Mali’s decision on 15 May to withdraw from the G5-Sahel group and its Joint Force is “unfortunate” and “regrettable”, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council on Wednesday, 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, said 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 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.
MINUSMA on hand
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.
Cycle of radicalization
“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.
Time for a re-think
“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.
Holistic approach needed more than ever
“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.