Mali-seminar Heikki Holmås

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1 Mali-seminar Heikki Holmås Thank you for inviting me to this seminar on Mali and for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about Norwegian policy on Mali and more broadly in the Sahel. Norway has a longstanding engagement in Mali. As most of you here know, Mali has been receiving Norwegian development assistance since the 1970s. That assistance was stepped up in the 1980s in response to the drought and famine that swept across the Sahel in The ambitious Sahel Sudan Ethiopia programme with a budget of one billion kroner was launched at this time. It brought together the UN and several NGOs and research institutions in a concerted effort to prevent future droughts and hunger. Many of you here today took part in that programme and have been present in Mali since. You have done tremendous work to promote development in Mali. The tireless, long-term efforts of Norwegian NGOs and research institutions in Mali have been at the heart of Norway s engagement and have enabled Norway to deliver relevant assistance. For example, through Norwegian Church Aid, Norway was able to play a role in the peace process in northern Mali in the 1990s that culminated in the Flame of Peace the burning of 3000 small arms in Timbuktu. Assistance to Mali was stepped up under the current Norwegian Government in 2008 by my predecessor, Erik Solheim. In addition to assisting Mali in fighting drought and adapting agriculture to climate change, Norwegian assistance and cooperation has also focused on stabilising the restive northern territories, where the Tuareg rebellions have been a recurring challenge to Malian stability. In 2011, Norway entered into an MoU with Mali on cooperation and assistance mainly, but not exclusively, in the northern territories. Bilateral political consultations became frequent with several political visits to both Mali and Norway. Mali was thought to have a pivotal role in regional stability and it was feared that failure to achieve peace and reconciliation in the north could have negative consequences not only for Mali, but also for the region and, ultimately, for Europe. Unfortunately this proved to be the case. This year, Mali was hit by several crises at the same time. I mention these just briefly, as they are well known to you:

2 A regional nutrition crisis caused by drought and increased food prices. An influx of migrant workers who had fled the fighting in Libya. This put an extra burden on the local communities that they had left to find work and be able to support their families. An influx of heavily armed and well trained fighters from Libya who reignited the Tuareg rebellion in the north. Increased activity of Islamist groups, like Al Qaida, and of organised criminal networks. And the dissatisfaction among soldiers, as well as large parts of the population at large, with what was seen as increasing corruption and mismanagement on the part of the ATT Government. Today s crisis in Mali is complex and has regional ramifications. There is no quick fix, and I cannot offer any clear solution. But I would like to say a few words about what we have done so far, and offer a few thoughts on possible ways out of the crisis. Norway, together with the international community, immediately condemned the military coup against the democratically elected government and froze its government-to-government development assistance. We have made it clear that there can be no government-to-government cooperation while the military continues to influence politics. At the same time, we remain committed to assisting the Malian people through NGOs and UN organisations. Frozen government-to-government assistance has been redirected for humanitarian purposes. Norway is mindful of the precarious humanitarian situation in Mali at present. There is serious risk of a new food crisis next year. I have therefore decided to make an exception and exempt assistance to Noragric, and its Malian partner IER, from the freeze. Meanwhile, we continue to call on the military junta to return to the barracks and stop meddling in politics, and for the political leaders to push for a political process that is broad and inclusive. When that happens, we will be ready to reengage fully with the Malian authorities.

