt military personnel.

Mansa Musa – Whose Malian gold destablised Egypt’s economy in the C13 as he undertook the Hajj – courtesy of @StevieThunder

The obvious link to be made here is to the gold extraction activities that are currently crucial to the economic success of Mali. Though no foul play has been reported yet, at a recent talk at the London School of Economics, Dr Kwesi Aning stated his fears that because of a diplomatic spat between ECOWAS and the UNSC in the run up to deployment of MINUSWA African armies will not be keen to supply their best trained troops. Dr Aning believes that radicalisation and corruption will be more of a likely threat to the mission’s objectives as a result. Indeed, the African contributions to MINUSWA took a knock this month upon Nigeria’s announcement that it is withdrawing 1,200 troops to fight its own insurgency problems at home.

It is certain that restoring security will remain the central objective to Mali’s peacekeepers for some time to come, regardless of the strength of the incoming President – whoever that is. In addition to security, the MINUSWA must recognise the other responsibilities is has to Malian society. A well-maintained and sophisticated peacekeeping force is vital to Mali’s recovery. Until we can be sure that this force is structured and is receptive in a way that other missions have not been previously it is a serious concern that the presence of MINUSWA could easily fall victim to the flaws that have plagued its predecessors.

UN intervention?

#Photo of the #UN Security Council adopting resolution 2100, establishing a new @UNPeacekeeping operation in #Mali – Courtesy of @UNPeacekeeping

The situation on the ground in Mali has so far not shown signs of marked improvement. In fact, many commentators are stressing that the cracks in this fragile ‘peace’ are beginning to accelerate in size and number. The word peace is placed in inverted commas here as much of mainstream reporting on Mali has created the impression that peace has prevailed in Mali for some months. The jubilation that anticipated an imminent French victory was given a good deal of coverage in the West. But this ‘peace’ is a peace defined by the absence of physical violence. There are other notions of peace and these help explain the situation in Mali a little more accurately. Some commentators consider the harm caused by poverty and imbalanced societal structures as forms of violence. People who believe there is some mileage in thinking of peace in this way would argue that there has rarely been an instance this year where Mali could be accurately described as ‘at peace’.

With this in mind, the impression one gets now, from a glance at the news, is a slippery slope, a regression and a return to violence in Mali. There remains a threat of a significant reprise from remaining Islamist rebels who, despite being fractured, have changed tactics and are picking off intervening Chadian soldiers at an alarming rate. The familiarity and resilience of Chad’s soldiers to the rocky desert conditions have been seen as so crucial to the success of their better equipped French counterparts. The Islamists are no doubt bruised from the last months of intense combat. However early this April, Mali’s U.N. ambassador, Oumar Daou, warned the 15-nation UN Security Council that “not all of Mali’s territory has been retaken from extremist armed groups and that they are resorting to new tactics, including laying landmines and conducting suicide and car bombs, in an effort to counter offensive by French and Malian forces.”

At the turn of March to April the United Nations estimated that:

  • Around 470 000 people have fled the fighting and sought refuge either in Malian host communities or in neighbouring countries
  • More than 290 000 people are internally displaced and about 177 000 are facing a humanitarian crisis of their own as refugees in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
  • There will be another 750 000 people in need of immediate food assistance and 660 000 children at risk of malnutrition this year, including 210 000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

But the French want out. It has been announced recently that France aims to have 75% of its forces out by the end of this year. It’s a steady draw-down and not the cut-and-run scenario which many thought would result in a disastrous unravelling of all gains the intervention made in the first place. To confuse the picture, many diplomats have suggested that any future UN Peacekeeping operation should be built around the French forces already deployed in the country. But the French are leaving, and thus it’s now time to explore how the groups that are staying on to try and shape Mali’s future – for better or for worse – have responded to this news. What could be the next results from this withdrawal?

Minister Mushikiwabo has an exchange with HE President Idriss Deby of Chad and Chairperson of ECCAS. Courtesy of @MinaffetRwanda

The situation is becoming unstable enough for Chad’s President Idriss Deby to recall his 2000 troops. This is significant in many ways. It serves as evidence that Western countries are not the only places to suffer from the ‘quagmire syndrome’. Secondly, Chad’s soldiers were the only African force in Mali performing a major combat role. Other African contributions remained thinly spread around the Malian capital Bamako, far from the most intense fighting. If African soldiers can justify withdrawing, who will step-up to provide military personnel to serve in a country that so desperately needs them?

