24 February 2013, 11:20

ECOWAS can help Mali

ECOWAS can help Mali
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Eva Strickmann, a researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London, about initiative of ECOWAS in Mali.

I want to start by giving you the overview of African initiatives, especially the ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) and the African Union. So, it is important to remember that the initial UN resolution in October last year was supporting African-led intervention in Mali, the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, and this has always been supported by ECOWAS. ECOWAS has been quite keen and has been very grateful to the UN for providing the necessary means to intervene in Mali.

ECOWAS has also gathered quite a few non-ECOWAS member states to participate in Mali, especially Chad, Chad is very active on the ground together with France right now. But also Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania have expressed a keen interest to contribute to an African-led intervention in Mali. So, around 2200 troops are currently on the ground mainly Nigerian troops, but also the Malian troops and Chadian troops, as mentioned before. And they are naturally taking more responsibility from the French-led intervention. So, this is an important effort when it comes to maintaining security on the ground right now.

It is also interesting to follow other countries’ efforts to support ECOWAS right now, especially the UK has offered to train ECOWAS troops, to support ECOWAS troops and suggested to deploy 200 trainers to Mali to specifically support the efforts of ECOWAS on the ground. However, it is also important to remember that ECOWAS has not really conducted military interventions since 2004, since it last intervened in Côte d’Ivoire. So, in my view this is actually a very important initiative but it does need more support, especially in terms of capacity, and ECOWAS is less experienced than of course the French troops.

There is one initiative that also needs to be considered – ECOWAS is also closely cooperating with the African Union. So, the African Union has also nominated a special representative for Mali, but he is at the same time head of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA). His name is PierreBuyoya and he is closely coordinating developments between the ECOWAS and the African Union, but also the International Task Force on Mali. And this International Task Force on Mali, which is also an African-led effort, is currently the main platform for coordination between stakeholders on Mali.

So, the UN are involved as the International Task Force, the EU or selected European states, especially France, the UK, but also Germany and other stakeholders are also invited to contribute, especially the US, but also Russia. So, all states’ organizations that are keen to contribute to the process of restoration and providing more stability for Mali are invited to become part of the International Task Force.

With the International Task Force and the cooperation between the African Union and ECOWAS is this strategy purely focused on security and peacekeeping in the region or does it have a broader remit than that?

It is for the moment more focused on peace building and peacekeeping in Mali. The AU heads of states also has had a summit recently, in late January, and the focus was clearly on security and stability in Mali but also how to first of all finance the activities of AFISMA and of the ECOWAS-led intervention. One important outcome was that the budget of the AFISMA mission has been settled at $460 million and the Peace and Security Council of the AU has also decided to increase the capacity of AFISMA. So, for the moment most efforts are actually focused on security and how to maintain stability in the liberated areas in northern Mali first of all.

This is of course problematic because it is a narrow focus and of course it needs to be complimented by other activities. However, the African Union has also decided to deploy civilian observers to oversee the human rights situation in northern Mali and also to cooperate with Malian authorities for the future rebuilding and pacifying the country. So, these efforts are also being slowly launched right now, and first of all observation, civilian cooperation and peace building. But the African Union has also always emphasized that there is a clear need for the grassroots peace building. So, how to integrate the communities and also the focus to provide long term food assistance, because there has been a long term food crisis especially in northern Mali, but of course also in the wider region. But it is not quite clear how this is actually going to be addressed.

So, there are a few efforts. For the moment there was a clear emphasis on security and civilian cooperation when it comes to restoring the authority. But I think it is also quite important to look at what the EU is doing or is attempting to do in the region. So, would you like me now to look at the EU efforts in Mali and the wider region?

Yes, some information about the EU, the Sahel region and how it is cooperating with other countries. I know you’ve mentioned here Niger and Mauritania as examples where the EU has been particularly active.

Absolutely! So, the EU has certainly focused its attention on Mali and the Sahel, especially since 2011, well before the coup took place in Mali. The EU adopted a so-called conferential strategy for the Sahel with the focus on Niger, Mali and Mauritania. So far most efforts were focused on Niger. In July last year the EU launched a capacity building mission in Niger with the aim of improving capacities of the security forces, but of course also to fight terrorism, organized crime and help to rebuild the rule of law in Niger.

It is however important to realize that this operation is very limited. The EU has deployed 50 trainers and in general is focusing on security sector, formal rule of law and all this. So, it is a serious effort but it remains quite limited for the moment. The EU has also appointed a special representative in Mali Bertrand Soret who is also coordinating the EU’s efforts in Mali, but also in Mauritania and Niger. The EU has also decided to provide huge financial support to the ECOWAS-led intervention in Mali through the African peace facility. The African peace facility is specifically focused on African’-led peace operations in Africa.

