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Mali beyond MINUSMA: Which Role for ECOWAS & the EU?


MINUSMA faces enduring challenges in the implementation of its mandate seeking to advance the Malian peace process, support reconciliation, provide humanitarian assistance, ensure the protection of civilians and promote human rights, especially of women and children. Which credible institutional framework can adequately support reconciliation and human security, in particular upon MINUSMA’s eventual departure from Mali?

Mr. Chukwuemeka Eze (Executive Director – West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, WANEP) and Mr. Kissima Gakou (University of Law and Political Science of Bamako) took part in a discussion with members of the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law who are active in Mali. Participants assessed priorities, outstanding SSR challenges, and the role ECOWAS and the EU missions should play at a 14 April informal meeting, hosted by the Knowledge Platform and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.


Which role for ECOWAS? Key takeaways

-         To reassure the Malian people that the country will remain stable upon the departure of the international community, it is important for ECOWAS to take ownership and proactively ensure the sustainability of on-going efforts.

-         The ECOWAS peace support operation will constitute an opportunity to prove that its standby force is operational, and requires the following:

  • Resource mobilisation to prevent a post-MINUSMA void.
  • Sufficient space for dialogue, which is currently lacking.
  • Protection of civilians in the North, to undercut a legitimising factor of the rebel groups.
  • Well-articulated DDR, which lays the onus on reintegration.
  • Inclusion of the diaspora and refugees in peace efforts.

-         A fact-finding mission to assess existing stakes and human security challenges must additionally be deployed to further inform policy decisions. It will enable findings gathered by civil society to date be validated.


Lessons learned from MINUSMA for ECOWAS

-          To advance the peace process, a different focus on leadership is needed. A mediator who is from the region and who inspires confidence on the side of the government and the rebels, other than a sitting Head of State, must be looked for by ECOWAS.

-          Extremist tendencies across the region need to be monitored to be able to assess and respond to any changes upon MINUSMA’s departure. A more proactive approach and comprehensive economic framework overall are needed to prevent vulnerable and demobilised youth from resorting to violent extremism.

-          The development of entrepreneurial skills is important, but should be accompanied with opportunities to enhance leadership and strengthen youth participation in governance, as they have the potential to alter conflict dynamics.

-          While many resources have been spent on border control and management, efforts have failed to yield results. As external actors can only do so much, the non-involvement of local communities in initiatives has been an important gap and must be looked at, while carefully balancing endeavours with the free movement of goods and people, and ECOWAS’ integration.

-          The Malian government is perceived to have done little to advance local level reconciliation and ECOWAS does not possess the mandate, nor the skills to do so. Close cooperation with civil society to support community reconciliation and develop a comprehensive approach to human security are therefore essential.


Coordination and regional politics

As the coordination of efforts by the EU, UN etc. remains unclear, ECOWAS needs to assume responsibility, develop a clear strategy, and show openness to engage with other initiatives, including by the AU, through the development of a joint ECOWAS-AU workplan.

The Group of Five for the Sahel (G5, composed of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), which operates on the basis of commitments at the Head of State level, benefits from a stronger political impulse as well as significant back up by international partners so as to respond to terrorist threats. Yet, ECOWAS is heavily dependent on the same partners, but receives less investment. As the G5 escapes from Algeria’s grip, and its lack of credibility as a peace broker, it is in a position to advance more rapidly. Meanwhile, ECOWAS’s inability to overcome security deficits in the region has led to its discredit in public opinion, where it is perceived as a political envelope devoid of content. Harmony in actions between ECOWAS and the G5 thus continues to be lacking.

Significant regional politics are furthermore at play. France’s weight in Mali places ECOWAS in a second position. However, the ECOWAS Commission’s new President from Benin has the potential to lead to new responses that are more detached from politics. Together with the full support provided to ECOWAS’ strategy in Mali by the President of Nigeria, these changing regional dynamics are hoped to yield a positive impact.


The role of the European Union and outstanding SSR challenges

While there has been more attention to MINUSMA than to the EU, its contributions should be adequately assessed to improve coherence and impact of interventions. Indeed, the EU Training Mission for the Malian military, focused on mass combat, is perceived to lack alignment with the local operational context of terrorism, both in the North and in Bamako. The perception of northern Malians is that individuals originating from the South are sent to the North, which has a potential of aggravating local conflict dynamics. This offensive EU involvement clashes with its role in the peace process and precipitates a lack of credibility as regards the EU’s long-term development endeavours.

Meanwhile, EUCAP, the EU’s civil security mission, is felt to have provided training on ways of working which were not understood by the Malians in their context, and hence, have not been implemented.

Most recently, the EU’s SSR mission has been deployed but has been inactive as both the Malian army and the police are already in the process of being reformed, and the government has convinced its international partners that the reintegration of former combatants, through the newly established National Commissions on DDR and Integration, must take place before SSR can proceed. This assessment points to the fact that the 3 EU missions have not been thought through jointly, or in line with local realities, as evidenced by the WOSCAP project, currently reviewing the EU’s conflict prevention and peacebuilding interventions. The EU shall therefore think creatively about its interventions and where and how exactly SSR will occur.

Overall, Dutch interventions in Mali are positively perceived as they work closely with the population, which can be capitalised upon. As neither France nor MINUSMA are however seen as credible international actors by some Malians, the EU in particular would possibly be well placed to respond to on-going SSR challenges, on the condition that it moves beyond the respective interests of its member States and internal dissent, and finds solutions that are in line with local needs. Its significant neutrality, power, and relatively new role account for its potential. However, if it continues to fail, this option will also evaporate, to the detriment of Mali’s on-going peace process.