Mali, the G5 and Security Sector Assistance: Political Obstacles to Effective Cooperation

Author(s): Denis TULL

Affiliate Organization: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)T

While the security situation in Mali and its border areas continues to deteriorate, the new “Force Conjointe” (FC) of the G5 Sahel states completed its first military operation in mid-November. Its aim is to make a regional contribution to the fight against terrorism and organized crime. A summit was held in Paris on 13 December to mobilise further financial and equipment support for FC. Germany and the EU are strongly committed to this project alongside France. However, efforts to enhance regional armed forces are fraught with problems. International partners prefer a capacity-building approach geared to short-term success over security sector reform and lack a coordinated strategy. The Malian government, on the other hand, preserves the status quo and is not prepared to accept its political responsibility.

The Mali crisis began in 2012 with a separatist rebellion in the north, followed by a military coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of northern Mali by jihadist groups. Its repercussions have since reached neighbouring countries. The resulting strong military focus of local and international actors will be reinforced by the creation of the FC of the G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Chad). International support for the force follows the well-known maxim “African solutions to African problems”. In relation to the FC this amounts to bilateral support for the armed forces in the region: training and equipment to bolster the capabilities of national and hence FC forces. This complements an array of measures already under way, such as the EU’s training mission (EUTM Mali), which has been in existence since 2013.

Capacity-Building in Place of Security Sector Reform

Politically speaking, the preference for regional solutions is uncontroversial. It is less clear whether security sector assistance in the guise of train and equip projects offers an efficient path. As an essentially technical approach in core operational areas, security sector assistance covers a wide range of measures from modest tasks (such as training and equipment for mine-clearing, snipers, logistic services) to complex operations.

International partners prefer a capacity-building approach geared to short-term success over security sector reform and lack a coordinated strategy

However, the results to date are inconclusive. Mali’s security forces are probably in better shape today than they were at the time of the 2012 crisis, but the worsening security situation belies at best relative progress. The situation can only improve fundamentally if, among other things, external support moves beyond the current technical and tactical focus and, above all, is designed to be long-term and strategic; that is to say a structural reform of the security sector (army, police, justice). This must include aspects such as the fight against corruption (especially in procurement); professionalisation of recruitment, human resources and career management procedures; and creation of effective structures in administration, logistics and the chain of command. Improved civil-military relations should also be an essential reform objective; at stake here are the primacy of politics, effective parliamentary control, the anchoring of democratic and constitutional norms and human rights standards, etc.

Since the early 2000s, several initiatives on security sector reform (SSR) have been launched in Mali, although none progressed much beyond the discussion stage. The 2012 crisis once again highlighted the urgency of an SSR, and the government elected in 2013 made SSR a priority. The Algiers peace accord of 2015 explicitly states the necessity for a profound SSR. However, as in other fields (such as the fight against corruption), the government has restricted itself to formal technical measures, such as setting up various bodies, including the Conseil National pour la Réforme du Secteur de la Sécurité. Without political backing, however, they remain powerless. Everything suggests that the government gives clear priority to capacity building over structural reforms. Top of the list are procurement (weapons systems, helicopters, etc.) and recruitment, in line with the 2015 Loi d’orientation et de programmation militaire (LOPM), which provides for military expenditure of about €1.9 billion by 2019.

This must include aspects such as the fight against corruption (especially in procurement); professionalisation of recruitment, human resources and career management procedures; and creation of effective structures in administration, logistics and the chain of command

Overall, the government has thus far shown little interest in substantive reforms aimed at professionalising the security sector. It shares this attitude to a large extent with its international partners. The precarious security situation seems to guide responses on both sides, especially moves towards rapid capacity building, but it is unlikely to solve the security sector’s underlying governance problems.

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