Energy plays an important and underrecognized role in the dynamics of climate, security, peace, and conflict in Mali, one of the least electrified countries in the world. There is a vast discrepancy between electrification levels in urban areas of the South and center of the country, where approximately 80 percent of the population have regular access to electricity, and the conflict-affected North, where electrification levels in rural areas are lower than two percent. The discrepancy is a highly visible symbol of the unequal distribution of wealth and development in Mali, which feeds into the history of marginalization and underdevelopment that has driven the country’s successive conflicts. The current peace agreement, signed in 2015, sought to address these imbalances by recognizing that increased electrification is critical to the development of the North, and specifically mentioning solar energy as a key deliverable and area for investment. Yet implementation of the peace agreement has been lacking, as has extension of electrification in the North, hampered in part by unstable governance including a coup in late May, the second in a year. Today’s energy markets in northern Mali depend on smuggled diesel in order to power generators, and play an important part in the political economy of the region, as fuel supply chains are often controlled by armed groups.
In 2013, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was deployed to support peace in Mali. MINUSMA is a key actor in the international community’s engagement in the conflict in Mali, deployed alongside separate military and diplomatic missions, humanitarian operations, and development initiatives led by the UN Country Team (UNCT) and multilateral development institutions.
With a core United Nations (UN) mandate to support implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, the mission today operates bases in 11 locations across a huge territory. The mission’s reliance on diesel to power both generators and vehicles is a fundamental requirement, and informs the design of the mission’s presence throughout the country, as well as the frequency and routing of supply convoys. MINUSMA also faces great insecurity. That includes attacks on peacekeepers and convoys, leading it to be the deadliest peacekeeping mission in the world. As a result, a significant proportion of the mission’s capabilities is dedicated to force protection and convoy security. While MINUSMA manages its own fuel supplies, its reliance on diesel generators carries enormous costs, including elevated security risks tied to its supply convoys. This undermines the pursuit of MINUSMA’s mandate and operations.
This study looks first at the dynamics of energy in Mali, specifically the lack of electrification in the North and the diesel trade in the political economy of northern Mali. It then examines MINUSMA’s own diesel-reliant energy practices, the convoy-related security implications, and the options for the mission’s transition to renewable energy, in the context of meeting the United Nations’ own climate goals. Finally, the report explores opportunities for MINUSMA’s renewable-energy transition and options to also unlock new energy projects alongside its field sites, as a new way to deliver on its UN mandate and support the peace agreement.
MINUSMA’s choices around its energy practices and transition to renewables could support the wider international strategy for Mali, alongside the UNCT and development institutions. That includes helping to increase energy access and deliver peace dividends to the North, and offering new entry points for projects in regions that have seen limited investment and engagement as a result of the conflict and insecurity. For example, MINUSMA is working on an innovative private-sector financing model for an inside-the-fence solar-energy pilot project in Bamako, with an estimated payback period of three to four years. The pilot project has been slowed by a number of bureaucratic hurdles, even as the mission begins to look toward a larger mission-wide approach to renewable energy.
A greater transition to renewable energy would benefit the mission in several ways. It could reduce security exposure from fuel convoys, increase economic cost savings over time, and offer a dramatic reduction in diesel consumption. A project model that also delivers local energy services offers new opportunities to contribute to peacebuilding and support for peace-process implementation by catalyzing new energy projects in the North. This would also complement the wider international strategy, with the mission providing new entry points to support renewable-energy projects in key northern cities.
These compelling arguments in favor of a MINUSMA-wide shift toward renewable-energy projects benefit both the mission itself and could support local energy access. Examples are emerging in other UN peace operations that have leveraged their role as an anchor client for private-sector power projects that support both the mission and local communities, offering models for MINUSMA to follow. This approach is further bolstered by broader UN goals. The UN has adopted ambitious new climate goals, including an 80 percent renewable-energy use target by 2030 announced by the Secretary General in 2019 and backed by the UN Secretariat Climate Action Plan. Likewise, Phase Two of the UN Department of Operational Support’s Environment Strategy for Peace Operations lays out goals to improve fuel efficiency, increase use of renewable energy, and pursue partnerships with the private sector. However, progress has been slow.
The report makes several important findings and actionable recommendations to address MINUSMA’s energy use, mission effectiveness and expansion of use of renewable energy for itself and the region.