Mali is a pivotal country for peace and stability in the Sahel region. On his trip on Friday (07 April) Foreign Minister Gabriel saw that Bundeswehr engagement in Mali is now more important than ever.
On Friday, 7 April, Foreign Minister Gabriel visited Mali together with his French counterpart Jean‑Marc Ayrault. For many years, the huge desert state in western Africa has been troubled by terrorist attacks and attacks by Islamist militia. German and French soldiers are deployed on UN and EU missions in Mali. If the situation in the country were to deteriorate, this would have devastating consequences on the entire Sahel region – and, in the medium term, also a major impact on Europe.
Visiting troops in the dangerous northern area
Gabriel and Ayrault not only held talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in the capital Bamako but also travelled to the dangerous area in the north of the country. In Gao, on the fringes of the Sahara, 800 Bundeswehr soldiers are deployed. Working as peacekeepers in the UN MINUSMA mission, they are securing an area that was previously controlled by Islamist rebels. All in all, more than 10,000 peacekeepers are deployed in the country. The UN mission aims to monitor compliance with the peace agreement which the government signed with some rebels in 2015.
MINUSMA is considered one of the most dangerous UN missions in the world. Only on Wednesday, a French soldier lost his life in an Islamist attack. Gabriel and Ayrault will pay their respects in Gao.
Massive bullet‑proof containers are lined up on the red desert sand in Camp Castor. White tarpaulins billow in the dry, sandy wind. They have been used to construct provisional helicopter and vehicle shelters. 800 Bundeswehr blue helmets are stationed in Camp Castor near Gao. “This is one of the largest trouble spots. It has been a breeding ground for terrorism which has caused refugee flows and forced migration. That is why we want to, and why we must, help here,” Gabriel said after his talks with Bundeswehr soldiers. He was visibly impressed by their commitment: “We know this mission is taking place under difficult conditions, and that these soldiers have families, spouses and children at home who are worried. That is why we are deeply grateful to everyone who is supporting this effort.”
Consequences for Germany and Europe
Peace and stability in Mali are important not just for people in the Sahel region. Also for Germany and Europe, developments in the country have far‑reaching consequences. After all, Mali is a transit country for many refugees. Terrorism and violent conflict destroy hope in the future and cause economic misery, meaning that many view migration to Europe as the only way out. By contrast, development, stability and security give the population a brighter outlook and reasons to stay. In Bamako, Gabriel met with young artists, startup entrepreneurs and activists who are working to advance Malian society. “The optimism of the young generation in Mali is admirable, and the most convincing reason why we must help this country,” Gabriel said.
Stability through training and reconciliation
In Mali, Germany is pursuing a broad strategy to bring long‑term stability to the country. In Bamako, Gabriel and Ayrault are to visit a police college. In a European Union mission, police trainers from Germany are working to improve the training provided for Malian security forces.
With 140 Bundeswehr soldiers in the European Union mission EUTM, Germany is working to train the Malian armed forces. Since 2013, EUTM has trained more than 9000 Malian soldiers to make sure that the country can in future again assume responsibility for its own security. The curriculum includes not only classical military training, but also international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) and human rights. For the training to have a long‑term impact, the Mission is increasingly concentrating on “training the trainers”. Furthermore, the Federal Foreign Office consults with and assists the Malian Ministry of Reconciliation, among others, and supports projects which improve the population’s living conditions.