The United Nations is considering an intervention. It has made some head way. There are two plans at the moment. In the first option, the current 7,000-strong African-led force, known as AFISMA, remains in the country but is linked to the United Nations and is funded from the UN budget. The second option transitions and expands this force into a “full-fledged UN stabilization mission” of about 11,200 troops.  Alongside it, a parallel force would be created to conduct “counterterrorism operations”. The performance of the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) 6,400 strong AFISMA force has won praise from around Africa and from the United Nations. However a full-fledged UN controlled force would have unique terms of engagement and would potentially have to show greater constraint in its combat operations. This could in fact be a boon rather than a flaw – and the Malian ambassador to the UN has already expressed it finds the second option – that of a full-fledged UN mission – more favourable. The more inflexibility the UN has to stop it being enlisted and marched off into a wider War on Terror in the Sahel, the better. If it does come to that, it is a situation that the UN rarely wins. Either it over extends, as in Black Hawk Down, or it gets swept aside, along with its credibility, as it did over Iraq.

Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni – of the Institute for Security Studies, Dakar – is right to ask what mandate should this UN mission be handed? Again, there are two options. The first is a mission similar to the one currently underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is charged with the (not so) simple task of keeping warring parties apart. The second is the opposite, a Somalia 1992-93 style intervention characterised by actively seeking and destroying the opposition rebels. The first option seems more favourable here, as problems prevail in defining and identifying a coherent opposition force.

Also, another factor that has been tragically misunderstood so far is the presence of the disgruntled, dissatisfied yet ambitious Tuareg rebels. The Tuareg are a seminomadic pastoral people of North African Berber origin. They represent a minority in Mali, and the other countries of the western Sahel they live in but their cultural unity is profound. The UN Under Secretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said that while “arbitrary acts of violence” against Tuaregs and Arabs had recently slowed, “there is still a risk of reprisal against members of these communities.” Now that combat operations have diminished and the French have scared off al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Tuareg are prepared to begin acting as their own security providers.

Andy Morgan illustrates their difficulties through the story of a Tuareg musician, “Hamid”:

“The Tuareg musician lived under the puritanical rule of the Mujao militia from April 2012 until the French army drove them out in January…life under sharia law was difficult and occasionally dangerous for a musician. But for many Tuareg – identifiable by their lighter skin – the prospect of living with the Malian army was worse. “I’m more frightened of the Malian Army and tribal militias like the Ganda Koy, than the Mujao (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa),” he said. “All they look at is your colour.”

Morgan continues to explain that “As many feared, wresting the northern two thirds of Mali back from the Islamists has been easier than reuniting the nation.” Tuareg have split from Tuareg – some “do not even begin to see themselves as Islamists” whilst other separatists have been cooperating with AQIM for years.

Clear msg from Northern Malian leaders: credible elections & robust US security assistance critical to Mali’s future Courtesy of @SenJohnMcCain

Malian national unity in general is a huge problem. Perhaps the UN could find its footing after the Haiti cholera outbreak scandal in its more traditional role as a mediator. Dr. Roland Marchal, a specialist on the economics and politics of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, warns that this also entails problems. By acting as mediator the UN risks legitimising both unelected government and rebels alike. Historically interventions from external actors often undermine the forces and structures they ought to promote. For this reason Dr. Marchal believes that any UN mandate must be cautious of setting out to heal cultural and historic conflict in Mali: a new social contract for peace and justice must be forged by the Malians themselves. Dr Marshal suggests a “National Conference…” – a broader affair than traditional peace negotiations – “…that would encompass many actors rooted in the political, social, religious and cultural arenas.” He states that it “may offer a greater chance to reach a sustainable agreement” and may be more sustainable as it would confront the fact that all parties involved face allegations of huge human rights violations.

