As the sun rises over the vast Malian desert a group of 20 peacekeepers prepare equipment and line up to receive instructions before their first patrol of the day on one of the most dangerous roads in the region.
They are Guinean Blue Helmets from the United Nations Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) based in volatile Kidal, in Mali’s north.
Following the outbreak of conflict in 2012, explosive hazards and complex attacks are a new threat in the country, with wide ranging and detrimental effects on safety and freedom of movement in the central and northern parts of the country.
They are ready. Guinean peacekeepers climb into two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) ready to rumble out of the UN base.
For Guinean Sergeant Mamady Keita, the threat of landmines is always present.
“No mission can be done without our presence, the road is sandy and it’s easy for insurgents to bury explosive devices,” he said outside his APC, his best defence during the operation.
Under a blazing sun with the temperature is reaching its peak, the so-called “search and detect” Guinean team, on foot, carefully seek explosive devices and hiding places always with an eagle eye on the sandy roads and verges.
“Out here, dropping your guard can be fatal, there is always a chance the situation can turn ugly,” Lieutenant Maurice Brehemon said.
Like all military contingents joining MINUSMA Guinean soldiers do intense in-country pre-deployment training on explosive threats and risks. They must be properly prepared when they arrive in Mali.
Pre-deployment training helps to better equip peacekeepers with skills to protect them, help them protect others and improve resilience and safety to aid in delivering the MINUSMA mandate.
The job has with daily challenges. A morning patrol was uneventful and the Blue Helmets returned safe and sound to the base. The next day a UN vehicle ran over a mine. Fourteen peacekeepers were injured.
Almost Guinean 850 peacekeepers are serving in Mali. Guinea is one of the largest contributing countries to MINUSMA. Mamady knows he risks his life while promoting peace. Guinea is a neighbour country with strong ties to Mali. Its soldiers are often called “brothers in arms” in a regional sense.
Established in 2013, MINUSMA supports the Malian peace agreement by helping to restore State authority, advance diplomacy, strengthen security and promote human rights.
Every day the women and men of the United Nations mission in Mali are on the frontline to protect civilians and promote peace in one of the most challenging missions in the world. Since July 2013, 103 peacekeepers have been killed in hostile incidents.
For Pelagie Diawara, one of 16 women in the Guinea battalion, the start of her first mission with the United Nations was difficult. She missed her family and the intense desert heat was a challenge. “It was a tough decision to leave my family, but I am proud to be here to help our brothers and sisters from Mali to make peace. “
Between landmines and improvised explosive devices, driving on the roads of northern Mali is a dangerous exercise. There are currently about 14 000 UN peacekeepers serving in Mali.
These women and men work in a dangerous environment, far from their families and always conscious of how crucial their personal sacrifice is to helping build a durable peace.