Steps Toward External Military Intervention in Mali: A Timeline

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon formally “recommended that the Security Council approve an African Union peace enforcement mission be deployed to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali, but did not offer financial support from the world body.” Some observers expect that the Security Council will, as Ban urges, provide a mandate for an intervention in Mali led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Paul Melly is an Associate Fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. He says that, because the recovery of territorial integrity is at stake, the UN is expected to hand down a fairly robust mandate, endorsing the ECOWAS intervention.

“The UN mandate will be more one of providing UN support and political authority for this intervention. So it’s not quite like a UN peacekeeping mission with a specific mandate laying down what forces can or cannot do, as you would have, for example, with the MONUSCO force in Congo,” he said.

I imagine we will be discussing and debating the merits and prospects of intervention in the months to come, but in this post I simply want to review the steps that the intervention’s architects have taken in recent months. ECOWAS, of course, has been deeply concerned by the crises in Mali since the conflict in the north began in January, and especially since the March 22 coup in Bamako. But non-African partners, through the spring and summer, expressed some doubts about ECOWAS’ intervention plans. The US and others have worried that the plans lack specificity, both in terms of means and ends. The current process is in large part an effort to address those concerns and secure international support.

Here are some steps taken so far:

  1. On October 12, the UNSC “called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to [ECOWAS], the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.”
  2. In early November, international military experts met in Bamako to draft a plan to retake northern Mali. They submitted the plan to ECOWAS on November 6.
  3. On November 11, heads of state from ECOWAS approved the plan at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
  4. On November 13, the AU approved the plan.
  5. On November 15, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal Poland, and Spain signaled their willingness to provide training for Malian forces. (Statement here, .pdf.)

Events still to come:

  1. On December 7, international envoys will meet in Rome “to coordinate strategy on Mali…focus[ing] on coordinating positions against terrorism, humanitarian issues, encouraging dialogue, and reinforcing political structures so that elections could eventually be held.”
  2. I assume that the ECOWAS/AU plan was formally presented to the UNSC by the deadline of November 26, but I have not seen a date for when the UNSC is expected to make a decision on approving an intervention. From what I have read the decision is expected soon, though.

What do you think will happen? Will the UNSC approve the force? Will external actors insist that Mali hold elections before attempting to reconquer the north? Will this ultimately be settling at the negotiating table – with Ansar al Din, perhaps? Many questions – we’ll see soon how ECOWAS, AU, and the UN attempt to resolve them.

Africa Blog Roundup: Violence in Kenya, Theater in Somalia, Pensions in Nigeria, and More

The World Policy Journal recently interviewed UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. The interview touches on Libya and the Sahel, especially Mali.

Keith Somerville on Kenya:

In the last six weeks there have been a number of violent clashes in areas of Kenya where the existing political, social and religious structures are contested or fail to meet the subsistence or security needs of the local populations.  Many derive from long-lasting grievances, which periodically reach the pitch of violence, but usually simmer just below the surface. As soon as elections approach, the actions of politicians (both local and national) are frequently the trigger for violence.

One of the conflicts Somerville discusses took place in the Tana River region. Human Rights Watch recently wrote about the violence there as well.

Baobab on the current state of Somalia’s National Theater, which reopened in March only to become the target of a suicide bombing shortly thereafter:

In late August the theatre manager, Abdiduh Yusuf Hassan, announced that the first stage of renovations was complete and shows would begin again in a few weeks. The first production is scheduled to be “Somalia’s Got Talent”, presenting a brighter face for a country so scarred by conflict.

But violence is never far below the surface in Somalia. On September 20th, two suicide bombers attacked “The Village” cafe opposite the theatre, where journalists and MPs are known to mingle, killing at least 14 people. The Village has been a bright spot in Mogadsihu’s re-emergence, and if businesses like that start closing, other ventures may not be far behind.

G. Pascal Zachary on changing presentations of Africa in the media: “That the New York Times, in its influential ‘Lens’ blog on visual journalism, is featuring the work of Peter DiCampo, highlights the sea-change in attitudes on the part of the mainstream media towards even the possibility of African normalcy.”

