“It has been six or seven years since the crisis started and I think we can say with absolute certainty that the situation is worse than before,” warned one humanitarian actor, describing the environment in Mali in May of 2019. The official told CIVIC, “The population is being pushed into the abyss.” Over the past two years, there has been a 10-fold increase in violence against civilians in Mali.[1] Inter-communal violence in the central regions, spurred by armed groups, has escalated sharply. A survivor of one recent attack in the Koundou district of central Mali described how armed men surrounded his village on motorbikes and trucks to prevent people from fleeing before massacring over 100 people. For the United Nations peacekeeping mission deployed in Mali (MINUSMA) to effectively respond to this deteriorating security situation, it needs strong strategic planning. CIVIC’s new Issue Brief, Strengthened Planning in UN Peacekeeping Operations: How MINUSMA is Reinforcing its Strategic Planning Unit examines how MINUSMA is expanding its Strategic Planning Unit (SPU) to improve Mission performance.

MINUSMA is deployed in Mali to help counter the spread of violence. While the focus of MINUSMA’s mandate has been supporting the implementation of a political agreement between the Malian government and armed groups in the North of the country, the Mission’s mandate was recently adjusted to include a greater emphasis on protection of civilians in the Center of the country. This is a welcome development. However, it is often the more mundane, structural and staffing issues that determine whether a mission can deliver on its mandate and protect civilians. Strategic planning is one such underlying factor that can promote or undermine strong performance.

Peacekeeping missions are composed of many specialized components tasked with activities meant to contribute to a mission’s overarching objectives. These components are staffed by thousands of civilian, military, and police personnel with different backgrounds and levels of experience in planning and operations. Therefore, integrated and strong strategic planning is an essential building block for everything else a mission hopes to achieve. Despite the importance of strategic planning, most peacekeeping missions have only one or two staff members deployed as part of their SPU. Without strong integrated strategic planning, peacekeepers carrying out different activities in the same mission can fail to reinforce each other’s efforts or can even undermine each other.

Over the past year, MINUSMA has taken deliberate steps to strengthen its SPU. It has grown the size of the SPU to six individuals and staffed the unit with one military officer and one police officer alongside four civilian colleagues to drive integrated action across the different components of the Mission. “Having the military and police planner will change the game in terms of integration,” explained one MINUSMA civilian official. Speaking about the expanded SPU, another MINUSMA civilian official told CIVIC, “There is a whole new dynamic in the mission…it built a rapport between these pillars that didn’t exist before.”

CIVIC’s Issue Brief, based on 44 interviews with stakeholders in Bamako, provides insights into some of the positive developments the larger SPU has championed in partnership with other mission officials, such as the Protection of Civilians (POC) unit. According to MINUSMA personnel, the SPU has helped to ensure that some new operations launched in the Center of the country include coordinated and sequenced action by military, police, and civilian peacekeepers. MINUSMA officials told CIVIC that leadership from the SPU is promoting more efficient utilization of Mission resources and equipment. It is also helping ensure the Mission’s footprint of bases serves the needs of the whole Mission, not just the military component. Mission officials who spoke with CIVIC were hopeful that, in the future, the expanded SPU will help make sure operations are systematically linked to threat analysis, and that MINUSMA is better able to safeguard against potential harm that its activities could pose to civilians.

While still in its early days, MINSUMA’s efforts to reinforce the capacity of its SPU could serve as a positive example for other missions looking to strengthen their strategic and integrated planning. However, in an environment where peacekeeping budgets are increasingly under threat, peacekeeping missions will have to demonstrate the importance of these posts to the Member States who approve their budget requests. CIVIC’s research indicates that SPU posts are an investment worth supporting to equip MINUSMA for escalating violence.

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[1] Figure calculated by CIVIC using ACLED data and the ACLED Data Export Tool, July 2019, available at https://www.acleddata.com/data/.

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