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'Mali is a training ground'

Interview: Sven Pöhle / re February 8, 2014

In Mali, the Bundeswehr is being trained for future military interventions, says Christine Buchholz in a DW interview. The Left party politician accompanied Defense Minister von der Leyen on her latest trip to Africa.

Bundeswehr bildet Soldaten Malis aus
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: Mrs. Buchholz, you have accompanied Defense Minster Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) on her trip to Senegal and Mali. Now you are back with fresh impressions of the situation there. What is the situation in Mali like?

Christine Buchholz: When you are part of a minister's visit, you don't see so much of the country, and you only meet a selected number of conversation partners. That has to be said upfront.

There has been political stabilization in the last year. But the problems are not gone. That's related to the security situation in the north where attacks still happen. Additionally, the social problems were not tackled at all. Actually, there is intensification of the hunger problem because the harvests were not good. And there are 160,000 refugees who are scared to go back to the north.

Besides a few positive developments, there are still massive problems which are not easy to solve.

How can Germany help to solve these problems?

The Malians have to solve these problems by themselves. But there are civil society organizations and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) which can help start a positive trend, for example with the building of administrative institutions and irrigation projects.

There are also plans to support anti-corruption measurements. This is very important because there's a lot of money in Mali, but only a very small part of the society benefits from it. The majority doesn't get anything out of that. And that's the main task, to create a foundation in the Malian society to reach real stability.

Christine Buchholz
Christine Buchholz, Left partyImage: Christine Buchholz/Fraktion Die Linke

Can the Bundeswehr contribute to the restoration of stability in Mali? The German government calls it help to self-help.

I believe that the deployment of the Bundeswehr doesn't have much to do with Mali itself. Mrs. von der Leyen, President Gauck and Foreign Minster Steinmeier have oriented their policy toward more foreign military deployments, and so they are looking for more trouble spots. That's the higher objective.

Of course it's also about the training of the Malian army which can then be deployed in the north. But the main purpose is the training of the Bundeswehr for future assignments in Africa.

For the defense minister, the trip also seemed to be about creating images to counteract the low acceptance of the German population regarding foreign assignments of the Bundeswehr.

Additionally, the mission to train the Malian army is not a combat mission. But the Malian troops, who are trained in Koulikoro, will be deployed in the north and work closely with the UN stabilization mission and the French operation "Serval." That is a combat mission to fight terrorists. That is a contribution to the broader military plan. The Left party is generally critical of the idea that the terrorist problem can be solved by military means. That just doesn't work.

Doesn't one have to first guarantee security on the ground before development cooperation can be implemented?

I don't agree with this order. There are still scattered rebel groups in the north of Mali. They can't be shattered. They recruit young people because of the poverty and the lack of prospects. You cannot separate these problems.

We need a strict separation of the civilian and the military areas. We need to focus our commitment on non-military aid. The German government constantly mixes these two areas.

In the end, there is always the tendency that civil aid just serves as a fig leaf for military interests and not the other way around. The driving force is always the military, and I'm convinced that humanitarian aid and also development cooperation have to be neutral and should not be combined with military interests.

Was its possible - given the situation in Mali after the 2012 coup and the advance of partially Islamist rebels - to act only on a civil basis in the country?

Several development and aid projects were being conducted the whole time in Mali's north. Such projects are possible even under difficult and dangerous circumstances, and I think that's the right way.

Will there be more foreign deployments for the Bundeswehr?

I'm afraid so. At least I believe that the government is preparing for this. Mali is also a training ground for the Bundeswehr. During the Mali mission, the Bundeswehr refueled warplanes in-flight during deployment for the first time. That is an exercise under real-life conditions in Africa.

Insofar, I expect that the Bundeswehr is now being trained to intervene in comparable conflicts. I also expect that there will be more engagements in the future. They will be very different - they won't all be such large missions like the one in Afghanistan. In different ways, the Bundeswehr will be deployed more often. The Left party opposes this.

Christine Buchholz is the defense policy speaker of the Left Party in the Parliament.