Canada's Change of Heart: Policy on Mali

By Scott Morgan

What a difference sixty days can make. Back in November 2017, the UN requested Canada to send peacekeepers to assist its mission currently underway in Mali. After a period of debate, the Parliament declined to augment this mission.

Fast Forward now to the weekend of January 28th 2018. During that weekend it was announced that a substantial presence from the Canadian Military had left Halifax, Nova Scotia. This deployment which comprises of the Maritime Coastal Defense Vessels HMCS Kingston and the HMCS Summerside - a detachment from the Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG), which are the equivalent of the US Navy SEALs and a Maritime Operations Operations Center mentorship team, will participate in Obangame Express 18 (OE 18). This exercise has been organized by US Naval Forces Africa.

What is OE 18? That is the current version of what is has in the past been referred to as the APS (Africa Partnership Station) which was organized by the US Navy a decade ago. This program highlighted a return to the Gulf of Guinea region by the Americans who stationed some vessels in the region before the American Civil War to interdict the Slave Trade. Piracy is the issue that prompted a return to the region in recent years. Therefore the US has not lost interest in this region despite other trouble spots in the world.

Some of the unique aspects of the APS Exercises have been Port Visits where some of the training has been conducted. This year some of the locations that will be visited include Dakar, Senegal, Lagos, Nigeria and Abidjan - in Cote D’Ivorie.

Although figures collected by the International Maritime Organization show that the number of acts of piracy have declined in the region, recent discovery of and the sale of offshore tracts for oil exploration off the coasts of Senegal, Cote D’Ivorie and Ghana, and current fields that are in production off the coast of Nigeria, present a series of tempting targets of opportunity. Internal Strife within both Togo and Cameroon provide a potential for transnational crime and other activities for illicit actors.

The efforts by the US Navy and key partners from Europe and other naval elements such as Brazil appear to be bearing fruit. The improved tactics that have been taught have to be a factor for the reduction. Another factor that has to be considered is that the criminals have moved from the cheap price of Oil to more lucrative targets such as Arms, Narcotics and even other Africans seeking a better life in Europe.

So why would the Canadians take on one mission instead of the other? The APS tends to be a yearly short term deployment. This exercise usually last ten days. So planning it and allocating resources and units are considerably easier. Contrast that to a standard UN Peacekeeping Mission. They have to be reauthorized on a year to year basis. That means that there is a Political element involved in both the planning of and the lifetime of the mission.

There is also a greater risk of danger in the Peacekeeping Mission. When training exercises such as OE 18 are drawn up risks are mitigated as much as humanly possible. But accidents do occur. When on a Peacekeeping Mission the risk increases due to the fact of this force stepping in between two adversaries more often than not a Government and an Insurgency whose conflict has created severe damage to the infrastructure of said country.

Therefore the Canadian Parliament felt that such a development into Mali was not worth the risk, despite some of the Political Gains that the new Government in Bamako has made. The current threats from Burkina Faso and Niger and the ease in which insurgents are able to cross the border bear fruit to their concerns. So, they went with the sure thing and seek to assist in the building up of Regional Maritime Capacity.

[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]


  1. Hi Morgan,

    This is suspicious, even though the explanation given makes sense. I can't shake the feeling that PM Trudeau's Administration chose the easier way out (contrary to PM Harper): why is it?


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