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Study on Mali and Niger

A Mission for Peace?

Boy on bicycle in front of a big adobe building
Photo: UN Photo/Marco Dormino via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

What lessons can we learn from Germany’s engagement in Mali and Niger? This is the question addressed in the study “Policy coherence for peace in German government action: Lessons from Mali and Niger,” which was written by Antonia Witt and Simone Schnabel in collaboration with Baba Dakono and Abdoul Karim Saidou. The study was commissioned by the Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding (see info box). In more than 100 guided interviews, the researchers spoke with representatives of government departments, implementing organizations and civil society actors in Germany, Mali and Niger.

The failure of the mission in Afghanistan reignited the debate about Bundeswehr missions abroad. What should be the short- and long-term goals of Germany’s civilian and military engagement in conflict regions? Can these be achieved at all? And what lessons should be learned from the failure in Afghanistan? Against this backdrop, Germany’s engagement in the Sahel was also a topic of discussion.

About the authors

The Sahel is one of the world’s hot spots of violence. Various Islamist groups are active there, exploiting the absence of state structures, especially in the peripheral border regions, and fueling local conflict dynamics. Large parts of Mali are considered the epicenter of violence in the Sahel, in addition to an ongoing political crisis since 2012 that has further deepened mistrust of the state and elites in the south of the country. Although Niger was long considered an anchor of stability in the region, violence has also increased there, particularly in border regions.

At the time of the study, Germany is involved in peace policy in both countries in a variety of ways. In addition to the participation of the Bundeswehr in the UN stabilization mission MINUSMA, which expires at the end of 2023, and in the EU training mission EUTM Mali until 2022, it is also involved, for example, in humanitarian aid, development cooperation and conflict prevention measures. In addition to the so-called “core departments”, the Federal Foreign Office (AA), the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) as well as the Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg), the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) also has staff in both countries. Four other ministries are investing in various projects there.

The German government’s guidelines “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace” adopted in 2017 (see info box) are intended to serve as a strategic compass for Germany’s engagement in conflict regions such as the Sahel. But to what extent is German government action in Mali and Niger actually guided by these principles? Do all the different measures succeed in promoting sustainable peace?

Info box

Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding

The Advisory Board brings together civil society and academic expertise on crisis prevention and peacebuilding and advises the work of the German government. The Advisory Board’s twenty members come from the fields of international cooperation, academia, foundations and nongovernmental organizations and are appointed for four years. The Advisory Board accompanies the implementation of the guidelines “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace” adopted by the German government in 2017.

The guidelines are intended to serve as a strategic compass for Germany’s engagement in crisis and conflict contexts. On the one hand, they define structures and processes for joint interdepartmental action by the German government. On the other hand, they lay down substantive principles for action, such as the protection of human rights, a long-term orientation and the priority of prevention.

The authors conclude that the German government’s peace policy model is only inadequately implemented. A central point is the cooperation between different ministries: A broad range of instruments is used for coordination, e.g. bodies such as the Sahel Task Force at the German Foreign Office (AA) and the “Nordrunde” in Mali. However, these formats reach only part of the total of eight ministries active in the two countries.

In particular, there is a lack of an overall political strategy for both countries that operationalizes the substantive goals prescribed in the guidelines for the specific context. This void creates strategic dependencies on other actors, such as France, which pursue their own interests, especially in the context of multilateral engagement, as in the UN and EU missions. The objectives and impact logics of multilateral and bilateral projects often contradict each other – an incoherence that is also perceived by civil society actors on the ground.

The study identifies a number of factors that are conducive or obstructive to the goal of promoting sustainable peace. On this basis, the authors make very specific recommendations for action to the German government: In addition to joint interministerial country strategies, these include increasing the number of staff and strengthening the strategic integration of embassies. For Mali, they recommend that German engagement focus on strengthening national and local structures for conflict resolution. This includes, in particular, promoting the rule of law and combating impunity. For Niger, the authors recommend a stronger exchange with local civil society.

Current developments in the Sahel have shown that in the future it will be all the more important to learn lessons from the experiences in Mali and Niger and to gear future engagement more strategically to how and with whom the greatest possible benefit can be achieved in promoting sustainable peace in the region.

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