“We don’t sleep, we’re scared,”
these were the very first words that we, the colleagues who came with me to Mali, heard as we sat together in 45 degrees in the shade in Gao where we visited our soldiers stationed there as part of the MINUSMA mission.
“We don’t sleep, we’re scared because we can hardly even be sure we will be able to go to the market tomorrow.”
“We don’t sleep, we’re scared because our children can’t even go to school in safety.”
These women, these men, these fathers, these mothers, live in fear of terrorist gangs who are spreading fear and terror in the local villages. Together we asked the people there: what is it you need most? The answer came immediately: Security. Security. Security.
And that is exactly what this MINUSMA mandate is about.
It is also about our own security because we do not want the Sahel to become a safe haven for internationally networked terrorist organisations, for organised crime.
For we know that if MINUSMA were to withdraw from Mali, the vacuum would be filled even more by other forces. I am thinking here of Islamist fighters but the same holds true for Russian forces. The reports on human rights violations by Malian and Russian troops which we read in our newspapers and of course heard about in the country are horrendous. They show in all clarity what we want to achieve here, namely to work with the people in the country to counter these forces who pay no regard to human rights, no regard to democracy and no regard to a rules-based order.
Also for this reason, for me there is no doubt here, we have to remain engaged, particularly at this juncture where Russia is waging its horrific war in Ukraine.
We are not saying (yes, that is a political decision): we are only concentrating on what is happening on our doorstep, which is of course incredibly important. Quite the opposite! Right now we are continuing to shoulder our responsibility in the world. Especially right now. That is also the message we are sending by supporting this MINUSMA mandate.
Germany is the largest Western troop contributor in Mali. We are providing capabilities that others practically cannot replace: Heron UAVs, transport helicopters. In Gao, we are a framework nation for Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. That means that the soldiers from these countries are dependent on our protection and the support of the Bundeswehr. Were we to decide today not to pass this mandate, it would mean us shirking this responsibility we have for others. I believe there would then be a threat of a domino effect which would hit the mission as a whole hard and not just the Western troop providers but also – this is after all a broad-based UN mission – the troop providers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Niger and Senegal.
When we then travelled on together to the Niger, we saw it would also impact this country and its democratic government.
It is true – I want to be absolutely open and clear here as I do not believe in painting a rosy picture, especially not when it comes to mandates – the situation in Mali is anything but easy. I, along with the dear colleagues who accompanied me, had direct experience of this in Bamako. I therefore told interim President Goïta and Foreign Minister Diop from this coup government in no uncertain terms that the transition to an elected government must not be delayed any longer. We are calling for this not only from the European side but in coordination with ECOWAS and the UN Security Council.
However, I want to state very clearly here that this MINUSMA mission is not bolstering the Malian Government. The mission is supporting the Malian people: people who want to go to the market, children who finally want to go back to school.
Of course, we are well aware that stability needs more than just military forces. This mission on its own will not create stability. But on the other hand, it is also true that without a minimum level of security, without this minimum level of military protection, the political efforts of the international community in particular will hardly be able to continue.
It would also mean that our involvement in the dialogue process in the regional municipalities, particularly regarding healthcare, climate protection, human rights, would not be able to continue in that form.
So we are painting a realistic picture of the situation which is complicated, complex. But we are facing up to this challenge.
The Defence Minister and myself have made plain to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and our Alliance partners that, now that our French colleagues plan to reduce their support in autumn, we need another source for combat helicopters by then.
We, the Federal Government, propose in the mandate that we increase our troops from 1100 to 1400 soldiers and continue to technically support above all else the operation of the airport because of course we are responsible not just for the security of the people on the ground but also for our soldiers. That is why we say very clearly in this mandate: if protection of German soldiers can no longer be adequately guaranteed, then we will of course adapt our contribution and, if necessary, terminate it.
Yes, the decision on this mandate is more difficult that it was a year ago. But I believe it is also more important than it was a year ago.
We want to send the clear message: Germany is not stepping back in the world. Despite and precisely because of the war in Ukraine, we remain engaged internationally in the United Nations. We are not leaving the international order to those devoid of scruples on human rights and international law. We are making a stand for the security of the people in Mali and for our shared international security.
Thank you very much. I ask you to support this mandate.