Canadian UN Missions in Mali


By: Patrick-Aurel Fournier

Patrick-Aurel Fournier

Historical Contributor

Patrick-Aurel Fournier holds degrees in both History and Criminal Justice from Nipissing University and is currently working towards his Bachelors of Education and completing his Masters Degree in History with his research titled: “Poppy Ville: The Commemorative Transformation of Welberg, Netherlands, 1945-2021”. Pat has always had a deep passion for history, more specifically in the reasons why and methods behind commemorations. In 2019, Pat was selected as 1 of 7 Canadian guides to work at the Juno Beach Center in Normandy, France; during the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Born and raised in Northern Ontario and currently living in North Bay, ON; he hopes to one day begin teaching in the area and help foster the love and curiosity for history as was sparked in him by past educators. Pat is extremely excited to be able to help DMC in sharing our country’s history and hopes to spark curiosity and passion within his readers.

The fate of Mali during the 19th-century “Scramble for Africa” was similar to the infamous colonization of Congo by Belgian King Leopold II. Between 1890 and 1893, the French military conducted multiple successful operations in the area of present-day Mali, ultimately colonizing the area and assimilating it into French West Africa. Over numerous decades under colonial rule, the region that is now Mali underwent multiple border and name changes, all while providing support to France through two world wars and being subjected to other colonial impositions such as resource and labour exploitation. In 1960, after the May 1958 crisis in France saw the French Fourth Republic fall and be replaced by the Fifth Republic under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, the Republic of Mali gained its independence under the government of the Sudanese Union – African Democratic Rally party.

Although now independent, the Republic of Mali was far from stable. The new country had a turbulent beginning under its first president, Modibo Keita, who rapidly distanced himself from France by establishing close diplomatic and economic ties with communist-bloc nations. Following a few years of his radical socialist political and economic policies, which ultimately led to a cultural revolution in the country, in 1968 a group of army officers overthrew Keita from power. A new constitution in 1974 proposed for Mali to be run by the Military Committee for National Liberation as well as allow for a president to be directly elected by the people of Mali. The next few decades, however, were turbulent. Even with elected governments, Mali still saw multiple coups, changes in power, and new constitutions.

On March 21, 2012, another army mutiny led to a military coup that seized power in Mali and suspended the constitution. The National Council for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State was then placed in power, headed by Amadou Haya Sanogo. This political instability, paired with violence from Tuareg rebels and Islamic insurgents, sent Mali into a state of chaos for just over a year before international military assistance arrived.

A CH-146 Griffon helicopter participates in an escort mission during Operation PRESENCE (Mali), February 28, 2019. Image courtesy of the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Beginning in early 2013, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) supported the Government of France in Operation Serval. During this operation, CAF contributed one heavy lift transport aircraft and approximately 40 Royal Canadian Air Force members. Up to the end of the operation in July 2014, the Canadian Air Task Force to Mali conducted 48 flights to transport more than 3.5 million pounds of cargo. As the mandate specifically excluded combat, the task force was responsible for airlifting assets such as personnel, vehicles, food, water, and medical equipment. Then–prime minister Stephen Harper pledged that the deployment of a heavy lift transport aircraft for strategic airlift between France and Mali would continue for as long as a need was identified.

On April 25, 2013, the United Nations voted unanimously to establish the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) by July 1, 2013. MINUSMA would consist of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 police personnel. But it wasn’t until 2018 that Canada directly engaged with MINUSMA through Operation Presence (Mali) Task Force Bamako. Much like Canada’s contribution to Operation Serval, Operation Presence saw Canada contribute to the overall mission mainly through aerial support. From August 2018 until August 2019, Operation Presence provided constant aeromedical evacuation for civilians and UN peacekeepers. This task force saw two rotations of 250 peacekeepers during the year and involved eight helicopters, which flew 4,000 hours while conducting 11 aeromedical evacuations, transporting 2,800 passengers, and delivering 370,000 pounds of cargo. At the completion of Operation Presence, 10 CAF staff officers and civilian police officers remained, stationed at headquarters in both Gao and Bamako.

The Canadian government has also maintained steady engagement in Mali that is separate from the UN and other international operations. With Mali being one of Canada’s most longstanding national partners in Africa, Canada has committed to supporting Mali since 2012 through an integrated approach and in a multitude of ways. First, Mali is a focus country in Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which was created to support women’s empowerment, management, and participation in the peace and reconciliation processes in targeted countries. Second, Canada has been a major financial supporter of development in Mali. Since 2000, Canada has provided more than $1.8 billion in assistance to Mali, including $119.9 million in 2021/2022. Following another military coup in August 2020, Canada suspended all direct financial support to the government of Mali; however, Canada maintained humanitarian assistance, bilateral development, and peace and security programming in Mali through trusted third-party partners that support the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the country. 

Aside from direct financial support and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, Canada has focused its efforts in Mali in three main areas: strengthening basic social services such as health and education through investments in programs like sexual and reproductive health and rights; rural development, including building both resilience against climate change and access to inclusive financial services; and strengthening inclusive governance to restore democracy. 