Amb. John Campbell on how institutions define Africa – and what analytical and policy consequences those choices bring.

Think Africa Press on social pension programs in Ekiti and Osun States, Nigeria.

The State Department’s Dipnote on “community-led conservation” in Namibia.

And last but not least, is it ethical for scholars to cite wikileaked cables?

Roundup of Reactions to the London Conference on Somalia

Yesterday, the British government hosted the “London Conference on Somalia.” You can read a statement of the conference’s aims here, and view a list of attendees here.

Below I have rounded up statements made at the conference and reactions to it from governments, organizations, and individuals.

British Prime Minister David Cameron (full text of his speech here):

The world had ignored Somalia for too long, said British Prime Minister David Cameron in his opening statement, because the problems were seen as too difficult and too remote.

“That fatalism has failed Somalia and it has failed the international community, too. So today we have an unprecedented opportunity to change that and I believe there is real momentum right now,” said Cameron. “International aid has pulled Somalia back from the brink of humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the extraordinary bravery of African and Somali troops, the city of Mogadishu, once beautiful, now a bullet-hole-ridden city has been recovered from al-Shabab. Crucially, across the country al-Shabab are losing the support of ordinary Somalis.”

Video of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad’s speech here.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali:

Ali said that he supported international airstrikes against al-Qaida militants in his country because they were “a global problem” that “needs to be addressed globally.”

He emphasized Thursday that he wanted the airstrikes to be properly targeted.

“That’s what we support,” Ali said. “Not necessarily killing innocent lives.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

The people of Somalia have waited many years. They have heard many promises, they have seen many deadlines come and go, and it is time – past time – to buckle down and do the work that will bring stability to Somalia for the first time in many people’s lives. The position of the United States is straightforward: Attempts to obstruct progress and maintain the broken status quo will not be tolerated. We will encourage the international community to impose further sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes on people inside and outside the TFG who seek to undermine Somalia’s peace and security or to delay or even prevent the political transition.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon:

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more money is needed to spread security beyond the capital.

“We need the surge in Mogadishu to show what is possible in southern and central Somalia. We need to reconsolidate military gains, provide the basic social services and contribute to reconstruction,” said Ban. “Sixteen United Nations agencies and our partners are working hard to make progress. But they are underfunded… this is a bold agenda, we have no more time to wait and see. To any donors still wavering, I say get off the fence, help prevent another famine and offer new hope to Somalia.”

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula:

Moses Wetangula, foreign minister of neighbouring Kenya, told Reuters he wanted to see “a renewed and reinvigorated international commitment to Somalia”.

“We hope it’s not going to be the usual talking shop where we make flowery speeches and get clapped and go away without caring whether it will be followed up or not. I hope we will have a commitment to assist the warring factions in Somalia to instil a sense of peace and working together.”


While we recognise the huge efforts of the UK Government to make the conference a success, what we had hoped for was a recognition that 20 years of internationally imposed solutions have failed. However, what we’ve seen once again are externally driven solutions that haven’t worked, aren’t working and will not work.

Amnesty International: “London Conference on Somalia hasn’t adequately tackled the dire human rights situation in the country.”

The BBC’s Mary Harper:

There seems to be a bit of a contradiction in the final communique. On the one hand, it states in bold type that decisions on Somalia’s future “rest with the Somali people”. On the other it talks about outsiders taking some control of the government’s budget, with the establishment of a Joint Financial Management Board.

It is also outsiders who have decided that the time for political transition is over; they even say they will “incentivise progress” towards representative government.

Al Shabab:

Al-Shabab said the London conference was another attempt to colonise Somalia.

“They want us under trusteeship and we will not allow that. God willing we will face the outcome with full force and stop it,” said al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage.

Some other Somali criticisms of the conference can be found here.

I unfortunately could not find a statement by Turkey, which is an increasingly important actor in Somalia (see a recent piece on their aid efforts here, and a piece on the praise Turkey won from a Somali businessman here). Turkey will host another international conference on Somalia this June. I also could not find a reaction from Russia, which sent a delegation to the conference.

