Mali’s Withdrawal from Sahel-5 Joint Force Undermines Africa’s Unity

By Kester Kenn Klomegah*

MOSCOW | BAMAKO (IDN) — The Malian Transitional Military Government’s abrupt and unexpected decision to withdraw from the G5-Sahel group and its Joint Force is “unfortunate” and “regrettable”, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council as she urged countries in the region to redouble efforts to protect human rights, amid protracted political and security crises.

Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, pointed out that the Joint Force was created in 2017 by the “G5” Heads of State—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—to counter terrorism in the Sahel “head on”.

However, the challenging political and security dynamics in the Sahel—and uncertain outcomes of transitions in Mali and Burkina Faso, in particular—has already slowed Joint Force operations. The G5 Sahel, meanwhile, has not convened a high-level political meeting since November 2021, while its Defence and Security Committee has not met in over six months.

Thanks to Commander General Oumar Bikimo, she said, the Joint Force has been able to carry out operations in all three of its sectors since the Security Council last met in November, despite the absence of Malian battalions.

How Mali’s decision to leave the G5 and the Joint Force will impact the dynamics in the region remains to be seen. “It is most certainly a step back for the Sahel,” she said.

For its part, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) will continue to provide support to the Joint Force long as it is mandated to do so by the Council. It has been working with contractors to deliver life support consumables to the contingents and will honour requests received by the other four contingents outside of Mali.

“Protecting the most vulnerable has become ever more important,” she stressed. She cited reports of serious violations committed against civilians—by terrorist armed groups, as well as reportedly by armed and security forces.

To be sure, uprooting terrorist groups deeply enmeshed or embedded within communities is “uniquely challenging” in the Sahel, she said, making counter terrorism operations immensely difficult to carry out.

But if civilians fall victim to these groups, “those very efforts are going to be pointless”. Terrorist operations cause immeasurable human suffering, seriously undermine trust in the State and fuel radicalization.

“It is perhaps time to rethink our approaches and change the way we do our work,” she added. “We need innovative approaches in the face of the constantly evolving tactics of terrorist groups, whose influence keeps expanding.”

She noted that for the last five years, the international community, donors and partners have struggled to reach a consensus on the most effective support mechanism for a collective security response in the Sahel.

And the lack of consensus persists—despite the recognition by all, that the terrorist onslaught in the Sahel constitutes a slow-burning, mortal threat to international peace and security.

“It is now more urgent than ever to act,” she said. She called for a holistic approach that honours “the primacy of politics”, addresses the causes of poverty and exclusion, and provides opportunities and fulfilled lives for the many young people in the region.

The African Union Commission and the United Nations Secretariat will jointly carry out a strategic assessment of security and governance initiatives in the Sahel, she said, with the goal of strengthening support to the G5-Sahel, its Joint Force and other security and governance initiatives in the region.

Reports pointed out that cooperation among forces from the so-called G5 countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—still remains difficult in view of the anti-French sentiments in the country, forcing under-equipped local armies to quickly step up their game against Islamist rebels in the volatile Sahelian region.

In fact, Nasser Bourita, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccans Abroad, who represented King Mohammed VI in the Extraordinary Summit on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes of Government of the African Union (AU) held on May 28 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, noted in his speech that the ecosystem of terrorism is evolving towards a nexus between terrorism, separatism and criminality.

With an increasingly recurrent, as well as increased terrorist activities, conflicts, political instability, and pandemics, this is the time to forge a continental voice, noted Bourita. He added that “in the face of this mutating threat, our collective strength has never been so much a function of our individual vulnerabilities, and the theme of terrorism and unconstitutional changes of government reflect a concern that is very relevant in view of the challenging situation in Africa”.

In this regard, the minister pointed out that the continent’s security indicators are turning red, one after the other, adding that this is a sign of the “mixed” operational assessment of the AU Action Plan on the prevention and the fight against terrorism adopted in 2002.

Bourita then advocated for the strengthening of a legal framework which can be very useful in the future, but highly regretted Mali’s decision to withdraw from the G5-Sahel which is “very bad news to ponder” as the continent needs collective commitment and integrated approach combining security action, economic and social action; and cultural and religious action. 

Mali, a landlocked West African state with an impoverished population, faces increasing isolation from the international community over the political power grab. Even as the African Union (AU), the continental organization, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc, both suspended the membership of Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, the ruling military officials continue to onto political power by delaying the proposed democratic elections.

At the summit in Equatorial Guinea, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, highlighted the factors contributing to lack of development including and good governance, the growing tendency of usurping power by the military and the significance of forging a collective solidarity as basis for resolving continental and regional problems.

In his speech, Macky Sall, Chairman of the African Union and President of Senegal, also called for laying down arms, to engage in dialogue to settle internal differences peacefully. “When the state is in danger, when it is destabilized in any way, the foundations of living together falter to make way for chaos,” he reminded.

Both Macky Sall and Moussa Faki Mahamat, have issued official statements urging the military government in Mali to take to a constitutional regime as early as possible, reassuring that the solutions to continental problems and overcoming the existing challenges depends on strong mobilization of African leaders and the effective coordination provided by the African Union.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the United Nations, and the bilateral and multilateral partners endorse and support the implementation of sanctions and other strict measures to ensure a peaceful return to constitutional and democratic government in the Republic of Mali.

* Kester Kenn Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to IDN. During his professional career as a researcher specialising in Russia-Africa policy, which spans nearly two decades, he has been detained and questioned several times by federal security services for reporting facts. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted in several reputable foreign media. [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 June 2022]

Image source: The Defense Post

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