Mali’s foot-drag­ging traps peace mis­sion

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Last week, the of­fices of the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion in the desert city of Gao in north­ern Mali were flat­tened by a truck bomb. On Tues­day, just five sus­pected Is­lamist mil­i­tants suc­ceeded in free­ing 93 in­mates from a jail in the town of Niono. “Peace” in Mali looks in­creas­ingly like war by an­other name. As both rebels and gov­ern­ment go slow on im­ple­ment­ing a deal signed last year, it is the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion, which has lost 100 lives and is cost­ing nearly a bil­lion dol­lars a year, that is pay­ing the price.

“The war makes a liv­ing for a lot of peo­ple,” said Moussa Mara, a for­mer prime min­is­ter who led an abortive ef­fort to re­take the law­less desert town of Ki­dal in 2014 but no longer has a gov­ern­ment post. “There are those in the peace process who don’t want it to con­clude. They get their ‘per diems’, they get their travel paid. These armed groups are not in a hurry,” Mara told Reuters, re­call­ing that one meet­ing on im­ple­men­ta­tion that was sup­posed to take an after­noon had ended up drag­ging on for weeks.

Ever since French forces in­ter­vened in 2013 to push back Is­lamists who had hi­jacked an eth­nic Tuareg up­ris­ing in Mali’s desert north, world pow­ers, es­pe­cially for­mer colo­nial mas­ter France, have in­vested huge sums in try­ing to soothe the com­pli­cated ri­val­ries that caused Mali to im­plode. The UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion, MINUSMA, has 13,000 staff from 123 na­tions. France main­tains a 4,000-strong par­al­lel peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tion, “Barkhane”. And the Euro­pean Union has 580 in­struc­tors train­ing the Malian army.

‘Time is our en­emy’

The aim is to en­sure the suc­cess of the July 2015 peace pact, which of­fers Tuaregs and other north­ern groups some au­ton­omy if they give up on in­de­pen­dence, and to pre­vent a resur­gence of Is­lamist mil­i­tants adept at ex­ploit­ing any power vac­uum. But the set­ting up of in­terim au­thor­i­ties has stalled, and Is­lamist mil­i­tants based in the desert north are ven­tur­ing fur­ther and fur­ther south with their at­tacks. One of the north’s main cities, Ki­dal, lies com­pletely out­side gov­ern­ment con­trol be­cause of fight­ing be­tween pro- and anti-gov­ern­ment Tuareg fac­tions, partly over traf­fick­ing routes.

The head of the U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Mali (MINUSMA), Cha­dian diplo­mat Ma­hamat Saleh An­nadif, has pressed Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita per­son­ally for more ur­gency. “I’ve told him that this is an emer­gency, and that time is our en­emy,” An­nadif told Reuters in his of­fice in Ba­mako, in­side a U.N. build­ing pro­tected by se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers of sand­bags. An­nadif said he be­lieved Keita was sin­cere about want­ing to im­ple­ment the deal, but that he had said Mali was a democ­racy and had to work through its in­sti­tu­tions, which took time. “I told him, re­gard­less of the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, we could have moved more quickly.”

A spokesman for the pres­i­dent did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, but Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Colonel Salif Traore told Reuters: “It’s the na­ture of a deal that no­body can get all they want ... but I’m con­fi­dent this deal will per­mit us to sta­bilise our coun­try.” Mean­while, the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion wors­ens. An­drew Le­bovich of the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions said the north­ern rebel groups were be­com­ing more frag­mented, and had lit­tle trust in the UN force. “Even sup­pos­edly pro-gov­ern­ment mili­tias (in the north) don’t re­ally want the gov­ern­ment back.” — Reuers

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