The EU is also very keen to support diplomatic political efforts in Mali. So, the EU has been the driving force behind the decision to hold elections in July this year, together also with the US. And the EU has been instrumental in more or less talking the interim government into hold elections very-very soon. One further emphasis has been on development aid. Last year the EU when the coup happened in March 2012 had frozen all development aid to Mali which has now been unblocked. So, 250 million euros have recently been unblocked and will now gradually flow back to Mali.

What has also happened just yesterday is that the EU training mission in Mali has been officially launched which will actually in my view face very-very huge challenges because just to describe the objective of this training mission is that 20 European states in total have decided to participate in this training mission and to rebuild the Malian armed forces, and to help the Malian armed forces to maintain control and to be responsible for the security in the country. On the one hand it is quite a big effort because the EU member states have decided to deploy 500 trainers to Mali, 70 are on the ground already. So, it is quite a significant effort and approach.

However, quite a few critical voices say that the EU will face huge-huge challenges because it actually needs to rebuild the army to respect and safeguard human rights, also to overcome internal rivalries, and especially the latest events in Bamako have shown that there are huge internal rivalries within the Malian armed forces. So, it is not a unified army at all. And the EU also needs to guarantee that the Malian army does not engage in acts of upraising and is not dependent on militias, and of course is able to maintain security in the country, especially in the liberated areas in the north. And it also needs to respect the country’s legislation and needs to respect civilian control in the future.

And this is a huge-huge challenge because it also needs to be willing to support the political transition period until July this year when the elections are most probably to be held. So, this is quite a huge challenge because the EU has just set itself the goal of somehow supervising this process and supporting the armed forces. And many-many steps actually need to be taken in order to guarantee that these objectives are being implemented.

I can certainly see that the EU as a body has quite a broad remit in this area for peacekeeping, for security, for aid and development, and trying to work with local partners. What’s the position with individual EU member states, such as France and the UK or Germany? Are they taking different positions? Or do they have their own interests to pursue in the region, maybe slightly separate from the EU mission?

Well, it is quite interesting because especially the UK and Germany have started up their efforts, while Germany is usually hesitant when it comes to of course deploying troops on the ground. And there has been a long history of having a very hesitant stance when it comes to foreign deployments. So, Germany has also quite surprisingly decided to deploy 40 military advisors. At first it was just saying – we are going to provide logistic and financial aid. It has pledged to deploy three transport planes and it is also now considering deploying medical troops. So, Germany has actually decided to do more than initially planned.

The UK has also I think two days ago decided to deploy 40 troops and 40 military trainers to the training mission in Mali and, as I said before, is also considering deploying 200 additional troops to support the activities of ECOWAS and other African states as part of this African-led International Support Mission in Mali. So, the UK has actually become a quite active player within the EU which is a rather surprising compared to its engagement in Africa in the past years. The UK actually back in 2007-2008 did not participate in the more or less French-led operation in Chad, the same is for Germany. These two countries had a totally opposed position to France at the time. So, the big three EU member states seem to be on more or less similar position right now.

It is also interesting to see that a new member state – the Czech Republic – is quite keen to participate and will together with France provide military protection for the EU training mission and this role is usually quite unpopular with the EU missions. The UK and Germany have said – we are not engaging with combat troops on the ground, we are just being behind the scenes deploying military advisors. But France and the Czech Republic will actually take over a more risky role as part of the EU training mission.

I can see that both at the national level and within the EU you have a security operation, you have working with the local government to improve the military, to maybe build up some of the institutions in the country. Are there also active commercial steps being taken by these countries as well to develop the economies of the nations in this region as well? Are they involved in that at all?

I don’t know that much about bilateral investments and efforts to help rebuild the economy right now. From what I’ve got searched, I just feel like on the EU level there is a clear agreement that the food crisis needs to be addressed first of all, especially in the northern part, and that a humanitarian aid workers need to regain access to the population in the north that has been deprived of livelihood for a long time. And I think this is actually the priority area that needs to be addressed first of all before companies can actually think about reinvesting in Mali, especially in the northern part.

So, the area is not very accessible for developments. While most of the towns have been liberated the northern part is very-very inaccessible. The situation is different in Bamako, but I guess for the rest of the country it will just take a long time for the economic situation actually to improve.

Maybe moving on from the economic side, I mean Mali obviously has its own problems. We’ve touched a little bit on Niger and Mauritania, and you’ve also mentioned Uganda and Somalia. To what extent do these countries compare and contrast in the problems that they have and in the ways in which the EU, the UN or the African Union are seeking to solve these problems?

It is quite interesting first of all has actually decided to support the African-led international support mission to Mali. Uganda and Rwanda, but South Africa, Tanzania and Burundi has been very keen to contribute to African-led effort. It is also interesting to look at the state of the Ugandan armed forces for instance that have been attentively trained by the US troops over the past years. So, especially in the field of counterinsurgency the Ugandan troops are quite strong and would most certainly make a very good contribution to counterinsurgency efforts in northern Mali and in stabilizing the country.

