In discussions of Mali’s chronic problems, one factor tends to be overlooked: organized crime. Illicit activities have a long tradition in remote areas across the Sahel. Mali’s vast north, an area larger than France, is sparsely populated, and historically marginalized by the Malian state. Many people survive by smuggling items like subsidized food or cigarettes. Criminal rents are how people make a living in the marginalized north, but have also funded a myriad of armed groups and corruption networks. Efforts by international actors like the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA), or by regional alliances like the G5 Sahel, increasingly recognize the threat organized crime poses to regional security, governance, and economic development. But why have their efforts fallen short?
There was little media coverage of last month’s United Nations ministerial meeting on Mali—opened by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—held on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. This was in stark contrast to four years ago, when United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the conflict in northern Mali during a debate with Barack Obama. Does this mean that Mali is falling off a busy multilateral agenda dominated by the refugee crisis, Syria, and the transition to a new UN secretary-general?
The optimists would see it as a sign that the situation is not as bad as it once seemed, and that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), deployed in July 2013, is—alongside French counterterrorist force Barkhane—helping to prevent terrorist groups reoccupying northern Mali. Yet this goes against observations of “a doubling in the number of attacks perpetrated by violent extremist groups in northern Mali” and the fact that “attacks have spread to the center of the country” as Ban noted in his most recent Mali report to the Security Council.
A regional protection force has been authorized to deploy as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in order to provide a secure environment in and around the capital city, Juba, and protect civilians. But without a viable political strategy to resolve the underlying causes of the civil war, the force will struggle to do anything more than reduce some of the most negative symptoms of the conflict and could spark direct confrontation with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) or any rebel forces that might threaten Juba.
In July 2016, nearly a year after it had been signed, the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan collapsed. This meant that the former Transitional Government of National Unity also collapsed and was replaced by a governing regime led by President Salva Kiir and those collaborators who he had coopted into service. The final straw was a period of intense fighting between government and rebel forces that had been deployed in Juba as part of the peace deal. The fighting and subsequent rampaging of soldiers saw hundreds killed, numerous crimes committed against the civilian population, and led the remaining rebel forces and their leader to flee the city. There followed a flurry of calls for an intervention force to protect civilians, especially in Juba.
This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in April 2016.
The number of uniformed personnel serving in UN peace missions reached a new record in 2016, at almost 123,000. Following grave failings of UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, there is growing awareness within the UN of a widening disjoint between the expectations placed upon peacekeeping forces and what they can actually achieve. One aspect of the debate relates to the question of how robustly UN missions should operate in enforcing their mandate. In some quarters the resolute use of force is seen as the key to greater success. Almost three years ago the UN sent a Force Intervention Brigade to Congo with an explicit mandate to neutralise armed groups. An assessment of its record reveals that the brigade cannot be regarded as an organisational model worth replicating, and that peace-enforcing mandates do not necessarily lead to greater success in peacekeeping.
Three years ago, on 28 March 2013, the UN Security Council decided to send a 3,096-member Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to eastern DR Congo (Resolution 2098). The move came in response to persistent difficulties in establishing peace in the region after the March 23 Movement (M23) was able to capture North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma in November 2012, unhindered by UN forces.
The African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) broke new ground yesterday by adopting a communiqué that threatened to launch a 5,000 strong force to protect civilians in Burundi. The communiqué gave the Burundian government 96 hours to consent to the operation or face the scenario of the AU deploying the force anyway. Although Burundi was a member of the PSC—and was actually its designated chair for December 2015—the council utilized Article 8(9) of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the PSC (2002) to ask the Burundian delegation to remove themselves from the chamber during the substantive deliberations on this issue.
If the Burundian government consents to its deployment, the force, dubbed the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), will still confront many practical challenges, not least how to stabilize the country and help facilitate a political settlement of the crisis there, which is thought to have killed hundreds of people, mainly civilians, in the past few months. However, if the Burundian government calls the AU’s bluff and refuses to invite MAPROBU onto its territory, this raises an even more fundamental set of challenges for the AU. Whatever happens, this communiqué is a novel form of coercive diplomacy exercised by the AU that raises many important questions for African governments, regional organizations, the United Nations, and other stakeholders in Burundi’s ongoing crisis, not least the country’s citizens. This report briefly discusses five of those questions.