U.N. Peacekeepers Attacked In Mali Again

U.N. reports that 13 U.N. soldiers have been wounded during their peacekeeping mission in Mali. Of the 13 soldiers, 12 of them were from Germany and one from Belgium. The attack happened in the Gao region in the north of Mali. The United Nations mission in Mali, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), was started in 2013 renewed in 2020. Today the mission deploys over 18,300 people, out of which around 12,400 are troops. Since 2013 the mission has had 230 fatalities making it the deadliest U.N. mission today. The mission started as a peace-keeping mission to stabilize the country and later protect civilians. This was in response to both regional independence groups and Islamic terrorist groups. However, today the mission can largely be considered a counterterrorist one. Bruno Charbonneau, a researcher at Laurentian University, has argued that this undermines the peacekeeping part of the mission by making it more difficult to address the root causes of the conflict. He also points out that the label terrorist is not a stable category, what group is labeled a terrorist group is very much subjective and normative.

In 1990 there was a rebellion in the north part of the country and as a result, decentralization of the state was adopted. However, the decentralization was not effective and did not improve governing in the area. The current conflict that started in 2012 is by many described as having developed out of an institutional failure and disengagement of the state. Many in the north felt marginalized by the leaders in the south. The Mali state failed to provide social services and effective public administration to its population in the north.

In 2015 a peace agreement was signed between the Mali government and the Coordination of Azawad Movements and the Platform of armed groups, two coalitions of armed groups. The agreement specified steps to end the violence, a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, decentralization measures, and increased local participation in the state. However, six years later, the peace agreement is still not realized. The Carter Center, who was appointed as the Independent Observer of the agreement, has said that virtually no progress has been made. Mathieu Pellerin, an expert at the Crisis Group, points out that the groups felt pressured by international actors to sign the agreement. This is not uncommon; it is based on the idea of a “mutually hurting stalemate”.

The idea is that an agreement can be made when there is a stalemate that hurts both parties, they are most likely to seek and agree on a settlement when it is seen as the least “costing” alternative. Applying international pressure is often a part of this strategy. The problem is that peace agreements take time and resources to be implemented. In other words, the success of peace agreements often depends on parties’ willingness to implement them, not only in a “hurting moment” but throughout the process. Pellerin points out another problem with the 2015 agreement, civil society organizations were excluded from the process. In fact, a survey done last year found that 80 percent of the population said they either had no knowledge or hardly any knowledge of the peace agreement. The process of conflict resolution and peace building is not easy, and there is no clear map of how to go about it. The reality is that reaching a peace agreement, implementing it and buildings sustainable peace is extremely difficult. Despite this and a resolution should be sought in Mali, one that addresses the root causes of the conflict, is based on the willingness of parties, and include the perspectives of non-combats. Dialogue should be initiated for a new peace agreement, one that is anchored in the local reality not international hope.