The German government’s Guidelines “Preventing Crises, Managing Conflicts, Promoting Peace”, adopted in 2017, are intended to serve as a strategic compass for Germany’s engagement in crisis and conflict contexts, such as the Sahel. There, Germany is supporting stabilization and peacebuilding measures through several ministries and in conjunction with international partners. In light of the widespread failure of previous international efforts to promote peace in the region, a critical review and reorientation of this engagement is required. Our study, commissioned by the Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding, uses the examples of Mali and Niger to show that Germany’s engagement in both countries has so far failed to adequately implement the principles formulated in the Guidelines.
In the Guidelines, the Federal Government defines the promotion of sustainable peace as the overall goal of German foreign policy and undertakes to base its actions in crisis and conflict contexts on four action principles and implement them using a joint inter-ministerial approach. These four principles include the requirement to (1) respect, protect and ensure human rights, (2) act in a context-specific, inclusive and long-term oriented manner, (3) make risks transparent, act coherently and observe due diligence obligations, and (4) follow the primacy of politics and the priority of prevention. So much for theory. But to what extent does the Federal Government follow these guiding principles in practice? The most recent developments in the Sahel, such as the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, the massive increase in violence, and the political upheavals between Mali’s transitional military government and its Western partners make it clear how important it is to align actions with the model set out in the Guidelines, to review actions regularly, and if necessary, to adjust them.
Both Mali and Niger are priority countries of the German government’s engagement in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Germany is present in both countries with the so-called “core ministries”, namely the Federal Foreign Office (AA), the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg), among others with a deployment of the Bundeswehr within the framework of the UN mission MINUSMA as well as in the training of Nigerien special forces. Beyond that, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Home Affairs (BMI) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) are also implementing projects in both countries. Our study titled “Policy Coherence for Peace in German Government Action: Lessons from Mali and Niger” was conducted together with Baba Dakono (Observatoire Citoyen sur la Gouvernance et la Sécurité, Mali) and Dr Abdoul Karim Saidou (Centre pour la Gouvernance Démocratique, Burkina Faso) and examines the extent to which Germany’s engagement in both countries is actually in line with the guiding principles adopted five years ago. This is what the term “policy coherence for peace” stands for. It is understood to mean the interaction of individual measures or policy fields in relation to the overarching goal of promoting sustainable peace. In addition, this study examines how German government action is perceived by local civil society actors. For this study, we conducted over 100 guided interviews with ministerial representatives, implementing organizations, and civil society organizations in Germany, Mali, and Niger in February and March 2022.
Guidelines are not a Strategic Compass
As an overall result, we found that the German government’s actions in Mali and Niger do not sufficiently implement the procedural and substantive goals formulated in the Guidelines. Among German government actors, there is a high level of awareness regarding the need for joint inter-ministerial action, and there are mechanisms and practices that implement this to some extent. However, there is a lack of sufficient substantive underpinning that defines common goals and shared theories of change.
The ministries use a wide range of instruments and mechanisms for inter-ministerial coordination and joint actions, some of which were developed specifically for the context of these two countries. These include, for example, the Sahel Task Force at the German Foreign Office (AA) and the “Nordrunde” in Mali. Both are inter-ministerial bodies that facilitate the exchange of information and coordination between the so-called “core ministries” in Berlin and on the ground in Mali. Overall, however, these formats cover only a portion of the ministries that are active in both countries. Moreover, they focus on coordination at the working level. There is a lack of interlinkage both with the decision-making level of the respective ministries and between Berlin/Bonn and the implementation level on the ground, namely the embassies. There is a clear need for action in the joint generation and provision of (contextual) knowledge, including that on early warning, as well as in joint inter-ministerial evaluation.
But what about the substantive principles of the Guidelines? No country-specific overall political strategies have yet been formulated for either Mali or Niger that operationalize the goal of promoting sustainable peace. The existing official documents, which summarize the German government’s goals and strategies, only partially reflect the substantive principles set out in the Guidelines. The primacy of politics and the priority of prevention (action principle 4) that should go beyond the usual political dialogue are not emphasized as a central strategy for conflict resolution. Although the protection of human rights is a goal of various individual measures, it does not receive the strategic and substantive focus envisaged by the Guidelines. This promotes incoherence between bilateral and multilateral activities. For example, Germany has pursued different security policy objectives in the context of its participation, for example in EU missions to build the capacity of security forces than in the context of bilateral cooperation, having negative consequences for human rights and long-term peacebuilding (see also Idrissa, 2019; Bøås, 2021).
