Thank you, Madam President, for the opportunity to brief the Council on the situation in Mali since the release of the Secretary-General’s report and letter. As you have both documents before you, I will focus my briefing on more recent updates, progress, and challenges.
Madam President, Members of the Council
Over the weekend, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an Extraordinary Summit to take stock of the steps taken by Mali towards the holding of elections and a return to constitutional order. The Summit followed the previous meeting of the regional leaders on 12 December in Abuja, as well as Mali confirming that it would not be able to meet the deadline for the holding of elections on 27 February 2022 and pledge to revert to ECOWAS by 31 December with a revised electoral calendar following the completion of the Assises Nationales de la Refondation. The Assises, as you may recall, were billed as a forum which would create broad political consensus on the future direction of Mali, notably through institutional reforms.
Held between 11 and 30 December 2021 at local and national level, the Assises Nationales indeed produced extensive recommendations on institutional and governance reforms. Although subject to divergence over its relevance and modalities among the political class, it is clear that the implementation of the ANR recommendations, which will go well beyond the transition period, would go a long way to support a more stable Mali.
Following the Assises’ conclusion, on New Year’s Eve, Malian authorities conveyed to the Chairman of ECOWAS its outcomes along with a projection for the holding of presidential elections at the end of 2026. On 5 January, the ECOWAS Mediator was dispatched to Mali for further consultations after which Mali reverted with a revised proposal for the holding of elections at the end of 2025.
As outlined in their communiqué, ECOWAS Heads of State and Government found the proposed chronogram to be “unacceptable”. Urging Malian authorities to focus on a speedy return to constitutional order, they upheld the individual sanctions that were put in place on 12 December and imposed additional ones, including recalling of the Ambassadors of ECOWAS Member States from Mali, the closing of land and air borders between Member States and Mali, suspension of all commercial and financial transactions - with exemptions for food products, medical supplies, petroleum and electricity; the freezing of the assets of the state and public enterprises located in the region in commercial banks; and the suspension of financial assistance from ECOWAS.
As indicated by ECOWAS, these sanctions are to be reviewed and gradually lifted pending the finalization of an acceptable timetable for elections and requisite progress towards its implementation.
Following the announcement, Mali also made a number of decisions including the recall of its ambassadors and closure of borders with ECOWAS Member States. In an address to the nation last evening calling for unity and calm, Transition President Goita stated that Mali remains open to dialogue with ECOWAS to find a compromise that would reconcile the aspirations of the Malian people and respect the principles of the organization.
Given that support to the Transition is a key aspect of the MINUSMA mandate, we will continue to work with Malian authorities alongside ECOWAS and the African Union to find a consensual way out to overcome the current impasse and facilitate Mali’s return towards a path to peace and stability.
Against the current political backdrop, the importance of the Mission’s priorities linked to the 2015 peace agreement and stabilization of the Centre cannot be overemphasized, as they are both critical to Mali’s long-term stability. In this regard, it is well noted that the Assises Nationales de la refondation highlighted the need to enhance the implementation of the peace agreement. Some of its main recommendations – such as the constitutional review, the creation of a Senate and the acceleration of the DDR and territorial decentralization processes, offer a window of opportunity on which all stakeholders should build to move forward on the implementation of the peace agreement.
The international mediation, led by Algeria and including MINUSMA and other international stakeholders, continued to be actively involved. On 5 January, the Mediation met for the third time since October 2021 and called for the early convening of a decision-making meeting between Malian signatories, which we hope will take place in the coming weeks and allow overdue progress, most notably on global DDR based on the Government’s concrete offer to integrate 26 000 combatants in the next two to three years. A high-level seminar, to be organized next week, will also allow all stakeholders to better operationalize the Independent Observer’s recommendations.
MINUSMA has continued to consistently to engage with Malian parties and international partners in support of the peace process. It also pursued its efforts on the ground, notably by supporting the reconstituted battalions, now an integral part of the Malian armed forces (FAMa), including the one in Kidal which is currently planning its fourth patrol by the end of this month.
MINUSMA’s approach towards the Center continues to be multifaceted and revolves around a structured support to Malian authorities linked to the drafting of a politically led strategy for Central Mali, as requested by the Council. A series of consultations have been undertaken in the last months by the Malian Cadre politique de gestion de la crise au Centre with MINUSMA support to identify strategic approaches, priority efforts and quickly implementable actions in fields such as security, governance, development and humanitarian assistance.