Please use the comments to post additional reactions and to share your own. Do you think the conference will make a difference in/for Somalia?

A Three Child Limit for Nigeria? [Updated]

Jeffrey Sachs, the American economist famous for such books as The End of Poverty, currently serves as special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Ban visited Nigeria this week, and Sachs commented on Nigeria’s population growth. Nigeria’s population currently stands at around 160 million, and some estimates project that Nigeria could have over 700 million people by 2100, placing it third in population behind China and India. Sachs has a solution in mind:

“I am really scared about population explosion in Nigeria. It is not healthy. Nigeria should work towards attaining a maximum of three children per family,” Sachs told AFP on the margins of a presidential interactive meeting with key members of the business community.

He told the meeting earlier that an increased annual economic growth rate from the current seven percent, encouragement of integrated development in economy, agriculture, urban and rural sectors, provision of a good health system, education, power, railway, could see the country become one of the most important economies in the 21st century.

The BBC quotes a Nigerian family planning expert who suggests that the three child proposal is not feasible:

Isaac Ogo pointed to the tradition of polygamy and the belief that the children were seen as a “gift from God” in a male-dominated society.


Mr Ogo, from the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria, agrees with the goal but says it will be hard to change the views of many Nigerians.

He says Nigeria is a “high birth, high death” society where many people think: “I need to have as much children as I want, as I don’t know which will survive.”

What do you think? Should the Nigerian government follow Sachs’ proposal? Would it work?


Elizabeth Dickinson responds at her blog:

This is a classic case of looking at the symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Why is fertility so high in Nigeria? Because there is no access to contraceptives, because women’s healthcare is practically non-existent, because women often have no choice about when and whether to have sex, and because child mortality is so high that it’s not uncommon for kids to die before they ever reach the age of five. Focus on the healthcare and the structural issues — and start providing a lot more free contraceptives and a lot of public health education — and the population issue just might resolve itself.

Ignoring Somalia?

Two pieces this week suggest that the crisis in Somalia demands more outside intervention. I’m not convinced.

UN Headquarters, New York

At Reuters, Barry Malone asks, “Why is the world ignoring Somalia?” Blogging at the AU summit in Addis Ababa, he noted the strong rhetoric but limited commitments given by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. Malone concludes,

Why the inaction? Why the focus on Afpak and Yemen only? Does the United Nations think it could never succeed in such a complex country? Are African breeding grounds for militancy not considered as immediate a threat as others? Does nobody want to prop up a government that was never elected by its people? How should the world react? Is it just that it really doesn’t have a clue how to?

Over at the Brookings Institution, meanwhile, Mwangi Kimenyi details the problems in Somalia and lays out an agenda for fixing them:

The United States and other developed countries should lead an international effort aimed at the reconstitution of the Somali state. After the unsuccessful Operation Restore Hope, the U.S. literally withdrew from direct engagement, preferring to act through surrogate front-line states such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and giving token support to A.U. peace keepers. The humanitarian dimension was sub-contracted to civil society such as CARE and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), among others. These approaches have limited success and will not work because they only treat symptoms. Thus far, efforts by African nations including the African Union have not yielded fruit. In fact, hardly any militarily strong African country has contributed forces and equipment to support the peace mission.

In tandem with destroying terror networks, a prudent approach must focus on a long-term solution that not only leads to peaceful co-existence of the Somalis, but also improves the quality of life and creates opportunities to engage in productive activities. At the core of such a strategy must be the progressive weakening of the factions’ capacity to engage in violence and to undertake illicit activities. Achieving these objectives require a strong military presence and for an extended period of time. Sources of illicit wealth must be curtailed especially the trade in guns, drugs and piracy. In this respect, the United Nations must take an expanded role and should have the mandate to occupy the country until factions are sufficiently weakened and willing to negotiate peace. In essence, the monopoly on violence must be consolidated in an international body such as the U.N. probably together with the A.U. The outcome of negotiated peace is likely to be a new state, with different structures of governance. It is also conceivable that the outcome could be more than one state.