3 ECOWAS is pressing for a military intervention in Mali. When I spoke to President Issoufou of Niger last week, he explained that neighbouring states like his are concerned about security, fearing that the Islamist groups in the north are establishing a base from which they could attack other countries. He argued for an intervention to secure Bamako and push the Islamist rebels out of the north. I do not believe that military force can resolve this crisis. There is a risk of foreign military intervention bringing the various militant groups closer together, and mobilising more militants in the region. There is also a risk of inflaming existing tensions between sedentary and pastoral communities. Rushing into military action could lead to a major bloodbath. At this stage, a negotiated solution also seems to be out of reach. The current government institutions in Bamako are too weak and the political elite and the security apparatus are too divided to be effective negotiating partners. They cannot provide incentives, nor can they put pressure on the rebels to negotiate. I think the key lies in Bamako. The root causes of the crisis must be dealt with through a political process. The international community should focus on supporting the re-establishment of a strong, effective and legitimate Malian government that can address the legitimate grievances of the populations in both the north and the south. A process of national dialogue is needed that involves all parts of Malian society, not just the political parties of the south, and not just the armed groups of the north. This dialogue should include civil society organisations, religious and traditional leaders, women, and other representatives of society. It should seek to achieve a truly consensual resolution of the crisis, and restore full credibility and authority to the state. The army must undergo major reforms to restore government control and rebuild fighting capacity, so that it is able to put pressure on the armed groups in the north, and if necessary engage in a military campaign. Discipline must be tightened in order to prevent abuses or acts of revenge against the population in the north. A strong government and army will have far better chances of negotiating a durable solution in the north and tackling the radical elements that want to continue fighting. There is also a need for a broad regional approach. All concerned and interested states in the region should come together to form a contact group or group of

4 friends, possibly within an African Union framework, that can support mediation and reform efforts. Such a group should include major players such as Algeria and Mauritania, and must be acceptable to Mali. In addition, neighbouring states need to re-establish regional, military and security cooperation to ensure the security and integrity of their national territories. The acute security crisis in Mali has highlighted the security challenges in the Sahel region, where radical Islamism, together with organised crime, weapons smuggling and rebellions, is threatening all the states in the region. Meanwhile, long-term humanitarian, developmental and demographic issues have been overshadowed. Even in good years, children die of acute malnutrition. In Niger, this alarming situation has become normal. This year s drought, the third since 2005, has put more than a million children at risk. Moreover, the average mother in Niger gives birth to eight children. This is not only causing population growth to soar; it is also seriously weakening women s health, and restricting their opportunities for education and productive employment. Nine out of ten women are illiterate. Population growth and diminishing agricultural productivity could create a prolonged humanitarian disaster of massive proportions. We need to take a broad, development-based approach to the issue of security in the Sahel region. The SSE programme was initiated in the 1980s to improve food security in the region. In recent years, the cooperation between Noragric and IER in Mali has yielded positive results, which shielded the country to some degree from last year s drought. But the entire region is suffering from chronic food insecurity. The world was quick to react to this year s crises. NGOs sounded the alarm at an early stage. Norway, together with the international community, responded promptly. So far, Norway alone has pledged 195 million kroner to the Sahel. As a result, humanitarian organisations have been able to address efficiently the problems caused by the floods that hit Mali and Niger recently, so far without additional funding. However, there is a paradox here. While the international community provides generous humanitarian assistance, it is all the more difficult to generate support for long-term preventive measures: measures to improve productivity, build resilience and reduce the risks of humanitarian crises.

5 When I visited Niger in May this year, President Issoufou asked me to assist his country with its ambitious development programme. It is called the 3N ( Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens ) programme, and aims at finding structural solutions to structural problems, in close cooperation with the UN and NGOs. The Nigerien Government has shown that it is taking a hands on approach. It is taking this challenge seriously. It has shown the will to tackle population growth, provide education and health services for women, and manage its natural resources for the good of the population. The President urged Norway and the other Scandinavian countries to support his efforts and his fragile democratic state. We know that poor countries like Mali and Niger are increasingly affected by natural disasters caused by climate change. Given that there is a strong link between climate change and the consumption of oil, coal and natural gas in the developed world, we have a responsibility to assist these states. Norway will therefore continue to work with its partners to support the countries of the Sahel. Next week, I will attend the summit meeting in New York and discuss the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. There, we must recognise the central role that the governments of countries in the Sahel have in responding to the challenges in the region, and we must encourage them to address the underlying causes. I have also decided like to provide Norwegian assistance to Niger s 3N programme. Meanwhile, our commitment to development in Mali will remain strong and we stand ready to work closely with the Government of Mali when circumstances permit. Let me conclude by repeating what I said earlier. Many of you here today have done important work to promote development in Mali. Your activities and presence in the country continue to be the building blocks for Norway s continued engagement both in Mali and in the broader Sahel region, and I look forward to continuing to draw on your expertise and work with you. Thank you.

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