These efforts, made in support to the peace agreement and the stabilization of the Centre have been undertaken as 2021 saw more extremist attacks than any years prior, and with MINUSMA facing the highest number of casualties since 2013 following a significant rise of asymmetric attacks targeting main axes, convoys, camps, and temporary operating bases. The series of coordinated attacks against our camps as well as the death of 28 peacekeepers in 2021, including seven Togolese in a single incident in December, underline the dangerous environment in which MINUSMA continues to operate.
I wish to pay tribute to all of our troop and police-contributing countries, including those from the region who constitute the bulk of our troops and have been supporting Mali since the very beginning of the crisis in 2012.
The conflict has had a devastating impact on civilians and the humanitarian situation. On 3 December for instance, 32 civilians, including 26 women and children, were killed near Songho in Central Mali, when their bus was attacked by extremist elements. The number of IDPs has increased from 216,000 in 2020 to more than 400,000 a year later. The deteriorating security situation also affects agriculture production - more than 1.8M people are expected to need food assistance in 2022 compared to 1.3M in 2021. This would be the highest level of food insecurity recorded since 2014.
In such difficult circumstances, the response to the humanitarian appeal has remained lukewarm as only 38% of funds needed were received. A stronger support of the international community is urgently needed to address this funding gap.
One of the most concerning consequences of violence in the Sahel in the past few years has been its impact on education. In Mali, more than half a million children have been affected by school closures, putting the future of the country in jeopardy and making youth more vulnerable to radicalization and abuse.
MINUSMA is making every effort to physically verify the status of schools during patrols in remote locations, while UN Agencies are working closely with the Education Ministry to implement key mitigation strategies. We are exploring options to better effectively support such efforts, including in terms of security, use of our own programmatic funding and Trust Fund, as well as communication and outreach.
Despite a very difficult environment and capacity challenges, MINUSMA peacekeepers continue to do their level best to protect civilians, main supply routes and key infrastructure as well as support of Malian institutions, local reconciliation and community engagement.
Here, I would like to highlight our effective response in Aguelhok, in Mali’s far north, where MINUSMA’s robust response to attacks in April last year was complemented by engagement with local authorities and community leaders as well as stabilization projects.
Another example is linked to the deployment of a quick reaction force and the establishment of a temporary operating base in Tassiga, in the Gao region, after extremists threatened the local population if they did not leave the village.
MINUSMA, along with Malian reconciliation teams, also paved the way to the local reconciliation agreement signed in October between communities in Ogossagou, where some 200 civilians had been killed in March 2019 and February 2020.
Furthermore, MINUSMA, in support of FAMa, is also protecting key roads and infrastructure which are vital to increasingly isolated populations and to our operations, in particular bridges along the key axis between Sevare and Bandiagara. We also continue to provide extended to Malian Defense and Security Forces, notably through CASEVACs, support to capacity building and the provision and building of infrastructure.
Finally, the Mission is supporting humanitarian efforts in villages that have been encircled for months by extremist groups in Central Mali. For instance, 49.7 tons of food were delivered to Farabougou in Central Mali through 22 flights from 21 December 2021 to 6 January.
Much has also been done to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers, in light of the marked evolution of the threat, notably in tactics and lethality of improvised explosives devices and mines. Significant improvement in terms of camp security and the contingents’ preparedness, equipment and detection capabilities over the years have clearly saved many lives, but these efforts must continue. MINUSMA is also actively exploring the opening of additional supply routes to reduce the risk to convoys.
As you know, the Republic of Chad recently offered additional troops to MINUSMA, a development that was welcomed by Malian authorities. This, once operationalized, would also provide more flexibility to respond to threats against civilians and peacekeepers, while also providing the Mission with more room to support Malian Defense and Security Forces.
As this Council meets, it now has been a decade that the crisis has started.
Hopes for an early resolution of the crisis did not unfortunately materialize.
Rather insecurity has expanded, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, more children of out of school and the country has been affected by an endless cycle of instability. Yet the situation would have been far worse without the sustained and multifaceted engagement of the international community, symbolized among others by the deployment of MINUSMA.
As the country is facing these difficult times, we observe a deep aspiration of Malians to reform, improved governance and a more effective State.
Mali’s partners should build on these aspirations to help lay the foundations for lasting stability.
Every effort should also be made to resolve as soon as possible the current challenges linked to the transition process. A protracted impasse will make it much harder to find a consensual way out, while increasing hardship for the population and further weakening state capacity. Such scenario will have far-reaching consequences for Mali and the region as a whole.
Beyond the political transition, it is crucial that the Council continues to pay equal attention to the implementation of the peace agreement and to stabilization of the Centre, which are two other building blocks for a peaceful a stable Mali.
I thank you for your kind attention.