On July 10, 49 soldiers arriving in Mali from the Ivory Coast were arrested at the airport in Bamako, Mali’s capital city. The soldiers were sent to the nation as security and logistics contractors working for the German branch of United Nations peacekeepers, according to The Economist. Malian authorities arrested the soldiers under the claim that they were mercenaries with a so-called “dark purpose.” Three female Ivorian soldiers have been released as a “humanitarian gesture” from Mali’s military government, reports The Washington Post. Today, however, 46 of them are still detained, despite multiple calls from the Ivory Coast for their freedom.
The arrest comes amidst a general decline in the situation in Mali following two military coups in 2020 and 2021. Currently, multiple radical Islamist groups with loose al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliations are active in the nation, according to the Economist. Human Rights Watch reports that these groups have carried out multiple attacks against civilians in the region, killing many, including about 19 UN peacekeepers and up to 120 government security force members. Roughly 3,600 people have been killed in the country in 2022.
Mali’s current military government gained popularity among the populace by promising to push down these forces. However, despite the efforts of the government’s counterterrorism operations and a UN peacekeeping mission, Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Jihadist groups are still active in the northern regions of the nation. Because of this, the military government enlisted the help of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military group with ties to Vladimir Putin, according to The New York Times. The introduction of mercenaries into the conflict, as well as a lack of air coverage, has caused some participants in MINUSMA to withdraw their troops, including Sweden and Egypt, according to the Economist.
In spite of the international criticism the nation has received, the leader of Mali’s junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, was present at the nation’s Independence Day celebration on Thursday, September 22. This was the first Independence Day celebration since French forces left the nation last year, reports The Associated Press. Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, the leader of neighboring Guinea’s military, was also present at the parade. As world leaders gathered in New York City awaiting the commencement of the UN general assembly, Goïta made a statement outlining his hopes for the future of Mali’s foreign relations, claiming he wanted to strengthen Mali’s relationships with other nations but maintained that the country will contour to uphold its own unilateral interests.
Al Jazeera reports that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held a summit on September 22, two days before the commencement of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, in order to condemn this action, as well as the nation’s use of ‘blackmail’ in negotiations with the Ivory Coast. Human Rights Watch reports that the nation has been expelled from the organization’s decision-making bodies, as well as from the African Council, in light of the hostage crisis. Guinea was also strongly condemned at this summit, and the nation was sanctioned in reaction to the human rights abuses committed by its own military government. In light of the recent coups and ongoing violence by multiple actors in both Mali and Guinea, as well as in Burkina Faso, The Washington Post claims that experts fear a democratic backslide in Africa’s Western Bloc. As UN missions in the region and various authorities struggle to bring stability to the region, hope for a peaceful future remains to be seen.