In general it is interesting to see how different are the armed forces in the francophone Africa, and especially from the former British colonies such as Uganda because francophone armed forces are usually not as well equipped and very often badly paid, and do have a clear lack of capacities compared to the former British colonies. And Uganda is quite an interesting example because the US has been heavily focused on Uganda, but also on Somalia.

And the American efforts of strengthening the capacity of Ugandan armed forces and Somali armed forces have been much more successful than in Mali. The US Government trained for quite a while the Malian armed forces, especially since the coup last year and this didn’t really lead to any significant results and the US decided to withdraw from Mali their trainers and troops on the ground. So, it is also quite interesting to compare efforts of those three countries.

Comparing Somalia and Mali, I think the situation from a historical perspective is totally different in Mali because until the coup happened last year Mali has always been considered relatively stable. Mali has always been of the poorest countries in the world, but was even considered a model democratic state compared to other African states. Compared to Somalia, which is now often considered a parallel, Somalia actually has a much better backgrounds.

And another parallel between those countries is actually that African actors, but also international actors are calling that the country will not be divided, that the territorial integrity needs to be maintained. But otherwise I think there are few parallels between Somalia and Mali because the situation is very-very different. And while there are also ethnic tensions in Mali and while there are intra-community rivalries and all this, the situation is not fragmented as in Somalia.

And there is also quite a pluralistic political landscape, so there are more than 150 political parties. Most of them are like one person parties, but still there is quite a huge desire on the side of the Malian people to also become active in politics right now. So, this is also another big difference from Somalia.

There are different situations within the different regions. But you touched very briefly on the engagement of the US in Uganda and Mali. But just in terms of their general approach and strategy to the region, has this changed or developed in recent years in terms of what they are trying to achieve in the region?

It has changed quite a lot. First of all looking at how things were after 1993 when the US withdrew from Somalia after a big battle in Somalia at the time, the US for a long-long time the US were not keen at all to get involved in Africa. So, this changed of course after the 9\11 when the US Government at the time realized that there was a huge potential for terrorism and a huge threat scenario also emerging, especially in the horn of Africa. So, gradually the US has focused more on counterterrorism, but also at the same time on counterpiracy. So, a clear regional focus was on the horn of Africa and also on counterinsurgency as I mentioned before, especially in Uganda, but also in Somalia.

It is however interesting to realize that now with the second Obama Administration the situation has changed a bit and also with the recent developments in Mali. I also looked at the State of the Union Address of Obama last Tuesday, and it actually revealed that the US will focus much more on domestic politics with this administration and less on foreign policy, and also in my view will focus less on foreign interventions and engagement, especially in peacekeeping operations worldwide. So, the US made it clear regarding Mali especially, that they are happy to support the process, to provide logistical support but that they will be leading from behind, if you can call it this way. So, they will not become directly involved but they will certainly stay behind the scenes and not get involved with troops on the ground in African conflict scenarios.

One other focus of the US is on political developments in Mali. Four US senators also recently came to Mali to discuss developments with the interim Government and they also pushed for elections in July this year. So, the US is very keen on supporting the political transition process in Mali right now. But apart from logistical and political support they are also helping the French troops right now and apparently also the ECOWAS troops in the future with intelligence gathering, but certainly not with direct involvement on the ground.

To a large extent the US, the EU member states, the African Union, ECOWAS, they are all working very much in this peace building, nation building, counterinsurgency and transition to permanent political and democratically elected Government. What are the challenges implicit in that kind of agenda for everybody involved?

I just fear that the biggest challenge is right now to integrate the local community, to strengthen the local community, to strengthen resilience and to somehow get them involved. There is also a risk when it comes to preparing for elections in July because most politicians or aspiring politicians in Mali also said – July is far too soon, we just need more time to reach out to the people, also to help the refugees return to Mali because so many people have left the country over the past months. So, the political process might be a bit too hasty right now.

And I think that there is also a risk of just creating topdown stability, topdown security and not really paying enough attention to the needs of the local communities to get them involved, and also to make them anticipate to shocks, to problems such as of course the ongoing food crisis, but also to security developments in the region.

So, the main problem in my view is that this process is actually being pushed a bit too much by the international actors and I think it is really important to make sure that this becomes an African-led effort, so that the ECOWAS and the AU are the main actors to coordinate developments with the Malian interim Government to make sure that local stakeholders are integrated. And it is also important not to undermine the efforts of the African Union and ECOWAS.

And it is also interesting to compare the intervention in Libya and in Mali in this regard. So, while the French-UK-American intervention in Libya was viewed very-very negatively by African actors, this French-led intervention in Mali has actually been viewed more positively because the African Union has said – well, we were actually being too slow and we are grateful that French troops intervened, but now it is time actually to make sure that responsibilities are being transferred to African actors, and especially to ECOWAS. It has shown strong support for the foreign intervention. So, I think this is actually the main challenge right now – to make sure that a successful and effective transition has been achieved.

Thank you so much. And just to remind you our guest speaker was Eva Strickmann – a researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London.

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