Canadian peacekeepers can make a real difference in Mali is proud to present a guest blog authored by a leading Canadian expert on UN peacekeeping, Dr. Walter Dorn.

The COVID-19 virus pandemic highlights the urgent need for global responses to global challenges.

Unresolved conflicts not only pose greater health risks, but also give rise to spreading violence, transnational crime, terrorism, egregious human rights violations, trafficking in weapons and persons, and large refugee flows.  So it is manifestly in the interest of prosperous and peaceful nations like Canada to help establish and sustain peace in war-torn areas of the world.

Consecutive studies tell us that UN peacekeeping is the best way to bring countries out of conflict and into a sustainable peace. A 2017 PRIO analysis concludes:

We assess the complete, long-term effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations. It shows a remarkably strong combined effect of UN operations’ ability to contain the lethality of wars as well as preventing them from re-erupting or spreading.

In 2013 the Security Council established the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to support political processes in that country and carry out a number of security-related tasks. In particular MINUSMA is mandated to:

  • ensure security, stabilization and protection of civilians;
  • support national political dialogue and reconciliation; and
  • assist the reestablishment of State authority, the rebuilding of the security sector, and the promotion and protection of human rights in that country.

MINUSMA represents one of the more complex deployments that the UN has undertaken….the success of the mission will ultimately be determined by the ability and the commitment of the UN and troop-contributing countries to support an extremely complicated and volatile, fledgling peace process. — Walter Lotz, Oxford Handbook of UN Peacekeeping Operations.

When MINUSMA was established, the focus was on stabilizing Northern Mali, but unrest in Central Mali has led to that region becoming the second “strategic priority” for the mission, but without any increase in authorized troop strength.

The resulting MINUSMA Force Adaptation Plan, developed by the UN Department of Peace Operations, focuses on increased force mobility and flexibility and the UN has called out to its member states to provide helicopters, monitoring capabilities and rapidly deployable units.

Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason comments:

In 2017 Canada pledged a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for UN peacekeeping but has yet to deliver on it. This new Mali requirement is tailor-made for Canada. The Canadian Armed Forces have the capacity and the need is urgent. So, what are we waiting for?

There are many reasons why this is a good mission for Canada:

PEACE PROCESS: there is a viable though fragile peace process in Mali that desperately needs support. Several major armed groups agreed to cease their rebellion, giving up on their aspiration for an independent state in exchange for peace and greater prosperity. Those peace accords need capable peacekeepers to verify and support their implementation.

TERRORISM: there is a very real threat from armed groups preying upon local populations and attacking the Mali and UN military. There are separate counter-terrorism missions currently operating in Mali and the sub-region but, to be successful, there needs to be a peaceful path for ex-combatants to follow. MINUSMA offers that path, including through disarmament, demobilization and re-integration (DDR).

PROTECTION: the people of Mali need protection against many forms of attack and MINUSMA has an important protection of civilians (POC) mandate.

DEMOCRACY: Mali is a relatively young multiparty democracy, with regular elections since 1991. After a coup d’ d’état in 2012, democracy was restored within a year and a half. The most recent election was in 2018. But Malian democracy is still fragile and needs support.

CANADIAN EXPERIENCE: With a year of experience in MINUSMA in 2017–18, Canada has become familiar with the mission and has begun to renew its expertise in UN peacekeeping, an activity in which Canada had largely lost its currency. (The Mali mission was the first peacekeeping mission to see a rotation of a Canadian military unit in twenty years, compared to having sustained contributions of about 1,000 peacekeepers annually for the previous 40 years.)

In 2017, Canada established a regional logistics hub in Senegal to support its deployment and this is now a permanent hub that can be used again. Furthermore, bilingual troops from Canada are especially welcome in francophone Mali, which struggles to get bilingual English/French contingents.

AID (Development Assistance): Canada is the third largest bilateral donor to Mali, after the United States and France. It has invested about a billion dollars annually since the 1960s. Canada has an active embassy with many projects. The durability of these projects depends on MINUSMA helping Mali successfully transition back to a viable peace.

There are also considerations of more direct national self-interest at play:

BUSINESS IN MALI:  Some 70 Canadian mining companies operate in Mali. When a Canadian company was attacked in 2013, the Government of Canada scrambled to find ways to help the company.

SECURITY COUNCIL SEAT: the UN Charter states that a nation’s contributions to international peace and security are the primary consideration for election to a rotating seat in the UN Security Council. A new three-year contribution to the Mali mission would be a huge step toward levelling the peacekeeping playing field with our election competitors, Norway and Ireland.

MANAGEABLE RISK: Although the mission has sustained on average 18 fatalities per year from hostile action, these have been mostly improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against unprepared forces, like the Chadian units that are poorly equipped and lack detailed intelligence on immediate threats. By contrast, of the thousands of Western forces deployed in Mali since 2013, there has only been one fatality (a French soldier) killed from malicious acts. More Western forces have died from accidents than from hostile fire. And Canada lost no military personnel during its 13-month Mali stint, despite the fear-mongering before the deployment began. Not a single shot was fired in anger, at or by a Canadian peacekeeper, during the mission.

We call on the Government of Canada to finally make good on its promise of a Quick Reaction Force by pledging this capacity to the UN Mission in Mali for deployment as soon as possible for a three-year term.  

We also call on Foreign Minister Champagne to outline new Canadian contributions to the non-military dimensions of MINUSMA, particularly dialogue efforts to engage insurgent forces on the ground in Central Mali.


Photo credit: Canadian Forces (Mali mission)

Tags: Canada's Official Development Assistance (ODA) in Mali, Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants (DDR), Mali peace process, Norwegian Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Operation IMPACT, Quick Reaction Force(QRF), Security Council campaign, Terrorism, U.N. Security Council, UN Department of Peace Operations, UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Walter Dorn