Franck Kuwonu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 September 2023:
The Security Council on 30 June unanimously approved the complete withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces in Mali in the next six months. Ahead of the decision, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Mr. El-Ghassim Wane spoke with Africa Renewal’s Franck Kuwonu about the mission’s achievements, challenges, and lessons learnt.
Photo: El-Ghassim Wane, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in Mali.
Here are the excerpts:
For those who didn’t follow the UN Security Council. deliberations on 15 June 2023, can you summarise what you told them about the situation in Mali?
It was an important briefing because it coincided with the discussions whether to renew the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) mandate. And as you know, the mandate expired on June 30. So, I took the opportunity to report on the latest developments during the quarter. These essentially revolve around the question of transition in Mali and the support we are giving to the electoral process – logistical, technical, and financial.
I also talked about the peace process, which has become an important part of the Mission’s strategic priority. This process has unfortunately been blocked since December last year  when the signatory partners decided to suspend their participation in the agreement’s monitoring mechanism.
What I know for sure, and what we can prove, is that the Mission has made a tangible impact in Mali. There is no doubt about it. However, this is a decision taken by Mali as a sovereign country, which obviously we will have to respect
I also talked about the work we’re doing in the field of human rights, both in terms of capacity building for the Malian army and the investigations we are carrying out into allegations of human rights violations.
And in conclusion, I took the opportunity to highlight what I believe to be a strong practical and tangible contribution by MINUSMA, to Mali’s stabilisation efforts, while indicating that it is possible to do better and that we must do better, but that this presupposes closer co-operation on the part of the Malian authorities.
Is it a fair observation, based on the news coming out of Mali’s capital Bamako and on your report, to say that the situation is critical for both Mali and the UN Mission?
Absolutely. I think we are at a critical juncture for the Mission because it must consider its future in the context of a fraught relationship with the host country. It’s also a crucial context for Mali, which is in a decisive phase for its future. And as you know, Mali’s Minister for Foreign Affairs has just expressed his country’s request for withdrawal of MINUSMA without delay.
Photo: MINUSMA troops protecting the weekly Méneka market.
In these difficult circumstances what is the Mission still able to do?
We have a mandate from the UN Security Council that reflects the multidimensional approach of the United Nations to Mali and many other crises around the world. Mali is facing an extremely difficult situation in terms of national security and even a crisis that is fundamentally political. Our job is to help Mali regain the means to ensure the security of its territory and its people.
As part of this mandate, the Mission is doing a lot, and has done a lot, in terms of supporting the political process. I think we’ve played an important role in supporting the transition, in particular the electoral process, making an extremely important multifaceted technical, financial, and logistical contribution.
We are also playing an important role in mediation and facilitation, working with Algeria as the leading international mediator to try and bring the parties’ points of view closer to arrive at an agreement.
As regards the implementation of the agreement, we are providing practical support to facilitate compliance with the ceasefire between the warring parties. As Chairman of the Technical and Security Commission, which is specifically responsible for ensuring compliance with the ceasefire, we are providing significant support in terms of protecting civilian populations in the areas where we are deployed.
Obviously, physical protection is not possible everywhere but the work we do is acknowledged and appreciated by the populations because they can see the impact.
We have been able to assess that for the population, this will be a huge loss. I believe we have made, and we continue to make an impact. It’s not perfect, far from it and we could have done much better if we had been provided with better co-operation
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has done the following:
- commended the peacekeeping operation and its staff.
- called for the full cooperation of the transitional Government for an orderly and safe withdrawal of the mission’s personnel and assets in the coming months.
- urged all the signatory parties to the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali to continue honouring the ceasefire as MINUSMA withdraws.
- is concerned by the fact that the level and duration of the financial commitment authority required to facilitate the drawdown process have been significantly reduced during budget negotiations in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee. This increases the complexities and risks of the drawdown operation.
- will continue to engage with the transitional Government on how best to serve the interests of the people of Mali in cooperation with the UN Country Team in Mali, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and other partners.
We also carry out important work, notably through reconciliation between communities, support for the extension of State authority, and we implement dozens, if not hundreds of projects in support of local populations in places where the State is not present or where its presence is insufficient.
This kind of support also extends to Malian state institutions, to help them strengthen their capacities.
Then, of course, we have a mandate to facilitate humanitarian assistance, to promote and protect human rights through capacity-building for the relevant Malian institutions, including the Defense and Security Forces, but which also translates into investigations into allegations of human rights violations.
That task is delicate because our reports are not always, to put it mildly, well received by the Malian authorities. We face obstacles to our freedom of movement, our ability to carry out investigations and even sometimes to ability to move freely in our deployment zones. But it’s our mandate and it must be carried out.
We certainly could have done better. But as I said, the role of the international community is to support Mali, not to take the place of its authorities, and our ability to act on the ground and be effective also depends on the degree of co-operation we receive from Malian authorities
What lessons can we learn from its impact since it was deployed on the ground?
I think the impact has been multi-faceted. We have the humility to recognise that the situation in Mali remains extremely complex. The Mission’s role is to accompany and support the efforts of the Malian authorities and other Malian stakeholders. The Mission alone cannot change the situation in Mali.
The Malian government and state authorities have the primary responsibility for changing the situation in their country, and we support their hopes.
If the situation in Mali has deteriorated, it’s neither the Mission’s fault nor that of the international community. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.
Photo: MINUSMA troops protecting the weekly Méneka market.
Personally, I see the Mission’s contribution in several ways:
- There is the important support that we are giving to thousands of civilian populations who, very often, can only rely on the Mission for a certain number of things. I think that’s an important element, and the people who benefit from this support obviously say it’s extremely important because it’s tangible.
- There is all the work we’ve done to protect civilian populations in areas where we are or aren’t present. In a certain number of localities, we are the only ones present, and in others where we are present with the armed forces of the Defense and security forces, we try to do this work jointly. I think this is an extremely important aspect of the work we do.
- There is also all the support we have for the smooth running of the transition, and the implementation of the peace agreement. These are also extremely important aspects of our work. Our support work goes on, whatever the major difficulties.
Through our reporting, we have played an extremely important role in keeping the issue of protecting and promoting human rights high on the public agenda.
I think this is an important contribution while recognising that the situation in Mali remains extremely difficult, and certainly not as good as we would have liked.
We, certainly, could have done better. But as I said, the role of the international community is to support Mali, not to take the place of its authorities, and our ability to act on the ground and be effective also depends on the degree of co-operation we receive from Malian authorities.
When MINUSMA leaves, wouldn’t that be a loss for the country and the populations?
I would leave it to the Malian authorities to assess. I presume that, in making their decision, they have looked at all the consequences.
What I know for sure, and what we can prove, is that the Mission has made a tangible impact in Mali. There is no doubt about it.
However, this is a decision taken by Mali as a sovereign country, which obviously we will have to respect.
We have been able to assess that for the population, this will be a huge loss. But again, it’s a decision taken by the Malian authorities.
I believe we have made, and we continue to make an impact. It’s not perfect, far from it and we could have done much better if we had been provided with better co-operation.
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