Is the End of Major UN Missions Approaching? Uncertainty Surrounds Mali and the Withdrawal of MINUSMA

news 01-Jul-2023 Africa

Is the End of Major UN Missions Approaching? For ten years, the UN mission MINUSMA has been trying to stabilize Mali. Under pressure from Mali, the UN Security Council has now decided to end the mission by the end of this year. Does this also affect the Bundeswehr and other UN missions?

Challenges Faced by UN Mission in Mali and the Loss of Lives

From the beginning, the mission faced challenges: inadequately equipped and lacking effective self-defense, the UN personnel quickly became targets of Muslim extremists. To date, over 300 UN soldiers have died, making it one of the deadliest missions for the UN since the Korean War. However, the majority of casualties were Malians, as the 13,000 UN forces failed to protect the civilian population. In the past twelve months alone, more than 3,800 people are believed to have been killed in Mali.

Shift towards Wagner After Coup

It is an endless war that makes movement between many cities dangerous, especially in the east and north of the country. Over the years, dissatisfaction among the population grew, particularly towards the democratically elected governments, which were recently known for poor governance and corruption.

Military coups followed. Since the latest one in May 2021, the country has been governed by a military transitional government, heavily criticized by the West. The new strongman, Colonel Assimi Goita, established contacts with Russia and has reportedly brought in around 1,000 Wagner mercenaries to fight Islamist terrorist groups. In contrast, the French military mission was forced out of the country.

When the UN recently published a report on a massacre in which over 500 people were allegedly killed with the involvement of Russian mercenaries, Goita made it clear to the Security Council through his Foreign Minister: "The mission has become part of the problem." It must end immediately.

New Uncertainty following Failed Wagner Revolt

This was before the uprising of the Wagner group in Russia. Now, in Mali's capital Bamako, concerns arise about military assistance. Goita and his government have placed all their bets on Wagner. Will Wagner continue to operate? Will the conditions for military assistance change?

Officially, this is not being discussed, but pro-government voices like Cheick Tidiane Diarra have summed up the concerns on social media: "If Russia is no longer able to supply us with ammunition and spare parts, more than 90 percent of Malian military operations would be affected," tweets Diarra.

Reassuring words from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, promising continued support to allies in Africa, have not been able to alleviate the uncertainty.

Consequences for Civil Society

It is also unclear what the withdrawal of the UN mission means for Malian civil society. Mali is a country rich in culture and natural resources, yet about half of its population lives below the poverty line. Despite its military shortcomings, the UN mission has at least provided a limited number of jobs and training opportunities.

Moreover, it has facilitated development assistance in some regions. "Development cooperation will become significantly more challenging," says Ulf Laessing, Head of the Sahel Regional Program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. "The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Society for International Cooperation) and others have always used the Bundeswehr base in Gao to stay overnight and then visit projects from there. This will no longer be possible in the future."

A Spiral of Poverty and Violence

In this scenario, more assistance is needed. According to UN research, jihadist groups - not only in Mali but also in other places - are gaining followers due to growing social issues such as unemployment and poverty, exacerbated by increasing violence. The notion of religious warriors can hardly be applied to most of them anymore.

A spiral is set in motion that even 1,000 ruthless Wagner mercenaries won't stop, as it was unsuccessful for the 5,000 French soldiers and the 13,000 UN forces.

It is more likely that the death toll will continue to rise - along with the number of refugees, many of whom are already pushing beyond the country's borders. The neighboring country, Niger, is already experiencing the effects, and it is the next target for German military aid.

The premature end of the Mali mission leaves the West puzzled. After the failure of the international community, the question remains: What's next? Ulf Lessing believes, "It is somewhat the beginning of the end of these major peace missions. It marks the end of an era."

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