Urgent issues

Visit of the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, head of MINUSMA, El-Ghassim WANE, to the peacekeepers in Gao, Ansongo, Ménaka, Kidal, Aguelhok and Tessalit from December 13 to 15, 2021, to provide support to the personnel on the ground after a series of attacks against them. © MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mali, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan.

Nothing has gone right in Mali with France since the two successive coups, the restructuring of the Barkhane force, the arrival of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group and the recent expulsion of the French Ambassador.

How far can the rupture go and with what consequences? If everything is accelerating, is everything under control? What will be the next step in this rebound crisis?

It must be said that the five-year transition period decreed by the head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, has blocked everything. It must be said that pressure from France on the countries of the region was strong. It must be said that ECOWAS was severe in its decisions. One does not need to be an expert on Mali to feel that we have reached the breaking point.

And yet France came to Mali in 2013 at the request of the Malian authorities to stop the jihadists at the gates of Bamako. Since then, nearly 60 French soldiers have died for the security of this country. What will become of the Barkhane and Takuba forces as political breakdown seems inevitable and jihadist groups lie in wait ?

Will the headlong rush take over ?

Soldiers of the Malian army ©koboula.ml

What will happen to the Transitional Government in the face of ECOWAS and African Union sanctions and what will be the impact on the population itself? What will the jihadist groups do? Will the flight to safety become more widespread?

And for the displaced, refugees and populations at risk, what will happen to development and humanitarian aid programs? There is a great danger that they will be drastically reduced, or even stopped here and there.

As a reminder, let us point out that at the beginning of this year, the number of Malians affected by the food crisis has increased by 160% compared to the previous period (2015-2020), according to the Emergency Response Coordination Centre of the European Commission’s DG ECHO[1]. And the number of Malians in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 5.9 million to 7.5 million in 12 months!

What will be the consequences of a possible regional redeployment of Barkhane and Takuba despite the likely continuation of MINUSMA? Will jihadist groups take advantage of the situation to occupy the terrain and how far will they go? Obviously, some will bet on the fall of the president and the transitional government of Assimi Goïta, president, and Chogel Maiga, prime minister. If so, would the situation be better or worse?

Will security deteriorate to the point of restricting or even interrupting access to humanitarian aid to the people who need it daily? In this dangerous context, humanitarians will have to show a lot of determination, imagination and know-how to fulfill their mission.

From Bamako to Ouagadougou.

Mali is not the only country in the Sahel region to be affected, along with Guinea and Burkina Faso. In turn, on January 24, this country experienced a military coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandago Damida that led to the removal of President Marc Christian Kaboré.

Humanitarians traveling through the country during the food crisis often encounter security agents in these border areas of Mali. © EC/ECHO/Saïd Mbombo Penda (CC BY-ND 2.0)

While the constitution was reinstated shortly after it was abrogated, local government councils were dissolved by decree. While municipal services continue to function, there is no longer a decision-making body. This will delay all investment decisions on infrastructure, including essential services for forcibly displaced populations. At the same time, the United States has decided to pause its assistance for an amount of 450 million dollars.

For the record, let us recall that there were 47,000 displaced persons at the end of December 2018, more than 1.1 million at the beginning of 2021, 1.4 million during 2021 and finally 1.57 million at the end of December 2021 out of 21 million inhabitants. These population displacements are the result of the intensification of fighting with jihadist groups and one of the main causes of the January 25 coup.

We are now waiting to hear about the working group’s decisions regarding the transition period in Burkina Faso, where a large part of the population seems to be waiting for a return to security. The equation between security and elections against a backdrop of possible sanctions will be placed at the heart of any solution!

The logic seems implacable in Mali as in Burkina Faso. The deterioration of security leads to a coup d’état that will provoke retaliatory measures by ECOWAS0 and the African Union (closure of borders, economic blockade, recall of ambassadors) and other countries. These measures directly affect the population despite the exemptions (food products, oil and energy). As a result, the situation will deteriorate further and the forces involved will become more radical. Which way will public opinion lean?

In this imbroglio, humanitarian aid must be spared at all costs and supported, including Nexus-type projects (emergency-development), for which development agencies must continue to fund and facilitate implementation on the ground with local authorities.

From Ouagadougou to Kaboul.

For the first time since the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15, a delegation of 15 Taliban led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi was received in Norway in Oslo from January 23 to 25. Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said the talks “do not constitute legitimization or recognition of the Taliban,” but she added, “We need to talk to the authorities who are de facto running the country.

