The UN Security Council has announced increased funding and support for the G5 anti-Jihad force in the Sahel region, comprised of the five former French colonies south of the Sahara – Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger. The Sahel states have pledged an additional 5000 troops to complement the existing UN peacekeeping force, MINUSMA, which has witnessed the death of 118 UN peacekeepers since its commencement in July 2013. Originally, the transnational MINUSMA mission intended to ‘safeguard civilians,’ but this mandate has expanded to include additional provisions for protecting the peacekeepers themselves.
Senior Sahel Analyst for the International Crisis group, Jean-Herve Jezequel, stated that it was important “to give more muscle to MINUSMA – no mission has been as costly in terms of blood.” Several policy makers have focused on the importance of the force to transnational and regional security. For example, EU diplomatic chief, Federica Mogherini anchored the EU’s contribution of €50 million to the force to the idea that it is “crucial not only for Africa but also for Europe.” This was reaffirmed by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who characterised the force as “imperative for the international community…this is in our collective best interests, as what is at sake is not only the security of the Sahel countries, but also that of many other regions of our globe, as the scourge in question knows no borders.”
The extensive advertising of the additional anti-Jihad force can be linked to the funding gap. The first twelve months of the operation – estimated to cost €491 million – still needs a further capital injection. Prior to the €60 million pledge from the US, aggregate funding was around €108 million. However, the US has been critical of the efficiency with which this money has been spent in the past. US Ambassador to the UN Security Council, Nikki Haley has previously criticised the mission, complaining that progress in stabilising the region had stalled, equipment did not meet standards and countries were slow in committing troops. Jezquel, agreed, “not all contingents are on the same page.” Indeed, failure to discern between terrorists and other civilians has stagnated efforts towards arranging an anti-terror disarmament treaty. This has also been a point of frustration for international players who continue to fund peacekeeping initiatives in the Sahel region and expect hard-cut results. Professor of Malian studies at Lehigh University, Bruce Whitehouse, stated that pushing for a “quick timetable” would undermine the likelihood of long-term peace.
However, the rising death toll of UN peacekeepers, rather than capital inefficiency, places the productivity of the mission in question. Despite its status as “one of the most demanding and bloodiest operations in the UN’s global portfolio,” MINUSMA seems to have misdirected its military presence and lost human perspective. Throughout the Sahel region, drug trafficking, human trafficking, conflict between farmers and nomadic herding communities all contribute to a narrative of violence beyond terrorism. Particularly in Mali, high levels of government corruption, tensions between north and south ethnic groups and the impact of technology on traditional hierarchies all overshadow efforts towards regional peace. Dieuwertje Kuijpers, a High Risk Studies academic, appealed to diplomats, “the crisis is a political and socio-economic problem – to which you cannot apply military solutions.” Ideally, MINUSMA and the new G5 force would take a more integrated approach, addressing the root causes of violence and dedicating more explicit attention to when and where it will take action to protect civilians in its mandate.
As MINUSMA is a solely military mission, the addition of a strengthened G5 Sahel force creates opportunities for a tonal change in the current peacekeeping efforts. This would entail adjusting the mission to be more anticipatory in preempting instability and more inclusive of local communities to ensure that it remains in touch with societal values. The commencement of the new operation has renewed public media attention in peacekeeping efforts, which is hopefully accompanied by greater transparency and more critical debate about the role and function of peace missions.