The United Nations’ top political official for Africa has bemoaned Mali’s decision to withdraw from a multinational military force in West Africa’s Sahel region, calling the move “unfortunate and regrettable”.
Assistant Secretary-General Martha Pobee told a meeting of the UN’s Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday that this week’s decision by Mali’s military government to leave the G5 Sahel force “is most certainly a step back for the Sahel.”
The force, which includes troops from Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, was formed in 2017 to counter armed groups who have swept across the region in recent years, killing thousands of people and forcing millions to flee their homes.
But it has been hobbled by a lack of funding and has struggled to reduce the violence.
Meanwhile, Mali’s withdrawal further isolates the country – which has been hit with sanctions by West Africa’s regional political bloc, impacting jobs and industry – on both the regional and global stage.
Niger declares Sahel force ‘dead’
Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said that Mali’s decision, which came after it was not allowed to assume the group’s rotating presidency, meant the Sahel force was now “dead”.
“The isolation of Bamako in West Africa is bad for the whole sub-region,” Bazoum told French newspaper La Croix in an interview published on Wednesday.
But the force’s executive secretary adopted a more measured tone over Mali’s decision.
Eric Tiare echoed Pobee in calling Bamako’s decision “regrettable” but told the UNSC meeting that it had enjoyed some successes in combatting armed groups and helping foster socioeconomic development in the region. Tiare also called on the world body to offer it more support.
France’s envoy to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere, also lamented Mali’s withdrawal from the force, as did other UNSC members.
EU keeps training mission suspended
The meeting came after the European Union’s top diplomat said the bloc will keep its military training mission in the former French colony suspended for the time being.
Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that Brussels has still not received guarantees from Mali’s government on non-interference by the Wagner group, Russian mercenaries that have come to the aid of Mali’s military and are being blamed for human rights violations.
“On the contrary, we have seen an increasing pattern of collusion and allegations of grave human rights abuses, being investigated by the United Nations,” he told reporters after a meeting of the bloc’s defence ministers.
Borrell also criticised Bamako’s decision to exit the G5 Sahel force as regrettable.
Mali’s military government seized power in August 2020. In April the country’s leaders said a transition to civilian, democratic rule would take at least two years.
That decision provoked France’s condemnation, which alongside rising anti-French sentiments about colonial legacies and an inability to rout armed groups in parts of Mali, led to a breakdown in the relationship between Bamako and Paris.