Finally, the strategy must involve a broad development agenda. As already noted, statelessness has many concentrated benefits, which motivates factions to invest heavily so to retain the economic rents derived under statelessness. The military agenda must therefore be complemented with an internationally coordinated development agenda including investment in productive activities, building infrastructure and the provision of social services, especially investment in human capital-education and health. Today, investments in human capital are extremely low because alternative investment in illicit activities has much higher returns.

That’s a call for US-led, armed nation-building. Perhaps Malone is implicitly making the same call. If so, I would like to hear more details: How many troops would it take? What will their strategy be? How long will the operations last? How much will it cost the US and other countries who sign on?

I do not believe the troops, funds, and political will exist for such ventures, which renders moot all larger discussions of whether such an operation could succeed. That leads us back to where Malone began – ignoring Somalia. But is Somalia being ignored? The US conducts missile strikes there. Ethiopian forces intervene regularly. Kenya keeps a close eye on its neighbor. The AU has peacekeepers there. Eritrea supports rebel factions. And were it not for outside intervention – specifically the 2006 invasion by Ethiopia – Somalia might be in better shape today. Yes, the UN could send in 5,000 peacekeepers – but if 200,000 would be needed to establish real peace, then what would be the point of a smaller number?

I do not deny the humanitarian tragedy in Somalia, nor do I deny the threat its radicals could pose to its neighbors or to the United States. But calls to “do something” need to be fleshed out with concrete details that will either prove or refute their viability, and outside powers need to think carefully about the potentially huge drawbacks of greater invention in the Horn.

The Controversies Around Robert Fowler

I had not intended to write on the controversies surrounding Robert Fowler, but the story keeps making headlines, so I will try and piece the events together as best I can.

In July 2008, Ban Ki-Moon appointed Fowler, a former Canadian ambassador, as UN Special Envoy to Niger. Fowler was tasked with helping to find a solution to the Tuareg conflict in the Agadez region in the north of the country.

Fowler was kidnapped near Niamey in mid-December 2008 by militants who turned out, the BBC later reported, to be affiliated with AQIM. A group of four European tourists were kidnapped in January 2009 and held with Fowler and his aide Louis Guay. Fowler, Guay, and two of the tourists were released in April; of the remaining captives one, British citizen Edwin Dyer, was executed by AQIM in June, while the final hostage was released in July.

So far as I understand it, those are the facts. Now the controversies begin:

Fowler said the government of Niger and in particularly President Mamadou Tandja “hated my mission”.

“It was clear from the first time I met him in August that he [Mr Tandja] was offended, annoyed and embarrassed by the fact that the secretary general of the UN [Ban Ki-moon] had seen fit to appoint a special envoy for his country.”

Analysts say Mr Tandja has had a fractious relationship with the UN during his 10 years in power.

During a food crisis in 2005 when 3.5 million people were left hungry, he accused UN agencies of exaggerating the country’s problems in order to get donor funds.

Speaking in detail for the first time about the circumstances that led to the diplomats’ release, Mali officials said they felt under heavy pressure to find ways to resolve the hostage situation, to the point they were worried that Canada might withdraw aid if the hostages were not freed.

Canada’s aid to Mali has increased sharply in recent years, from about $20-million in 2002 to more than $100-million last year. Mali is now one of the five biggest recipients of Canadian aid, and it is one of the few African countries to remain on Ottawa’s trimmed-down priority list for foreign aid this year.

Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, director of the Northern Mali Development Agency in the Mali government, said the four prisoners were released because Canada is a “big partner” of the country and needed to be kept happy. The prisoners who were involved in bomb-making were “very dangerous” but “not very well-known,” he said in an interview.

So there you have it. I am not in a position to evaluate all these different claims, but at the very least it’s clear that few of these actors – whether the individuals or the governments involved – trust each other. That lack of trust makes untangling the different accounts complicated, if not impossible, for the outside observer. And that lack of trust also suggests that these actors had a difficult time coordinating their efforts, and may again if a similar situation arises.

Any insights welcome – drop them in the comments.