To accomplish some of these humanitarian goals, Canada is working hand in hand with partners such as the Red Cross and the UN to aid the crisis-affected people in Mali. Funding for the majority of these endeavours comes from Canada’s Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs). Between 2016 and 2019, through PSOPs, Canada invested more than $30 million in Mali and the Sahel region, and an additional $28 million between 2019 and 2022. The ongoing support by PSOPs is validated by concrete results in the areas it is targeting. For example, as a result of a project with partner Search for Common Ground, 350 peace ambassadors, of which 151 are women, were trained on conflict transformation, leadership, and peacebuilding in central and northern Mali.

As of today, Canada continues to pledge support to Mali, MINUSMA, and other programs that are striving to bring peace and stability to the people of Mali.

Members of Task Force-Mali stand easy during the Operation Presence medals parade at Camp Castor on June 8, 2019. Image credit: François Charest. Image courtesy of the Canadian Armed Forces.

FIAP and JUPREC: Justice for Malian Women and Children

In November 2017, the federal government launched Canada’s second National Action Plan for the Implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, for the 2017 to 2022 period. The framework of this action plan allows a whole-government approach and ensures that activities and endeavours remain aligned with broader commitments such as gender equality, empowerment of women and girls, respect for women’s and girls’ human rights, and inclusion and respect for diversity. As part of this action plan, Canada pledged to advance the women, peace, and security agenda through all of its diplomatic and programming efforts.

As an example of these programming efforts, CECI (Centre d’étude et de coopération internationale/Centre for International Studies and Cooperation), a Quebec-based organization, undertook the project Justice, Prevention and Reconciliation for Women, Minors and Others Affected by the Crisis in Mali (JUPREC), which played a pivotal role in the lives of many Malian women. During an awareness session on gender-based violence held in her neighbourhood, young Fatou (not her real name, for safety and security reasons) shared her story. “My parents forced me to marry when I was only 14 years old. For three years, violence was part of my everyday life,” she said. “After trying to escape several times, I went back to my parents’ place. I just wanted a divorce. It was impossible.”

Image courtesy of Centre d’Étude et de Coopération Internationale.

Led by Lawyers Without Borders Canada, CECI, and the École nationale d’administration publique (French only), JUPREC’s goal is to raise awareness about the importance of ending violence against women and girls and to promote gender equality. Some of its partners, including the Association du Sahel d’aide à la femme et à l’enfance (French only), have undertaken various activities such as training on positive masculinity, couples’ dialogues, theatrical tours, and community radio programs.

Additionally, JUPREC is helping victims of violence, such as Fatou, gain access to the justice system. People delivering legal services have received training on how to provide victims with information and guidance throughout their processes. With the help of the Association pour le progrès et la défense des droits et des femmes Maliennes (French only), Fatou began divorce proceedings. Fatou’s story is just one of many revealing how JUPREC and all its partners have made a positive impact in the lives of many.

Another effort that Canada is undertaking is the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), which addresses the root causes of poverty through an intersectional, feminist lens based in human rights. This means it considers many overlapping forms of discrimination. This policy aims to identify groups and individuals in situations of extreme poverty, marginalization, and vulnerability and works to level the playing field by addressing the key barriers to equality. FIAP addresses a UN study that found that closing the gender gap on farms and in agri-food systems would increase global gross domestic product by nearly US$1 trillion and reduce the number of food-insecure people by 45 million worldwide.

This is why Canada, in collaboration with JUPREC and FIAP, funds projects such as SeedChange. Targeting the Central American Dry Corridor and the African nations of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ethiopia, SeedChange ensures that women make up 50% of the leadership positions in farming co-ops and increases women’s participation in traditionally male-dominated areas of agricultural work. SeedChange has helped increase seed, food, and economic security for 26,046 small-scale farm households in those areas. Because of the project, households grew more fruits, vegetables, and other diverse crops, making more food available to families living in poverty. More than 100 women’s groups and nearly 40 youth-run co-ops broke down the barriers they faced in order to successfully enter the marketplace. Evidence from collected data shows that the project has led to better livelihoods, healthier diets, improved climate resilience, and greater autonomy in every community. 

Sources & Further Readings

Agreement For Peace And Reconciliation In Mali Resulting From The Algiers Process

Canadian Department for National Defence (August 31, 2019). “Canadian Armed Forces Conclude Peacekeeping Mission in Mali.”

Canadian Department for National Defence. “Operation Presence.” 

Canadian Department for National Defence. “Support to French Operations in Mali.” 

Encyclopædia Britannica. “Independent Mali.” 

Global Affairs Canada (January 2019). “Access to Justice: A Big Step for Malian Women.” 

Global Affairs Canada. “Canada’s Engagement in Mali.” 

Global Affairs Canada. “Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.”

Global Affairs Canada (June 15, 2023). “Why No One Is Left Behind by a Feminist International Assistance Policy.”

Government of Canada, Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2013: Mali.” 

Ministère des Armées du France, “Opération SERVAL (2013-2014).”

United Nations (April 25, 2013). “Security Council Establishes Peacekeeping Force for Mali Effective 1 July, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2100 (2013).”

United Nations Peacekeeping. “MINUSMA Fact Sheet.” 

United Nations Peacekeeping. “Troop and Police Contributors.”  

University of Central Arkansas. “Mali/Tauregs (1960–present).”