Italy’s Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio recently visited Bamako, Mali’s capital, and met with the country’s leading government officials. The talks focused on strengthening cooperation in the field of security and migration between the two partners, which is complemented by the recent announcement of an Italian embassy in Bamako. During these talks, a memorandum of understanding is hoped to be reached, focusing on human trafficking and migration flows in the region.
The Minister confirmed Italy’s support for new democratic elections and stability operations in the Sahel region. The presidential and legislative elections are supposed to take place in February and March 2022, preceded by a referendum to reform the Constitution in October 2021. These elections follow promises made by the government in charge since the coup in August 2020 to return power to civilians after a transitional period of eighteen months. The dissolution of the military junta, supported by Malian’s and the international community, is a positive step for the conflict.
Italy’s efforts consist of, among others, the imminent deployment of troops and military vehicles to support Takuba, a French-led task force inaugurated in 2019. Takuba’s purpose is to assist and advise the Malian army to counter jihadist groups in the region, with support from Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden under the French leadership. The European Union forces will act in coordination with the other G5- Sahel partners -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger -- adding to other missions such as the EU Capacity Building Mission (EuCAP) in Mali. The EU Training Mission Mali (EUTM) whose mandate started in 2013, is also assisting the Malian Armed Forces through advisory, education, and training. The German government has recently approved an expansion of its contingent of EUTM, and has agreed to renew its participation in MINUSMA, a 13000 troop UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, by one year.
Despite the persistent support of European partners, the Sahel region is far from stable, with dramatic consequences for local populations. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), issued on April 20, 2021, at least 34 civilians have been killed by the army over the past few months. HRW revealed that the military is struggling against jihadists and militias in the north, and in response have increased their crackdown on the local population. These battles are complicated by the insurgent's abilities to hide among civilians. Pending the outcome of several investigations, the UN estimates that there are reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes were committed between 2012 and 2018. At the same time, governmental authorities appear fragile after the sudden assassination of the president of the Coordination of the Azawad Movements, a group claiming independence in the North.
Together with Burkina Faso and Niger, Mali is facing the risk of acute food insecurity, another issue atop of alimentary, safety issues and sanitary emergencies in the region. The local ecosystem is being threatened by advancing desertification from Sahara, the gradual silting of the Niger river deltas is causing overfishing, and armed terrorist groups are running incursions on its banks. Central and Western Africa represent approximately one fourth of the world’s humanitarian needs, and further investment is required in order to foster local agriculture and save young people from malnutrition. While the new initiatives proposed by EU countries could renew focus on African issues, placing a high priority on the humanitarian crisis, civilian security, and impunity would be beneficial to the overall region, according to the Citizen Coalition for Sahel.