Oslo, January 24, 2022. Meeting between the Taliban and the special representatives for Afghanistan ©Ministère norvégien des Affaires étrangères (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This Norwegian initiative allowed this delegation and members of Afghan civil society (women’s associations, journalists) to meet with diplomats (Norway, France, United States, England, Germany, Italy, European Commission) and the Norwegian authorities.

After 20 years of war, it is necessarily difficult for the protagonists to talk to each other. That is the point of this initiative and others will certainly be needed to move forward on this path of mutual understanding.

This is the moment chosen by Marc Lowcock, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General in charge of humanitarian aid, to publish with other senior British officials, a Tribune in The Guardian[2] on January 23 to call for a rapid increase in emergency aid to avoid a humanitarian disaster.

Similarly, Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) presented a report[3], stressing that the inability to transfer aid funds to Afghanistan was putting millions of people at risk.

The Oslo meeting was immediately followed by a UN Security Council meeting in New York. “We cannot abandon the Afghan people,” said the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres[4], at the Security Council.

While urging the Taliban to “seize this moment and gain the trust and goodwill of the international community” through concrete measures (human rights, amnesty, education for girls, employment for women), the Secretary General called on countries to suspend rules and conditions that hamper both the Afghan economy and vital humanitarian operations.

A real risk of humanitarian disaster.

The reality is that 22.8 million Afghans are hungry. If we look at the maps and figures provided by the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Snapshot) for the period September – March 2022[5], on the one hand, there is a continued deterioration of the food situation and an acceleration at the end of 2021 followed by a worsening in 2022.

The informal settlements of Kabul ©EU/EC/ECHO/Pierre Prakash (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Of the 22.8 million Afghans suffering from hunger, 14 million are in Phase 3 crisis and 8.7 million are in Phase 4 emergency. But the prognosis for the period from late winter to spring is decidedly poor due to a continuing period of drought, high food prices, sanctions, and the suspension of salaries, especially in essential public services. Finally, according to experts, the IPC approach does not allow for the detection of small pockets of famine that could spread, nor does it provide a useful distinction between rural and urban areas.

In this context, the risk to be avoided at all costs is to prevent a possible shift from a food crisis and emergency situation to a famine situation (IPC Phase 5) in certain areas that could expand. Experience shows that prevention is better than cure, as we are currently seeing in Yemen, Ethiopia (Tigray) and South Sudan.


Concerning Mali and Burkina Faso, the European Union-African Union Summit on February 17 and 18 in Brussels should pronounce itself on these crises and announce new decisions. We will publish an article on this Summit in our next edition. But how to deal with what some are now calling a popular military coup?

In recent years, we have been sold the concept of a triple Nexus of Humanitarian-Development-Peace, while we have been told that the solution is mainly political. Tomorrow, perhaps a quadruple Nexus will be proposed with the addition of the rule of law and democracy. Let us remember that one of the essential principles of humanitarian aid is “not to substitute”.

Concerning Afghanistan, as I have already written, we, the Afghans and ourselves, are confronted with 6 major challenges that are as much internal as external: the humanitarian and economic situation, human rights, possible migratory movements, industrial drug trafficking, terrorism and geopolitics. As Antonio Guterres rightly said, “If we do not act and help the Afghans to overcome this storm, the region and the whole world will pay a high price. We have been warned!

Finally, a word about the World Water Forum (WWF) which will take place from March 21 to 26 in Dakar, Senegal. In this edition you will find two articles dedicated to this Forum in which I will actively participate with the NGO Solidarités International to fight for access to drinking water and sanitation for all, including in crisis situations.

For those of you who will be attending, I will be leading a session with many experts on Monday, March 21 at 1:30 p.m. at the Diamniadio International Conference Center. I invite you to join us there. And congratulations to the Lions of Teranga for winning this first African Cup of Nations for Senegal.

To conclude, I thank you in advance for the support, even modest, (make a donation here) that you can do to allow the publication and development of www.defishumanitaires.com free and independent site intended for you. Thank you very much and see you soon.

Alain Boinet.

President of Défis Humanitaires.


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[1] Maps (europa.eu)

[2] Tribune of Marc Lowcock for The Guardian

[3] NRC report : financial-access-in-afghanistan_nrc_jan-2022.pdf

[4] Speech by Antonio Guterres to the Security Council : « Nous ne pouvons pas abandonner le peuple afghan », déclare António Guterres au Conseil de sécurité | ONU Info (un.org)

[5] Maps and figures provided by the CPI for the period September – March 2022 : Afghanistan: Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Snapshot | September 2021- March 2022 – Afghanistan | ReliefWeb

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