The UN mission in Mali ended ten years of presence in the country on Sunday, December 31. Minusma “has completed its withdrawal from the country by December 31,” 2023, as agreed with the military in power in Mali, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement released on Sunday.

Mr. Guterres praised in a press release “the key role” played by Minusma which ensured “that the ceasefire was respected as part of the 2015 peace and reconciliation agreement [between Bamako and rebel groups of the North] as well as the transition” in this country where the military seized power by force in 2020.

The end of Minusma puts an end to a commitment begun in 2013 in the face of the spread of jihadism which threatened the stability of a poor and fragile state, and which persists today. The violence has spread to the Sahelian neighbors of Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands of civilians and combatants, and displacing millions of people.

The UN chief also “paid tribute to the 311 Minusma personnel who lost their lives and the more than 700 wounded in the service of peace during the ten years of deployment of the mission in Mali” in attacks mainly perpetrated by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization.

Criticized by Malians

Minusma is the UN mission hardest hit in recent years. Its numbers numbered around 15,000 soldiers and police from dozens of countries. Despite a considerable financial commitment, Minusma was strongly criticized by some Malians who denounced its inability to stem the crisis.

UN officials have always objected that Minusma’s mission was not to fight jihadists. His mandate assigned him to support the implementation of a major peace agreement with northern separatists (non-jihadists); to help the Malian authorities stabilize the center, another source of violence; and protect civilians and human rights.

After the withdrawal phase on Sunday, “[Monday] January 1, 2024 will mark the start of the liquidation period” consisting in particular of handing over the latest equipment to the Malian authorities or terminating existing contracts, explained Mr. Guterres.

During this period, “a reduced team” and “the rear guards of the troop-contributing countries and police, will remain at the sites of Gao [in the north] and Bamako to supervise the orderly transport of goods belonging to the troop-contributing countries. troops and police to their respective nations.”

The Timbuktu camp, in the north of the country, was one of the last camps handed over by Minusma to the Malian authorities this week.

Disengagement in difficult conditions

Minusma set out to leave Mali after Bamako’s request. It planned its disengagement from most of its 13 holds in difficult conditions in the north, under the pressure of a military escalation between all the armed actors present on the ground.

Its presence had become almost untenable after the military took power. The junta carried out a strategic reorientation, broke the alliance with the former dominant power France and turned militarily and politically towards Russia.

The head of Malian diplomacy, Abdoulaye Diop, ended up asking the Security Council for the departure “without delay” of Minusma in June. He proclaimed the mission a “failure” and said it was not the solution but “part of the problem.”

Minusma could not remain against the wishes of the Malian authorities. The Security Council ended his mandate on June 30 and gave him until December 31 to leave the country.