I would like to thank you for this opportunity to give a review of the situation in the Sahel region.
In large parts of Africa the situation has improved in recent years. In many countries democratic institutions and governance are being strengthened. There has been clear progress in the fields of health and education, and a number of countries in Africa are experiencing significant economic growth. The African Union (AU) is playing a more important role today than it did just a few years ago, in terms of dealing with crises and conflicts as well as promoting democratic principles and greater economic and political integration.
The number of conflicts in Africa has declined. For at least the last decade the populations in close to 90 % of African countries have been able to live in peace. We have every reason to be happy about these developments, which are particularly noticeable in sub-Saharan Africa.
At the same time there are areas where the situation is clearly deteriorating. In North Africa a number of countries are undergoing major upheavals in the wake of the Arab Spring. Between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa lies the Sahel region – a belt that spans the continent to the south of the Sahara desert, and includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. The region is one of tension, food crises are frequent, and economic and social development is weaker than in other parts of the African continent.
The problems have intensified in recent years, partly as a result of the upheavals further north. Criminal networks are gaining strength, particularly those involved in drug trafficking. Insurgent groups are becoming increasingly active. All this is taking place in a region where the borders between countries and peoples are drawn in sand.
We need to keep this regional context in mind as we start our engagement in Mali. Because, although Mali may appear to be the epicentre of the ongoing conflict, the country cannot be viewed in isolation from the challenges and tensions of the surrounding region.
In Libya, the situation is complex. Insurgent groups are still operating from areas in the south of the country, beyond the control of the Libyan authorities. In Tunisia, the emergence of fundamentalist groups gives cause for concern. In Algeria, we ourselves were hit by the dramatic terrorist attack in In Amenas. In Niger, a neighbouring country to Mali, there have been several attacks in recent weeks that are worrying and give rise to fear that that conflict will spread.
Further south, in Nigeria, the militant group Boko Haram has been carrying out regular attacks that have led to a state of emergency being declared in the three northern provinces. Networks that are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda have gained a stronger foothold across the entire Sahel region – a region with weak, virtually collapsed or quite simply non-existent government structures and porous borders.
Moreover, the unresolved conflict over Western Sahara and the general instability in the Sahel are creating a growing sense of frustration and vulnerability among young people in the refugee camps in Algeria. The UN Secretary-General has recently expressed concern about this. Norway supported a proposal to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to encompass human rights monitoring in the next mandate period, but unfortunately without success. We are supporting UN efforts to reach a negotiated resolution to the conflict, and we believe that it is essential that the international community stands together to put pressure on the parties to achieve a political solution.
It is within the context of this broader regional political landscape that the conflict in Mali must be resolved – and understood.
I have presented some of the main features of the conflict on many occasions, for example in my foreign policy address to the Storting on 12 February this year.
Let me highlight some of the key features:
What was apparently a functioning democracy in Mali collapsed following the military coup in March 2012. The coup was triggered by the fact that several insurgent groups – with very different goals – had taken control of the northern parts of the country. For a long time Mali had experienced regional tensions and the population in the north felt marginalised. The authorities in the capital of Bamako now faced threats of secession and the introduction of fundamentalist, Islamist rule.
The critical turning point came when French forces intervened on 11 January this year. They stopped the rebels from advancing southwards, and liberated most of the rebel-controlled territory. The intervention had broad political support, both in Mali and from the international community. France also received effective military support from African forces, primarily from Chad. Forces from other African countries were deployed within the framework of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA).
The AU and the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), however, quickly made it clear that AFISMA would need support from the international community. On 25 April this year, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated
Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), with a robust mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The recently published report on the situation in Mali submitted by the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council sets out that the re-hatting of AFISMA – i.e. the deployment of the UN mission – will take place on 1 July, as planned.
