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Protecting the weekly Ménaka market in Mali: a boost for economic recovery and improved civilian safety

In this story series, UN Peacekeeping shows the impact of Action for Peacekeeping, which guides peace operations across 12 active missions.

Story by: Serge Ismaël OUEDRAOGO / Yaye Nabo SENE

We are at the Ménaka market, located in northeastern Mali, which is bustling under this scorching June sun. The pungent aroma of spices has merged with trails of dust kicked up by the unending movements of marketgoers and vendors.

The sounds of bleating sheep from makeshift enclosures are almost competing with blaring horns of passing traffic and the cheery chuckles of children who have made the market their playground.

Every Thursday, this flurry of excited activity breaks the usual silence and monotony for the townsfolk here.

"Protect, remain visible, build trust and confidence"

Sadly, the market also attracts a less friendly crowd, who can commit petty theft, armed violence, and other forms of crime at any time. Recent episodes continue to haunt residents.

For personnel of the United Nations Police (UNPOL) serving with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the objective remains the same: Protect, remain visible, build trust and confidence.

They are often deployed in alternating teams. Today, Colonel Raoul Koffi Gbadjidjo is leading the pack. This officer from the Togolese National Police is familiar with the city and its residents and is well aware of the complexity of the surroundings.

Having patrolled the city since September 2022, he also enjoys the goodwill of his many local connections.

Peacekeepers on the front line: Deterrence and intelligence gathering

“We begin our foot patrol from the market entrance, which allows us to go from shop to shop and engage in conversations with the public. Then, we walk for miles to make sure we cover the entire area,” explains Abdoulaye Mahamat, a liaison officer of the UN Mission.

Prior to that, however, the team establishes a security perimeter around the market. But this does not alarm anyone, because the uniforms of the Togolese police, and their unmistakable blue helmets clearly marked “UN” distinguish them from the sea of people.

“Many talk to us about their experiences or what they’ve heard about but are afraid to share openly. We understand that some are worried about reprisals, so we provide them with a phone number to call and share information in confidence,” reveals Colonel Raoul. “The more talkative ones do not hesitate to express their thoughts.”

A life-saving weekly rendezvous

In front of Agaïcha Touré's vegetable stall, a small group is frantically negotiating the prices of fresh produce sourced from neighbouring towns. Agaïcha will surely sell all her goods today, as she does every week, often at a loss because she lacks the means to preserve the produce.

For this mother of six, security is a most valuable asset. “If I can freely transport my vegetables to sell, it is because I know that these men in uniform will ensure my safety,” she asserts. “I will not risk my life to be here if this was not the case.”

Broad smiles and warm handshakes greet the police officers under Aziz Maïga's shed. This thirty-year-old is the eldest of twelve siblings. Back when his father ran the family goat business, they did not just survive but thrived.

The prevailing insecurity has, however, dealt a heavy blow to the business and shouldering the heavy financial responsibilities of the family as the eldest son is daunting.

Like many young people, he is contemplating leaving in search of greener pastures elsewhere. In the meantime, this Thursday market is helping him meet the family’s needs. “We would be happy if we could build a police post for the UN personnel within the market,” Aziz states.

Thursday patrols: a strong commitment to serve.

The economic recovery in Ménaka town depends on the safe exchange of goods and services, but community members and sites where these transactions take place are exposed to armed attacks.

The presence of peacekeepers effectively deters such attacks. For UN police personnel, these patrols are more than routine tasks, they represent their commitment to service and their solidarity with the people.

Protecting civilians lies at the heart of UN peacekeeping. Today, civilians have increasingly become the victims of conflicts while 95% of peacekeepers are mandated to protect them. This is a key priority under the Action for Peacekeeping initiative and its implementation strategy A4P+. Patrols, which are conducted independently or jointly with national forces, help deter attacks on communities and protect civilians.