from Africa in Transition

What’s Happening With the ECOWAS Force in Mali?

February 15, 2013

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It’s hard to get the details on the logistical arrangements, or numbers, of the ECOWAS force in Mali. The majority of Nigeria’s promised 1,200 troops are reportedly deployed to a military base in Niger, or still stationed in Bamako. However, the Nigerian media organization Premium Times reports that the Nigerian troops actually in Mali are suffering from inadequate provisions, especially food. Citing a “defense source,” Premium Times  reports that Nigerian soldiers are resorting to, in effect, shaking down their Malian hosts under the guise of making “courtesy calls.” Apparently, they ask for–and receive–food, in one case a cow and fifty bags of rice from a prefect. The story is roundly denied by a Nigerian defense spokesman who is quoted, “we have provided the contingent with enough food and funds to last them for the initial three months. Is Nigeria not bigger than that?”

Another Nigerian defense spokesman claimed to a different newspaper that Malian “community leaders” are expressing gratitude to the Nigerian troops “by donating cows to them.”

Absent much independent media presence in Mali, it is hard to know where the truth lies. Countries contributing to the ECOWAS force moved quickly to send troops to Mali in the aftermath of the January French intervention. Initially ECOWAS had planned to deploy in September, allowing time for equipping, training, and making the necessary logistical arrangements. Given the haste of the deployments, it is credible that there have been glitches in supply delivery and that some troops are going hungry. Moreover, it is also credible that Malians in Bamako are grateful for the ECOWAS troop presence, and give them gifts.  However, given the cost, the idea of Malians freely gifting cows to foreign troops stretches credibility.