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Mali: Briefing and Consultations Ahead of Mandate Renewal and Presidential Elections

Tomorrow (14 June), the Security Council will be briefed on the situation in Mali by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, followed by consultations. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali, Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly, is also expected to participate in the meeting. The discussion is expected to focus on recent developments in the country, the upcoming presidential elections, and the renewal of the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which is set to expire at the end of the month. The basis for the meeting will be the 6 June report of the Secretary-General (S/2018/541), which includes some of the findings and recommendations put forward by the recently completed independent strategic review of the mission.

Efforts continue to be made to implement the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, signed three years ago this month. In early May, the Mécanisme Opérationnel de Coordination—which provides for the deployment of mixed patrols with elements of the Malian Defence and Security Forces and the two signatory coalitions of armed groups—was established in Kidal and Timbuktu. The registration of combatants eligible for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme is still ongoing.

Nonetheless, important provisions of the agreement remain unaddressed. Although the parties have reiterated their commitment to its implementation—most recently by agreeing to a timetable in January and a more detailed roadmap in March—some sources have questioned whether there is sufficient political will to advance this process. Anticipated peace dividends, such as the delivery of basic services, have yet to materialise for the population, despite provisions in the agreement for the establishment of a strategy for the development of northern regions. Signatory armed groups have opposed the full participation of splinter groups in the structures established by the agreement.

Council members are likely to inquire about the report that the independent observer (The Carter Center) recently produced regarding the implementation of the agreement. In its report, covering the period 15 January to 30 April, the independent observer noted a tendency to focus on preliminary and interim elements, rather than on the three core tenets of the agreement, namely (i) the creation of a new governance architecture for Mali; (ii) the reconstitution and redeployment of a representative national army, including the demobilisation of former combatants; and (iii) the creation of a Northern Region Development Zone. The independent observer’s report further called for enhanced participation of civil society in the implementation of the agreement.

Council members are also expected to discuss the possible designation of individuals for targeted sanctions by the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee. There have been differing perspectives on this issue among members. At an 11 April briefing, France, the Netherlands, the UK and the US expressed support for identifying those obstructing, delaying or threatening the implementation of the peace agreement, with a view to imposing sanctions. However, Russia said that “the direct use of sanctions should be a measure of last resort and…rushing to impose restrictions will hinder the entire settlement process” (S/PV.8229).

The first round of the presidential elections, which is scheduled for 29 July, is also expected to feature prominently in the discussion. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is running for a second term against more than twenty candidates, including the head of the opposition in the National Assembly, Soumaïla Cissé. Council members are likely to be interested in the role of MINUSMA ahead of the elections. In light of its mandate under resolution 2364, MINUSMA has been providing technical support and exercising good offices for the holding of peaceful, inclusive, fair and transparent elections. Despite calls by opposition parties for MINUSMA to certify the electoral results, the mission does not have a mandate to do so. Council members may ask Lacroix to expand on the concerns about the level of mistrust between the government and opposition parties highlighted in the report of the Secretary-General.

The findings and recommendations of the recently completed independent strategic review of MINUSMA will also be addressed tomorrow. This review was carried out by the Secretariat and led by Ellen Margrethe Løj, a former Special Representative in Liberia and South Sudan. Although the strategic review report was not shared with Council members, the Secretary-General’s report includes some of its findings and recommendations. The review team highlighted as challenges insufficient ownership of the agreement by the Malian people, trust deficits between the signatory parties, and an uneven political will to implement the agreement; nonetheless, it maintained that the agreement remains a valid framework for engagement in the absence of an immediate viable alternative.

Council members are expected to react to some of the recommendations of the review, including that MINUSMA should assume a broadened political role by:


  • promoting a common vision among regional and international actors in support of the peace process and stabilisation;

  • developing a pact for peace between the government, the Security Council, the UN and international partners, under which assistance would be associated with clear benchmarks, including regarding progress on good governance and political reforms; and

  • supporting a national dialogue to foster ownership of the agreement by the Malian people and to strengthen Malian nationhood beyond state reform.

As part of the current push to sharpen and streamline mandates, the review team recommends that MINUSMA reprioritise to focus on political tasks, including through the development of a political strategy geared towards implementation of key provisions of the agreement, as well as on conflict prevention and resolution in central Mali. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the strategic review team stated that “activities that do not respond to those priorities and good offices requirements should be staggered in their implementation or phased out”. Overall, the review team called for a more realistic approach to MINUSMA’s objectives that builds on the mission’s comparative advantage and addresses long-standing governance deficits.

Another matter that may be addressed in tomorrow’s meeting is the strategic review’s recommendation for MINUSMA to be reconfigured so as to focus on its political role. In particular, the review team called for readjusting the mission’s footprint in Sector North in order to reduce its exposure, to allocate more resources to the direct implementation of mission priorities, and to support an increased civilian presence in the centre of the country. The current overall uniformed personnel ceiling would remain unchanged under this scenario, although the military component would be slightly adjusted through the consolidation of bases to create the space for one additional formed police unit and ten individual police officers in the centre.

Other key issues, largely of an operational nature, may feature in the discussion. MINUSMA’s difficulties in balancing the safety and security of its personnel, on the one hand, with its ability to project force, on the other, may be addressed. This dilemma was touched upon in the independent strategic review, and has been a long-standing concern of the mission, as MINUSMA has suffered more fatalities than any other UN peace operation over the past five years.

Another related topic that may be addressed is how MINUSMA’s support role and cooperation with security actors, including those carrying out counter-terrorism operations, has contributed to the perception that it is involved in counter-terrorism. This issue, also reflected in the strategic review, has important bearing on the perceived impartiality of the mission, as well as on the safety and security of its peacekeepers.

Given that the strategic review team’s report was not provided to Council members, they may be interested in inquiring about other relevant findings and recommendations that did not make it into the Secretary-General’s report.

The discussion tomorrow is likely to inform the negotiation of the draft resolution renewing MINUSMA’s mandate that France is expected to circulate after the meeting. Earlier this month, two meetings were held between Council members and troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs): an expert-level meeting hosted by France on 5 June and a meeting with TCCs/PCCs on the formal agenda of the Council on 7 June.

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