International Peace Operations Part II
5: International response
After the campaign broke out in January 2012, the president was ousted in March in a coup by soldiers dissatisfied with the response to the uprising in northern Mali. Many international actors were concerned about the situation in Mali, including the regional organization ECOWAS. They planned a military intervention to take over northern parts of Mali which were controlled by rebel groups.
The UN supports ECOWAS ‘plans. It was central to the UN that the interim authorities in Mali, which were to ensure the transition to new governing powers, also agreed on this intervention. It is also important to point out that AU played a coordinating role with ECOWAS and the UN. In other words, it was a collaboration between several organizations, commissioned by the Social Security Council.
Nevertheless, it was French forces that first invaded Mali in January 2013 after jihadist groups took control of the rebel groups and moved south towards the capital Bamako. France acted on official demand from Malian authorities, and on the basis of the mandate from the UN Security Council. A few days later, West African forces did the same.
Almost six months after the French and West African intervention, they handed over responsibility for security in Mali to the UN’s peacekeeping operation. The UN typically needs more time to launch an operation, primarily because member states on a voluntary basis contribute civilian experts, soldiers and police. In the operation in Mali, as in most others, there are personnel from African and Asian countries. Nevertheless, several European countries, including Norway, have also taken part in the UN operation.
In 2018, it is five years since the international community intervened in Mali. Malian authorities, with the help of forces from France and ECOWAS, thus took back large parts of the territory in the north. Nevertheless, the country is still plagued by fighting and unrest. Why has not the world community managed to create peace in Mali?
The world community faces several challenges in Mali that they also face elsewhere. First, Mali does not have a peace to preserve. While the UN has traditionally launched “peacekeeping” operations, Mali is a “stabilization operation”. Some believe the UN should be careful to challenge the principle of impartiality, which is important in the UN’s work for dialogue and peace negotiations. It is, moreover, very difficult to resolve conflicts in other countries. It is a complicated situation, and ultimately it is the parties themselves who must lay down their arms. Nevertheless, others will argue that it is important, also during the war, to help build local authorities’ state structure and ability to control their own territory.
The second challenge concerns precisely the possibilities for building a functioning state structure. Few would argue that Mali has a well-functioning state structure. Malian authorities have little to do with it, and very little ordinary malaria benefits. One can hardly talk about an education and health offer, especially not in the countryside. Although Mali is a popular country for donors such as Norway, development is very slow, if not in reverse due to the conflict that is raging.
The third challenge in Mali, which the world community also faces in many other places, is that the security forces are weak and have very little trust in society. They lack equipment, lack training, and receive poor or no pay. This means that there is a greater chance that they will disappear, be disloyal, tax the local population and ultimately join the ranks of the rebel groups. In Mali, confidence in the police and army is very low. Few Malians experience that the police and army work for them and many believe that these primarily consist of one of many ethnic groups in Mali, a country located in Africa according to ehealthfacts.org.
The fourth and overall challenge is how the world community and all actors must cooperate and coordinate the work to stabilize the country. When there are many actors in the same country, coordination, communication and cooperation are often difficult. This may be due to poor communication flow or that different actors want to do things in their own ways. In Mali, it is a recurring problem that Malian authorities say yes to several projects under the auspices of international actors, without informing about this. All actors, including the international ones, may have other main interests than, for example, building a more inclusive governance system. The Mali authorities are perhaps most interested in retaining power, while many European and other Western countries want to stop migration and fight terrorist groups.
In recent decades, there has been more agreement on bringing peace and stabilization operations to more countries. Nevertheless, we see that the world community is struggling to cooperate on how to intervene in several major crises, primarily in Ukraine and Syria. In this article, we have looked at Mali, one of the countries where the Security Council agreed to contribute to stability and create fertile ground for peace and development. But despite the agreement, there are several elements that make it difficult for the world community to achieve a common goal of peace.
Several international actors have sent civilian experts, soldiers and police to stabilize Mali. But even though there are several who can pull the load together, poor coordination is another problem. In order to pull the load together and in the same direction, international players must avoid stepping on each other’s legs. This is about both the lack of will and the ability to coordinate: A key challenge is that both national and international actors may have other main interests than creating peace and stability. In this way, international actors complicate an already difficult situation.
Has the involvement of all these actors in Mali become a little too many chefs and a lot of mess? On the one hand, the world community has probably saved Mali from further chaos and plays an important role in encouraging the parties to find a political solution. On the other hand, the situation today is still unstable, and there are few signs that it will improve in the near future.