The UN engagement will make is possible to secure both financing and important military components, which AFISMA does not have. The Security Council resolution authorises the UN to use all necessary means to protect civilians and support the Malian authorities in their efforts to:
- stabilise the situation – especially in the north of Mali,
- strengthen the state administration,
- facilitate humanitarian assistance,
- protect cultural and historical sites, and
- bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali.
In other words, the mandate of the mission is broad. It encompasses far more than just security-related tasks, and includes political tasks such as supporting the organisation and conduct of elections and the promotion and protection of human rights.
Providing support for and participating in UN peace operations is a priority for the Norwegian Government. For far too long, Western countries have left it to countries in Asia, Latin American and Africa to shoulder the main burden in this respect, in order to be able to concentrate on Afghanistan and Iraq. However, this trend appears to be changing. Several European countries are now showing an interest in participating in missions such as MINUSMA.
When we received the request from the UN to participate in MINUSMA, we gave a positive reply. By participating in the mission in Mali we are seeking to put the country on a better track towards a resolution of the conflict. If this is successful, we will also be enhancing stability in a vulnerable region.
Norway will contribute much needed military capabilities and will participate in areas where it has relevant expertise. The Minister of Defence will discuss these contributions in more detail.
We have also informed the UN that we can provide political advisers, if needed, and if we have personnel with the necessary qualifications.
The Government considers it important that MINUSMA, and Mali’s own forces, conduct themselves in a manner that builds trust among the population. This includes countering acts of revenge and other acts of violence, including sexual violence.
The contribution of the international community is necessary in order to create an environment conducive to an inclusive political process. But the will of the Malian stakeholders is absolutely essential if the causes of the conflict are to be addressed.
Mali’s interim Government must implement its road map for the transition, hold elections as soon as possible and put in place a new government, which must enjoy legitimacy in all parts of the country. This is something we emphasise in our dialogue with the Malian authorities. I met Mali’s Foreign Minister recently and talked precisely about this.
An inclusive reconciliation process needs to be set in motion if lasting stability is to be achieved. This must include specific processes targeting certain insurgent groups as well as a much broader national dialogue that encompasses all population groups. Women must also be given their rightful place in this process, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1325. A commission for dialogue and reconciliation has now been established and the first contacts between the Government in Mali and the Tuareg-dominated rebel movement have been made.
The legitimate needs of the population must be met, particularly in the north. Moreover, it is vital to prevent a situation that could lead to the fragmentation of the country, which would also have dangerous implications both within and beyond Mali’s borders. Neighbouring Niger is particularly vulnerable. Norway wishes to step up its engagement in both countries by providing aid to strengthen the countries’ institutions and promote development, and thus reduce the risk of open conflict spreading across the region.
We also intend to strengthen our political contacts with other countries in the region – in particular Algeria, Morocco and Libya in North Africa, and Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa. The aim is twofold: to further develop bilateral ties and to obtain these countries’ assessments of the situation and the contribution that Norway can make at any given time. Strengthening border control is a key and particularly difficult challenge.
I would like to underline the importance of ensuring that our contributions go towards strengthening the Africans’ own institutions – in particular the African Union. I stressed this at the AU summit three weeks ago, which was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the forerunner to the AU, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The AU has an important role to play in Mali, together with the UN and ECOWAS.
Any decision to participate in an international operation is an important one. It is also a difficult one. We need to be fully aware of what Norway’s role in Mali should be and what the consequences would be if the international community responded passively and failed to take action.
There are, in my view, five reasons why Norway should participate in the international mission.
Firstly, it has significance for key goals of Norway’s development policy – combating poverty and promoting democracy.
Secondly, if we lose the fight against drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime in the region, European countries in particular will feel the consequences.
Thirdly, lasting and intensified unrest in the region will drive more people northwards in search of a better future.
Fourthly, the engagement of the business sector in the region will come under pressure if terrorist groups gain a stronger foothold.
And finally, we must prevent the destabilisation of the entire region. An appreciation of the regional context is therefore at the heart of Norway’s broad-based engagement in Mali.
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