The future of the United Nations mission in Mali (Minusma) seems more uncertain than ever. On Wednesday, the transitional authorities ordered the dismissal of its spokesman, accused of spreading false information, while on the ground, logistical problems piled up.
After France and its European allies, should the United Nations leave Malian territory? The question is on everyone’s lips after the announcement, Wednesday, July 20, of the dismissal of Olivier Salgado, the spokesperson of Minusma (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali).
The authorities, who have detained 49 Ivorian soldiers considered “mercenaries” since July 10, accused the representative of the organization that confirmed “without any evidence” that Bamako was informed of their arrival in Malian land. This diplomatic crisis comes in a complicated military context for the United Nations forces.
Already considered the most dangerous UN mission in the world, Minusma now finds itself vulnerable with the departure of Barkhane, who until now provided it with valuable air support. Another big shadow in the picture, the announcement of Egypt, one of its main partners, to suspend its contingent, from mid-August, after “increasing attacks against its Blue Helmets” .
The effectiveness is disputed
If the expulsion of Olivier Salgado brings to light the tensions between the government of Mali and the UN organization, it is not new. “The UN is subject to the same criticism of Mali as Barkhane because many resources have been deployed in the Sahel without visible results for the population”, explained a security expert in Mali on the condition of not recognize.
Present in Mali since 2013, Minusma currently includes 12,261 soldiers from 57 countries deployed in the field. Unlike the French (Barkhane) and European (Takuba) military missions, its mandate is limited to supporting the Malian authorities in securing the population and does not include the fight against terrorism.
A position that was criticized in September 2021 by Malian Prime Minister Choguel Maïga, who called for “a stronger mandate” as well as “a change in the posture” of the UN force.
Tensions around human rights
The mission also includes 1,718 police officers as well as 1,180 civilians, including human rights investigators. On May 30, Minusma published a report showing a sharp increase in abuses, sometimes attributed to the Malian army itself, supported “by foreign military elements”. An implicit reference to Wagner’s Russian militiamen.
The Malian Foreign Ministry reacted, rejecting the allegations as not “based on any visible evidence” and aimed at “damaging” Malian forces. While the UN Security Council approved the renewal of the mission on June 30 for one year, Mali indicated that it refused to give human rights investigators freedom of movement without prior approval. A decision announced in the name of Malian sovereignty that contradicts the norms set by the UN within the framework of its missions.
To these tensions around the question of human rights is added the activity of 49 Ivorian soldiers who were arrested at the airport of Bamako. Citing “national security”, the authorities announced on July 14 the immediate suspension of the rotations of the military and police contingents in Minusma “including those already scheduled or announced”.
A situation described as “extremely worrisome” by the organization, stressing that the delays in the succession of contingents have consequences “in terms of operational efficiency” as well as “the morale of uniformed personnel” .
Sent by the partner countries of the United Nations, the Blue Helmets are usually deployed for missions for six months, before being relieved and replaced by a new contingent.
However, in Mali, even before the suspension of their rotation, many of them were forced to extend their missions due to the closure of the borders, within the framework of the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS against Mali, January to July 2022.
Air support, “a critical point”
Another problem and not the least, is the fear of emptiness due to the withdrawal of French forces from Barkhane, whose departure from Mali should be formalized at the end of August.
The closure of the French bases “should remove a security bubble for Minusma, because the presence of Barkhane has a certain deterrent effect for the jihadists” confirmed in December the former chief of staff of the force Philippe Pottier.
While the French army intended to continue air support for the UN forces, Bamako demanded its cessation, arguing that this agreement was concluded between France and Minusma without the consent of Mali. As a result, Barkhane’s air support was removed from the UN mission’s mandate.
“In such a large and dangerous theater, this aspect is a critical point, for the operational capabilities of the mission as well as for the security of the troops”, explained General Jean-Paul Paloméros, former Chief of Staff of Army. wind “This support makes it possible especially to provide advanced medical support, that is, immediately, as well as to facilitate the evacuation of the wounded. Consequently, it is necessary for the morale of the troops in action.”
To compensate for these limited resources, Minusma launched an appeal to troop-contributing countries for the supply of helicopters “essential for the protection of the mission” as well as for “the civilian population” .
Faced with this avalanche of difficulties, Minusma hunkered down. On July 20, he considered the dismissal of his spokesperson a major regret while also affirming his “determination to continue working for the implementation of his mandate”. But among the countries that contributed to it, some are now openly worried about the risks their contingents are running. Since Minusma has been the UN mission that has suffered the most human losses, with 177 deaths attributed to hostile acts since 2013.
On July 15, Egypt announced that it would suspend the participation of its approximately 1,035 troops, effective August 15, indefinitely. It is one of the most numerous and reputed among the most skilled contingents of Minusma. A few days earlier the country expressed “its concern over the increase in attacks against its peacekeepers” that have claimed the lives of seven of them since the beginning of the year.
“Egypt’s decision represents a real risk for the future of the force because often this kind of announcement creates a domino effect”, raised General Paloméros. “Risk analysis is an important criterion for this type of mission because the day a major attack hits Minusma, who bears the responsibility? It is the States that will be accused of their population endangering their troops”.
The “dangerous game” in Mali
For its part, the Malian government has confirmed that it will reorganize the entire strategy of engagement with international forces, after the activity of the Ivorian soldiers. At the same time, he expressed his desire to continue his cooperation with his international partners, including Minusma.
“The Malian authorities are playing a dangerous game. They know they need the support of the UN forces, but they are afraid of a coup orchestrated from outside”, explained the security expert in Mali contacted France 24. “This obsessive The defense of sovereignty is a survival strategy for power, vis-à-vis foreign countries but also its own people, because it creates strong support in within the population.”
If the Malian government has so far refrained from discussing a possible departure from the UN mission, some of its supporters have opted for a more offensive approach. On July 20, the sovereignist movement “Yerewolo standing on the ramparts”, identified as close to power, sent a letter to the mission command requesting “the open withdrawal” of Minusma, described as “occupying force”.
This movement, already at the beginning of several large demonstrations in Bamako against the French military presence, called for a popular rally in the capital, on July 29, to call the peacekeepers to leave the territory of the non still September 22, the anniversary of the date of independence. .