International Order & Conflict

From Renewable Energy to Peacebuilding in Mali: MINUSMA’s Opportunity to Bridge the Gap

MINUSMA’s choices around its energy practices could support the wider international strategy for peace and development in Mali
By Dirk Druet  ·  Rida Lyammouri  ·  David Mozersky Contributing Author

This report involved two principal lines of research: a broad conflict analysis of Mali and a review of efforts by the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, to transition to renewable energy. First, the conflict analysis examined the history of the Malian conflict and the evolving roles of geography and climate as core factors in the conflict dynamics. On the basis of a review of energy markets commissioned in select urban centers in the North, supplemented by expert interviews and secondary sources, the authors analyzed the role of diesel and electrification patterns in the political economy of the conflict. The research included conducting a mapping of local, national, and international actors involved in the governance, management, and use of fossil fuels in the country.

Second, the study analyzed MINUSMA’s energy practices and efforts to deploy renewable-energy systems. From looking at mission budgetary and planning documents and drawing on interviews with mission personnel and external researchers, the authors describe the mission’s energy requirements and operational context for energy generation. The report reviews MINUSMA’s solar pilot project and analyzes the mission’s planning assumptions and priorities in the context of Mali’s conflict dynamics and the mission’s mandate and operational parameters.

Executive Summary

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.

Findings

First, energy plays an important but nuanced role in the political economy of Mali’s conflict, and the implementation of the peace agreement. While Mali is among the least electrified countries, an acute lack of electrification in the North is part of a larger dynamic of chronic underdevelopment that has fueled decades of North-South grievances, and contributed to current and past cycles of conflict. 

Second, MINUSMA’s current diesel-heavy energy practices carry significant economic, environmental, and security costs for the mission, which depends on long and vulnerable fuel convoys. An increased use of renewable energy could benefit the mission in multiple ways. 

Third, even with the UN’s ambitious climate goals, lessons from the hurdles faced by MINUSMA’s solar pilot project demonstrate both mission-specific and UN-wide challenges that may constrict the expanded adoption of renewable energy in Mali and other field missions. These challenges include: 

  • Mission decision-making is siloed across sections, including those working on environmental impact, energy planning, conflict analysis, and mission substantive offices. The approach is not yet integrated to recognize the synergies across these areas that could maximize mission planning, conflict assessments, and environmental and energy efforts.
  • Ambiguity around the roles and responsibilities between and within UN Headquarters and the mission around market research, partnerships, and procurement for new technologies (such as renewable-energy systems) in peacekeeping. 
  • The role of troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs) in the mission’s energy footprint runs parallel to UN-owned and -operated energy planning. Those dual systems complicate the mission’s ability to expand and accelerate adoption of mission-wide renewable-energy optionsThis system must be addressed for the mission to adopt new mechanisms and develop incentives to accrue the full benefits of such a transition to renewable energy. 

Fourth, a MINUSMA transition to renewable energy in northern Mali could also strengthen peacebuilding by supporting local energy access. Building on the UN anchor-client and private-sector partnership models emerging in UN peace operations, a MINUSMA renewable-energy project that can also unlock local energy services offers a creative and important new opportunity to support the Algiers peace agreement and MINUSMA’s own peacebuilding mandate. 

Recommendations

To MINUSMA, the UNCT, international development agencies, and the government of Mali: 

  • Support new investment in renewable energy in northern Mali as an under-implemented component of the Algiers peace agreement. A consistent demand from the non-state signatories to the Algiers agreement is progress in creating the Northern Development Zone, a special development area funded by increased budgetary provisions from Mali’s government. Linking the creation of this zone, and specific budgetary funding, to development spending on renewable-energy infrastructure in the Northern Development Zone can help speed up implementation of a key provision of the peace agreement while increasing access to renewable energy in northern Mali.

To MINUSMA and the UN Secretariat:

  • Broaden the decision-making structures around renewable-energy solutions to involve substantive mission personnel in order to integrate conflict analysis and political risks and opportunities as part of decision-making around the mission’s solar-energy system. 

To the Secretariat and Member States:

  • Strengthen mission access to renewable-energy options.
  • Invest in new market research tools and capacities to assist departments and missions in surveying the full breadth of technological/contractual solutions available on the market.
  • Encourage experimentation and the use of pilot projects and capture lessons learned, while clarifying the design process for pilot projects. The logic that underlays the design of the MINUSMA solar-energy pilot project — that a small-scale contract with a supplier of a unique technical and financial solution for an emerging, complex requirement would be used to hone requirements and inform the development of a statement of work for the procurement of a larger-scale solution — is both sound and critically important if the UN Secretariat is to keep pace with technological change. The UN Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance should lead an effort to clarify the application of existing UN rules and regulations as they relate to pilot projects, and develop guidance for UN Headquarters and field missions on the design and implementation for expedited, small-scale pilot projects of this type. 
  • Further expand the knowledge of TCCs/PCCs about the reimbursement for hybrid renewable energy and more efficient generators. Member states who champion the UN’s Environment Strategy could work with leading TCCs and PCCs to lead a reduction in the use of inefficient generators, and fuel waste, and identify ways to incentivize the use of renewable-energy options by uniformed peacekeepers. In 2022, member states could prepare to review contingent-owned equipment (COE) rules, reimbursement mechanisms, and rates to disincentivize the use of inefficient generators and fuel waste by uniformed units, and incentivize the use of renewable-energy systems. A thematic paper on this subject with appropriate recommendations for changes to the COE manual should be introduced at the next meeting of the COE Working Group.

To MINUSMA and the UNCT:

  • Work together to explore synergies between planned/ongoing development work and MINUSMA’s transition to renewable energy, including around creating the necessary bankability conditions to enable energy project development.

To MINUSMA:

  • Ensure that a mission-wide renewable-energy plan for MINUSMA delivers a peace dividend. In applying the lessons learned from the solar-energy pilot project and developing a statement of work for the procurement of a mission-wide renewable-energy system, MINUSMA should strongly consider a renewable-energy approach that delivers immediate and long-term energy benefits to the communities around it, building on the anchor-client models from other UN peace operations. 
  • Contribute to increasing nighttime lighting infrastructure, especially in urban areas, as part of the mandate to protect civilian populations. A greater security presence at night in urban areas could help protect energy infrastructure from theft or destruction, making it easier to increase the availability of solar panels and solar-powered lighting, particularly on roads and in public areas.
  • Planning for a mission-wide renewable-energy shift  should involve substantive civilian and military personnel; incorporate the UN’s ongoing conflict analysis; partner with local communities where feasible; and proceed in partnership with UNCT efforts — for example, to complement UNCT programming focused on rural-household energy access. 
  • Amend the Statement of Unit Requirements and memoranda of understanding for TCCs/PCCs co-located in UN sites, in order to shift the primary responsibility of power production to the UN.
  • Accelerate efforts to systematically monitor generator output as part of efforts to increase energy efficiency and to help incentivize TCC/PCC compliance with renewable-energy use, in line with the recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in its 2021 report.1UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, 2021 Substantive Session, A/75/19 (15 February-12 March 2021), para. 44. To avoid the creation of perverse incentives around COE generator fuel consumption, MINUSMA should require that all COE generators be equipped with digital meters that measure and record energy output and fuel consumption. 

To the Government of Mali:

  • Take steps to encourage more investment in the renewable-energy sector, with special interest in the North, by, for example, establishing easier and more transparent processes for the issuance of power project licenses. 
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