The UN Security Council will be in the Sahel this weekend, visiting Mali and Niger, to push Bamako to return to civilian power after two military coups in nine months (August 2020 and May 2021) , in a region marked by a strong jihadist push.
“The Sahel region is exposed to all challenges. This is where the challenges lie in the fight against terrorism, the humanitarian issue, the impact of climate change, good governance ”Niger’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdou Abarry, told AFP, who is co-leading this trip with his French counterpart, Nicolas de Rivière. “The situation in the Sahel remains very fragile”, adds the latter, evoking “The stabilization of Mali” and the need to “Discuss how to support the efforts of the G5 Sahel countries to ensure their security”.
The Malian junta’s relations with France are at an all-time low and this trip comes as Bamako is looking for alternative partners in Paris, especially in Russia. A deployment in Mali of Russian paramilitaries from the private group Wagner, known to be close to the Kremlin, is rejected by the Europeans, who consider it incompatible with their commitment to the UN mission, the Minusma, or within anti-jihadist forces.
Get “a realistic schedule”
For the fifteen members of the Security Council, going to a country ruled by a military man is not the same as “To support the coups d’état in Mali”, assure several Western and African diplomats. They go to the area for “Support regional organizations such as ECOWAS [Communauté économique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest], insist on respecting the electoral deadlines and, if this is not possible, at least have a realistic timetable ”, specifies one of them. The ECOWAS imposed elections in Mali on February 27, 2022, but the authorities believe that a postponement of a few weeks or months is not to be ruled out, the important thing being their credibility.
While China, Russia and India will be represented by deputy ambassadors, the United States is sending Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a UN ambassador with ministerial rank in the Biden government – a rare participation at this level. Both Europeans and Africans hope to take advantage of this to try to influence the American position on the anti-jihadist force of the G5 Sahel. Until now, Washington favors bilateral aid and refuses – like London – the idea defended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, of creating a UN support office, with common UN funds, to this force composed of troops from Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Mauritania.
In a letter to the Security Council, Antonio Guterres recently revealed that NATO is reviewing “Options for increased support for the G5 Sahel”. “Americans want alternative options”, tries to decipher a diplomat on condition of anonymity. Corn “NATO does not appear at first glance as a very feasible option” and “This is not what Africa is asking for”, he notes.
Strengthen the Minusma?
The United States maintains that “Peacekeeping is not counter-terrorism”, continues this diplomat. The first is the responsibility of the UN, while the second is more of a national approach. Corn “In Africa, where the terrorist threat is increasing or diversifying, peacekeeping operations will have to ask more and more questions” on their anti-jihadist role, he adds, asking himself: what is the difference between protecting civilians in the face of a terrorist threat and in the face of armed groups?
When a country fights a threat on its soil, the rule at the UN is that there is no reason for it to support it financially, however, reports another diplomatic source.
No comment could be obtained by AFP from the American diplomatic mission to the UN on the motivations of Linda Thomas-Greenfield with regard to her first trip to the Sahel with the Security Council.
On the French side, the challenge of the trip is also to try to unblock a request from Paris to increase the Minusma by 2,000 peacekeepers in the center of the country (the mission has 13,289 soldiers and 1,920 police officers). Formulated in June after the announcement of a disengagement in Mali from the “Barkhane” force, this request was rejected by several members of the Security Council, in particular for financial reasons, according to diplomats.
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