The Need for Action at the Implementation Level
At the implementation level, too it is clear that the German government’s actions are only partially in line with the principles set out in the Guidelines. While the embassies play an important role in coordination and control, the Guidelines are also insufficiently implemented at that level. For example, German involvement in both countries does not follow a systematic prevention strategy. In Mali, although the protection of human rights is an important focus of Germany’s engagement, its stabilization efforts concentrate on the Malian state’s weak monopoly on the use of force, and neglect the nationwide strengthening of state justice. In addition, the weak structures of the Malian state and the lack of an overall German political strategy, combined with a substantial increase in funding over the last 10 years, have created a dynamic that runs against the principles of inclusive and ownership-based cooperation, so that time and again “the Malian partner has been lost,” as one German government representative put it.
This dynamic intensified after the two coups of 2020 and 2021 and the current standoffs between Mali’s transitional military government and its Western partners. This confrontational stalemate must be resolved if Germany is to make a meaningful contribution to building long-term peace. To this end, the German government should define clear political priorities and embed them in a strategy on how and with whom the greatest possible contribution to conflict prevention and peacebuilding can be made under the current circumstances (see also recommendations below).
In Niger, on the other hand, close cooperation with the Nigerien government shows that the German engagement is implemented in a context-specific manner, but that there is a great need for action in implementing the principle relating to the respect, protection and guarantee of human rights. Systematic restrictions on political freedoms and other human rights violations receive too little political attention because Niger is considered an “anchor of stability” for the entire region in light of its unstable neighbours. This void needs to be addressed, especially in light of the already ongoing suppression of protests against the Nigerien government’s plans to expand international military involvement in the country.
From the Perspective of Local Civil Society: Human Rights and Impunity are Neglected
While Germany’s contribution to the UN mission MINUSMA and to the capacity building of Malian and Nigerien security forces are the focus of public debate in Germany, civil society players from Mali and Niger see the German engagement more in terms of bilateral development and long-term cooperation in sectors close to the population. This is perceived as positive overall and largely in line with the goals of the Guidelines. Participation in multilateral missions of the United Nations and the EU, on the other hand, is not seen as a German contribution beyond the locations of the missions themselves and is considered by many as contradicting the German government’s mission statement on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. From the perspective of local civil society, there is a great need for action in both countries with regard to the protection of human rights and the fight against impunity. These findings point to an increased need for strategic communication that should target not only the German public, but also Malian and Nigerien civil society.
Strategically align engagement and focus on prevention
Based on these results, we formulate five recommendations for action for the German government. These can provide relevant impulses for a possible continuation of the German engagement in Mali, the current strategic planning for the expansion of the engagement in Niger and, last but not least, for the development of a National Security Strategy.
First, we recommend that for crisis and conflict countries with substantial German engagement with more than two ministries, the German government develops joint inter-ministerial country strategies that define the German government’s overall political strategy and operationalize the goal of promoting sustainable peace for the specific country contexts. Against the background of the volatile security and political situation in Sahel countries, such strategies should define options for action for German engagement by means of various scenarios that adequately take into account the volatility of the conflict context and, building on this, identify clear priorities for action and formulate withdrawal options.
Secondly, such inter-ministerial joint country strategies should operationalize the goal of prevention for the specific country’s context and make it a central element of German engagement. Prevention in the sense of structural conflict prevention, as defined among other things in the United Nations Sustaining Peace agenda, is an ongoing task and starts with an understanding of the country-specific and historically determined causes of (violent) conflict (see also fourth recommendation below).
The implementation of the Guidelines and the goal of acting jointly across ministries require more staff and expertise. For this reason, we recommend, thirdly, that German embassies in countries relevant to the Guidelines should be sufficiently staffed and be more closely involved in strategic processes. More staff is needed, especially for conflict-sensitive reporting and political dialogue with civil society and political players beyond the capitals, which is necessary for a greater peacebuilding orientation of Germany’s engagement.
Fourthly, we recommend that the German government focus its engagement in Mali on strengthening national and local structures for conflict resolution. This includes increasing support for the rule of law and the judiciary to combat impunity and bring violations of human rights to justice, as well as promoting local dialogue and peace processes. The latter can also be implemented through more intensive cooperation with non-state actors. The German government’s actions would thus place a key cause of the crisis in Mali identified by civil society as being the impunity of political elites and the lack of a legitimate judiciary at the centre of a civil strategy for conflict transformation.
In order to ensure that state cooperation in Niger, which has been successful to date, is coherent with the Guidelines and sustainable in the long-term, there is a need, fifthly, for a stronger and institutionalized exchange with civil society on the ground. Since in Niger the German contribution to stabilization has so far been implemented mainly through multilateral institutions with minimal presence of German personnel in the conflict zones, important „sensors“ are missing in these regions. This makes institutionalized dialogue with local non-state actors, including religious and traditional authorities from the regions, all the more necessary as a means of accessing (conflict-sensitive) contextual knowledge, as also envisaged by the Guidelines.