Concern over Mali’s move to kick out UN peacekeepers

Tuesday June 20 2023

UN peacekeepers belonging to the Minusma line up in Sevare, Mali on May 30, 2018. PHOTO | AFP


Mali’s decision to kick out the UN peacekeeping mission is eliciting concerns from regional and international powers over its implication on the security of the region.

The junta of the West African nation announced the decision on June 16, blaming the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali, known by its French acronym Minusma, for failing to respond to the country’s security challenges.

“The government of Mali calls for the withdrawal without delay of Minusma,” Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop told a UN Security Council meeting convened to review a UN report on the security situation in the country.

Mali has been fighting an insurgency in its northern and central regions since 2012, and the military cited failure to tame the scourge as a reason for the ouster of the civilian government President Bah N'daw in 2021 by Col Assimi Goïta.

Read: Mali junta warns peace deal under threat

Relations between Bamako and Western powers have deteriorated over the years over disagreement on how to handle the conflict that has claimed thousands of civilian lives and displaced over six million others, according to UN figures.


Mali has had two coups in the past three years and its ties to Russia have also complicated the relationship with the West.

The US and France have accused Russia of fermenting insecurity in the region through the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, a private army that reportedly entered Mali last year.

Minusma was first deployed in 2013 to help stabilise the country after a rebellion waged by the Tuareg in the northern part of the country. With support from France, government forces at the time forced the rebels out of power. But they soon regrouped and set up bases in the desert, leading to the start of the insurgency.

Since then several armed groups thought to be linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda have entered the scene.

The UN Mission’s mandate is due to expire at the end of June.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres had proposed an amendment of the mission’s mandate, which the Malians objected to.

Minister Diop was quoted as saying that it made no sense for the troops to continue staying in the country after 10 years without any gains to show for it.

Even among the population, there has been growing anti-UN sentiment. There was a mass demonstration in late May by people calling for the withdrawal of the troops, which they said have failed them by watching helplessly as civilians were massacred.

“Minusma seems to have become part of the problem by fuelling community tensions exacerbated by extremely serious allegations which are highly detrimental to peace, reconciliation and national cohesion in Mali,” Diop told the Security Council.

The UN described the conflict in Mali as the deadliest, after more than 300 of its 15, 000 troops have been killed there.

Read: UN: Mali army, foreign forces killed 500 people

Minusma took over as the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world from Monusco in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they have also come under attack from civilians, who accuse them of failing to protect them in one of the world’s protracted conflicts.

Mali’s intention to cut ties with the UN mission has simmered  since July last year, when the junta-led administration suspended troop rotations of the mission. That followed the detention of 49 troops from neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire, who were said to be linked to the UN mission.

Read: Mali jails Ivorian soldiers for 20 years

In August that same year, the junta expelled Minusma spokesman Olivier Salgado. And this year in February, it declared a senior official of the mission persona non grata.

The Security Council is expected to pass a resolution to extend Minusma’s mandate by June 30. But experts say that’s unlikely to happen, as the decision requires at least nine votes in favour, with no veto from one of the five permanent members -- Russia, China, the United States, United Kingdom or France.

The announcement by the Malians comes about a week after reports that Junta leader Col Goitta spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on phone. That development has left Western governments unsettled.

Read: Mali junta leader discusses security, economy with Russia

The US State Department expressed regret over Mali’s decision in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are concerned about the effects this decision will have on the security and humanitarian crises impacting the Malian people,” it said, noting that Washington “will continue to work with our partners in West Africa to help them tackle the urgent security and governance challenges they face.”

The US also reminded the Malian transition government to continue to adhere to all its commitments, including the transition to a democratically elected, civilian-led government.

Malians voted on Sunday in a referendum proposing constitutional amendments ahead of transition to democratic rule, expected in march 2024.