In the vibrant, bustling city of Bamako, Mali, with live music emanating from restaurants and venues, you might be forgiven for not immediately understanding the need for a UN peacekeeping mission in the country. But the situation in Mali’s north is quite different. A 2012 military coup engendered by the army’s collapse in the face of attacks by armed Islamists and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) left the north under the control of armed extremists who imposed harsh Sharia law in an area long-known for its moderate interpretation of Islam. Following the January 2013 French intervention that prevented the extremists’ southward assault and evicted them from cities in the north, the UN Security Council authorized the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA, in April 2013,
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the largest financial contributor to peacekeeping missions, the United States has a major stake in their success. I recently traveled to Bamako to assess MINUSMA’s progress so far. While the mission is still not yet at full capacity -- only half of its authorized 12,640 troops and police are in currently in country -– MINUSMA is carrying out work that advances U.S. national security and foreign policy goals in the Sahel.
Along with providing critical stabilization and security, the mission is mandated to protect civilians; monitor the human rights situation; create conditions for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance; and provide support for national and international justice and Mali’s national reconciliation process. MINUSMA was integral to the success of last year’s presidential and legislative elections, providing logistical support and security in a free, fair and peaceful process in which the population turned out in record numbers to vote in now-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. MINUSMA also works with UNESCO on cultural preservation efforts to restore mosques and other ancient sites that were damaged during the violence, including in the historic city of Timbuktu.
During my time in Bamako, I met with UN officers from across many different parts of MINUSMA, all of whom are determined to make a difference in Mali. Staff are working on human rights monitoring, reaching out to civil society, and supporting the disarmament and reintegration of former combatants. I learned about UN development projects to bring vital services to the desert north, including expanding water access and bringing electricity to communities in need, and data collection to create conflict assessment maps. My colleagues and I also received a tour of a Bangladeshi police camp, whose officers are responsible for the security of MINUSMA’s staff and headquarters.
With commitments from UN member states to provide most of the remaining troops, police, and equipment, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations estimates the mission will reach 80 percent of its authorized strength by March and full deployment by mid-year. In addition to providing up to 10 military staff officers to serve in MINUSMA, the United States also supports the mission by providing training and critical equipment such as vehicles and communications gear to African peacekeepers and police participating in MINUSMA, having committed more than $173 million to do so. Since 2012, we have also provided more than $200 million in humanitarian assistance to Mali and Malian refugees displaced by the crisis.
In February, Mali’s famed Segou Festival on the Niger was held for the first time since the coup. West African artists performed to a crowd of 19,000, a symbol of progress as the country moves to stability.
About the Author: Alicia Van Der Veen serves as a Foreign Service Officer in the Office of Peace Operations, Sanctions, and Counter-Terrorism in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.