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German ministers visit Niger, Mali as military focus changes

April 12, 2023

Germany's defense and development ministers are in the Sahel region to assess the security situation. Their visit comes as Germany plans to withdraw peacekeeping troops from Mali while boosting cooperation with Niger.

Boris Pistorius and Svenja Schulze, with others, in front of a German air force plane in Niamey
German Defense Minister Pistorius (l.) and Development Minister Schulze (C.) will visit Niger and MaliImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and Development Minister Svenja Schulze arrived in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, on Wednesday at the start of a joint trip to both Niger and Mali.   

The trip, which was not preannounced for security reasons, comes as Germany is set to gradually withdraw its Bundeswehr troops from the UN mission MINUSMA, which has been carrying out peacekeeping activities in Mali amid an Islamist rebellion.

At the same time, the country is stepping up its military engagement in Niger, where German soldiers are to help train local armed forces as part of the new EU-led mission EUMPM.

Germany pledges to expand military cooperation with Niger

Why are the ministers visiting the region?

The two ministers intend to use the visit to gain insights into the security situation of the two Sahel countries.

During their stay, they are scheduled to meet their regional counterparts and visit German soldiers stationed there.

Ahead of the trip, Pistorius said in a joint statement, "The security of the Sahel region is of particular interest to Germany."

He also emphasized that Germany remained committed to helping the region despite the planned Bundeswehr withdrawal from Mali, which is to be completed by May 2024.

However, he conceded that German military assistance was moving location.

"The focus of our future military engagement in the Sahel will be in Niger," he said.

Schulze also stressed Germany's continued commitment to the region.  

"Many people in the Sahel region join extremist groups because they see no other future for themselves and need income," she said. "Development policies can start out from here with the aim of depriving terrorism of the conditions that feed it."

Germany has spent about €2.5 billion (roughly $2.7 billion) on civilian development aid in the Sahel region since 2013,  with most of the money going toward agricultural projects and strengthening state structures.

Why is Germany withdrawing from Mali?

The decision to pull German troops out of the West African country came partly against the background of a monthslong dispute with its military transitional government, which took power in the second of two coups in 2021 and currently plans no elections until 2024.

The government has put restrictions on MINUSMA's scope for action in the fight against Islamist insurgents, turning instead to Russia for military help.

Among other things, the junta has brought hundreds of fighters from the Kremlin-backed mercenary group Wagner into the country. There, they have been accused of committing serious human rights violations. 

The Islamist rebellion in Mali started in the country's north in 2012 and has since spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. The region has now become one of the most dangerous in the world.

Niger, in contrast to Mali, has established a fragile democracy.

tj/msh (dpa, AFP)