We must continue to support Mali

Bert Koenders and Frank-Walter Steinmeier To achieve stability in Mali, we need to ensure that ordinary citizens can become more self-reliant and generate their own incomes.

An event in Oranienburg, not far from Berlin, is currently spotlighting the friendship between Germany and the Netherlands. ‘Orangefest’,  celebrated at Schloss Oranienburg on 24 April, reminds us of our shared history and bears witness to the close ties that have united Germany and the Netherlands for centuries.

Politically, these ties came to the fore during the second round of consultations between the German and Dutch governments which were held in Eindhoven on 21 April. We also stand shoulder to shoulder in the European Union, where the current Dutch Presidency is a reliable source of support. We need this now more than ever, given the major challenges currently facing Europe, including the refugee and migration crisis, the fight against Islamist terrorism and the crises in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.

But also in the Sahel – less than five hours by plane from the Netherlands and Germany – tensions exist that threaten the stability of the entire region and thus also affect us in Europe. Countries where peace and reconciliation processes are stalled, countries that are blighted by poverty, inequality, and a lack of respect for human rights, and where democratic principles are being further undermined by terrorism and organised crime.

In a situation like this it is essential that we continue supporting Mali and the other countries of the Sahel. This means fighting poverty, hunger and despair, promoting the rule of law and human rights, strengthening democratic structures and implementing necessary state reforms.

The Netherlands and Germany are involved in many aspects of this challenge, providing development aid through various German, Dutch and European projects. In these efforts we are guided by the principle that without development there can be no peace, and without security and stability there can be no development. And given that crime and terrorism do not respect national borders, we also support regional cooperation between the countries of the Sahel. Cooperation is the key to peace in Mali and to greater security and stability in the entire region.

In the end, efforts to promote stability can only succeed in a safe and secure region. This is why in 2013, when jihadists were threatening to gain control of the country, Europe stepped into action at the request of the Malian government. France helped by providing robust support to the Malian army in repelling the Islamists; the Netherlands, by making a significant contribution to the UN peace mission MINUSMA; and Germany, by training Malian security forces under the aegis of the EU Training Mission (EUTM).

Since the early part of this year the Netherlands and Germany have been further expanding their close cooperation in Mali in the framework of MINUSMA. Six hundred and fifty German peacekeepers are being stationed at the UN base in Gao, which is around 1,200 kilometres from Bamako and was initially set up by Dutch military personnel.

Over 10,000 MINUSMA troops are stationed in Mali to ensure security and stability in the region, but the chief aim of the mission is to promote the peace process. Thanks in part to the United Nations and the involvement of over 50 countries, MINUSMA succeeded in bringing about a peace agreement between the government and the rebels in June 2015, and is now supporting the implementation of that agreement. The peacekeepers are there to ensure the decentralisation of power, the reintegration of rebels into the army and the economic development of the north of the country.

The goal of the mission in Mali is to help stabilise the country sufficiently to offer its people the prospect of a peaceful future. To that end the Netherlands and Germany are providing the UN with well-trained troops and cutting-edge technology. Together we are working to ensure that the Malian people can protect themselves from attacks and helping to improve the conditions for the peace and reconciliation process in Mali.

It fills us with pride that our troops are making this vital contribution to the UN mission in Mali together. It’s a great example of how the Netherlands and Germany work together in the UN framework.

The key to a peaceful and prosperous Mali is in the hands of the Malian people themselves. They have taken significant steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, ordinary Malians are not yet benefiting enough from the government’s efforts to develop the north.

Progress must be made on decentralising the country’s governance. The people need to be able to deal with local affairs themselves, in their own areas. Safeguards must be in place to guarantee basic needs like security, education and electricity. The population must be empowered to generate its own income.

Via the UN, the EU and our own close bilateral contacts we are committed to making meaningful progress. This is a priority for us, and we will be travelling to the region soon to assess the situation on the ground.

The Netherlands and Germany will remain in Mali, shoulder to shoulder, in the coming period, in order to promote a stable Sahel. After all, foreign policy is about looking beyond one’s immediate neighbourhood, to what is happening in the wider world.