So perhaps there is a role for the UN as a facilitator; to table a fresh set of elections and channel international support. Unlike in Rwanda and Angola where this strategy failed spectacularly, some democratic norms are already prevalent in Malian society. Perhaps Mali will be responsive and succeed in places where other interventions failed. Statements following a recent week-long from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet appear promising in this regard. He stressed that any UN force would be limited and would focus on supporting the Malian authorities and protecting civilians. As AllAfrica reports:

‘“The sovereignty of Mali is the main objective of this international support,” Mr. Mulet said. “It is not to create a buffer between the north and the south. The members of the Security Council and the member states are very clear on the need for Mali to extend its authority over all its territory” he added.’

Equally Théroux-Bénoni adds that:

“While attention is focused on the type of peace operation to put in place in Mali, the international community should not lose sight of the fact that a peace operation alone will not suffice to bring about a lasting solution to the profound security and governance crisis that has led Mali to its current predicament.”

From the moment the French arrived, or even when Mali’s government sent a plea for help, the governance and future of Mali has been internationalized. As James Schneider – editor of Think Africa Press – explains that Mali is being described using a “false narrative” which “places the effects of Western policy far above the moods and motivations of Malians”. It seems that a narrative prescribing to a wider War on Terror has influenced policy for a long time. The United States made up its mind on this one some time ago. The Obama administration has “spent more than $550 million over the past four years to help train and equip West African armies to fight militants so that the Pentagon would not have to”. An article in the New York Times caught up with the US soldiers training African forces in the southeastern corner of Mauritania, about 100 miles from the border with Mali. The detail of the article exposes a deep preparedness in the persona of the US soldiers. It hints how long Mali has been taken seriously as the next potential battlefield in the War on Terror, and how involved the US has been with Mali’s neighbours in drawing up the agenda for Mali’s future. Is the UN really calling the shots here?

The United Nations does have an opportunity in Mali to prove it is not just full of hot air. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has plenty on its plate at the moment; with the crisis in Syria ever out-of-hand and the already massive mission in the DRC seeing troops increases and a strengthening mandate . Regardless of this, it is the view that a UNPK mission for Mali could be ready by July. However as this article points out a deployment date and the length of time the mission’s mandate will run for have not been formally written out. Equally ambitious are the Malian government’s hopes to hold elections in July, and while Security Council diplomats and UN officials said that goal may be overly ambitious the EU has waded in stating that it is ambitious, of course, but surely it is also desirable? Someone needs to take the plunge and throw their weight into this plan soon before Mali’s unelected regime is left to manage this crisis itself.

It would be a surprise if France is forthcoming with troops again, and the UN knows this. The UN has made plans to give President Hollande a ‘Peace Prize’ to stick on his mantelpiece. Now, he wouldn’t want to gamble that chance away now, would he…?

Mali News #1 – Silence falls, but still hope for peace

In this regular post we’ll be providing key links to keep you up-to-date on the latest in Mali. A fairly crisis-centric post this time around, but we intend to change that in future to reflect there is still much more to Mali than the current crisis.

First up, a fantastic infographic from the Washington Post on the current situation in Mali.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Washington Post also reported on the silencing of music in Mali, as did the BBC in a very vivid report highlighting the terrorist’s assault on one of the Mali’s most iconic features: it’s music.

All while these foreign terrorists who are implementing this are calling for Malians to reject foreign troops… words escape me to describe the hypocrisy. I’ll just balance this piece off with something from allafrica.com talking about the politics of ethnicity and locality.

Ban Ki-Moon recommends the deployment of AU troops to Mali, while US military officials indicate worry about the effectiveness of military intervention.

Meanwhile, more importantly, Toureg representatives attend mediation talks. A very important first step as the UN was told late last week by Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. This is especially important when we consider that the Malian Army has just opened recruitment for 15,000 men, (fr) three times the numbers of the proposed ECOWAS intervention force, giving some indication of the scale of the task that the Malians might forsee, and why dialogue is a strong preference.

Finally, pulling directly from the superb Peter Tinti a selection of must read documents on Mali can be found here. (English)

<<<BREAKING NEWS>>>

The Malian Prime Minister and his government have resigned late last night following his arrest (fr) at the instigation of the leader of the March coup Captain Sanogo.