The Current

Canadian peacekeepers can accomplish 'very little' in Mali conflict, says expert

As a UN report warns that the situation in Mali has deteriorated sharply, one expert argues that Canada's peacekeeping mission in the conflict-ridden country is "a wasted opportunity to do more."

Mission is a wasted opportunity to do more, says Bruno Charbonneau

UN peacekeepers in Mali in 2015. A UN report last week said that the security situation in the country has sharply deteriorated in the last three months. (Marco Dormino/United Nations/Associated Press)

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Canadian peacekeepers can accomplish "very little" within the confines of their mission in Mali, according to an expert on the region.

"It's certainly very limited in its objectives," said Bruno Charbonneau, professor of international studies at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que.

"You put in all these efforts, all that pontification, all these soldiers on the ground and the people working in Ottawa to support them ... and you get out after 12 months," he told The Current's guest host Connie Walker.

"That would be ... I wouldn't say a waste, that's probably too strong a word — but definitely a wasted opportunity to do more."

The UN Mali patch is shown on a Canadian forces member's uniform before boarding a plane at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ont., on July 5, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The conflict in Mali erupted in Jan. 2012, when rebel groups in the north waged an insurgency against the Malian government. French troops helped the government regain control in 2013, and UN peacekeepers arrived in April of that year.

Canadian troops have been conducting aid and rescue missions in the country since June. The Department of National Defence told The Current that the mission remains on track to end by July 2019.

Last week, a United Nations report said that security in the western African country has sharply deteriorated over the past three months, with a growing need for food and humanitarian aid.

The situation has evolved from the initial North-South confrontation, Charbonneau said, as a separate conflict has emerged in the centre of the country.

"The state is not there to provide justice and some form of stability and security," he told Walker, adding that communities fracturing along ethnic lines have no guiding authority for conflict resolution.

"The fact that in the centre the state has retreated has meant that some extremist groups — traffickers and others — have used that opportunity to infiltrate, or to in some cases provide services that the state can't provide."

A French soldier flies over Gao, northern Mali, in May 2017. The conflict began in 2012 when rebels tried to overthrow the Malian government. (Christophe Petit Tesson/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa has provided $60 million in emergency aid since 2012.

While that money has funded important projects, "$60 million is very little in terms of the overall challenges that the Malian state and Malian people face," said Charbonneau.

"We're basically talking about rebuilding a democracy that collapsed, more or less, in 2012."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Zena Olijnyk, Danielle Carr and Mary-Catherine McIntosh.


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