Following significant political change in Mali, including two coup d’états in August 2020 and May 2021, it was a high priority for International SOS’ security team to visit the country. This February, London-based Security Manager for North Africa and the Sahel, Naomi Roland, travelled to Mali’s capital Bamako and locations in Koulikoro region to assess the security environment, meet information contacts, and vet local security providers and hotels that can be recommended to subscribers and clients. Below is a first-hand account of the visit.
Although I have travelled frequently to the region, my trip to Mali required enhanced preparation due to the current context. Owing to political tensions, I had concerns around obtaining a visa as we have been monitoring reports of denials and increased scrutiny on applications being adopted by the Malian authorities. Logistically, travel requirements related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be enforced, including both entry and exit PCR testing, while regional economic sanctions and border closures imposed by the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) resulted in reduced flight operations and disruptions to the banking system.
These measures were adopted in early 2022 following the indefinite postponement of elections, which were meant to return the country to civilian rule. Considering the multidimensional crisis in the country, I spent the weeks before my departure reviewing our internal intelligence and operations requirements and our clients’ needs in order to establish the objectives for my trip.
I landed in Bamako at 00:30 and was met by a local contact and driver to help navigate police checkpoints on the way to my hotel in the city centre. Over the next few days, I met with contacts at foreign embassies, international military missions and local security managers at client organisations. I also met with and assessed in-country security providers. Outside of the capital, I conducted road movements to the Kouremale border post with Guinea and the city of Koulikoro using transport provided by one of our local security providers. These are important trips to update our knowledge on the quality of the roads alongside risks and hazards on the way.
At the forefront of many of my discussions was the planned withdrawal of the French Operation Barkhane and the European Takuba Task Force from the country, confirmed only a week before my visit. While the security impact will only become evident in the coming months, my conversations with information contacts helped to establish escalation triggers for our 24/7 regional security team to monitor. While discussing the future political and security situation, I also considered the range of scenarios that would impact our advice to clients in case of social unrest, political instability, or a major terrorist incident. Being on the ground, I used by knowledge of Bamako’s geography and the fact that the city is divided by the Niger River, to vet accommodation and routes options for worst-case scenarios such as the blocking of the city’s main bridges. The time spent on the ground will enable us to feed additional details and awareness into our country and city guides, mapping, provider network and to be better prepared to respond to future developments in country.