From the GCSP classroom to the Malian streets

Alumni Series

From the GCSP classroom to the Malian streets

Where are our Alumni now?

Alumnus of our 2019 PVE course (Preventing Violent Extremism) takes action in Mali to avoid recruitment of youth by jihadist groups and leads the establishment of two new youth training and community centres.

We had the pleasure to speak to Eric Blaise who shared the particular project with us.

Eric Blaise alumnus of our 2019 course on building a national strategy for preventing violent extremism (PVE) has supported national authorities in numerous African countries at strategic, technical and operational levels, particularly on Security Sector Reform (SSR), Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration (DDR), Prevention Violence Extremism/Terrorism (PVE/T), Civil Society Organizations and Parliamentary Affairs. He is today heading the democratic oversight of security sector unit of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.

His career journey over 19-years with the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations took him through numerous countries in Africa supporting government authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and Mali.

Just prior to the outbreak of COVID Eric and his team, ran a pilot project to construct and introduce two youth training and community centres in Gao and Mopti. These centres will serve as catalytic change to build capacity of marginalised youth, men and women in a bid to avoid their recruitment by jihadist groups. The two youth training centres are equipped and operationalized under the management of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Cults (MARC) with the financial assistance of the United Nations Peace and Development Trust Fund which was approved by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General United Nations Headquarters in New York.  MINUSMA was charged for the implementation of this pilot project. 

The pilot project aims to support the National Policy put in place by the government in countering violent extremism and to contribute to the implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in Mali. It also aims to build the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Cults (MARC) and provide the national authorities with a formal framework for countering violent extremism by involving opinion leaders, religious leaders, local authorities, teachers and civil society (youth and women groups) in countering violent extremism, the promotion of social dialogue in communities exposed to the dangers of violent extremism, as well as the guidance of radicalized or youth at-risk.  

Extremists and criminal groups continue to operate in the centre, as well as in northern part of Mali. Their main goal is to act as spoilers to the peace process and to threaten the local populations, UN employees, Mali defence and security forces, government authorities and work to prevent delivery of humanitarian services to the local populations.

Terrorist attacks in central and northern Mali remain very high especially between 2018-2019 in the Mopti and northern Segou regions. A significant driver of insecurity in the centre is caused by the increased inter-ethnic conflict in the Mopti region in 2019. Mali continues to rely heavily on MINUSMA to help it to support its stabilization plan in the centre which involves redeploying security forces and re-establishing public services, as well as supporting its national policy on countering violent extremism/terrorism and action plan as part of the government framework in Mali.

During field assessment missions, Eric and MINUSMA team from SSR-DDR worked with the Mali authorities in Bamako. They worked together with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Cults and the local governors of Mopti and Gao to identify the construction sites and develop the work plan. In a procurement process and launch of bids, contractors were identified for the construction of the site. The same procurement process was again used to select numerous vendors to conduct sensitization training workshops, open forums and information awareness activities aimed to strengthen the capacity of religious actors, youth and women's civil society organizations to engage these actors to play a crucial role to preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism; particularly youth and women because of their influence and ability to foster social change.

The centres were completed early year, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony to handover the two training centres was a real challenge with MINUSMA leadership and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Cults to host an official ceremony, as all of us were quarantined at home.  As result, the handover ceremony was delayed more than two months and when the ceremony was finally held, the invitation was limited to just 10 people with social distancing policy established by the government of Mali.    

In addition to the construction of the two training centres, the project calls for outsourcing courses on CVE modules as a capacity building measures for 1000 religious leaders on moderate languages during their sermons to prevent youth and vulnerable groups from falling into extremist violence.  Several local NGOs were hired to train 500 youth and women civil society groups on their role in conflict prevention and resolution in Gao and Mopti. Three hundred youth and women's civil society organizations in the governance of the security sector were also trained on the dissemination of the National Policy on PVE/CVE to benefit the youth and women organizations and wider population in the regions in Mopti and Gao.

Eric states that the PVE/CVE course he attended at the GCSP allowed him to acquire the necessary skills to better support the Mali government to develop a national policy to counter and prevent violent extremism and terrorism.  The knowledge acquired during the course focuses on the early identification of threats and more importantly analyses the effectiveness of measures available to respond to these threats among marginalized youth and women. After the course, Eric conducted a one-hour debriefing session with the MARC leadership on lessons learned throughout the course. He underlines, that the new skills acquired, helped him to carry out field assessment missions with the government in Mopti and Gao regions of Mali to address the government’s needs and requirements in combatting violent extremism. 

 

Context:

The UN Security Council has called on all member states to develop a national strategy and plan of action for preventing and combating violent extremism and terrorism. It is in this context that since 2016, the SSR-DDR section of MINUSMA and the Special Counter Terrorism Office (CTITF) based in New York support the MARC in the elaboration and development of the national strategy for the prevention of violent extremism and its plan of action (2018-2020). Following consultations in February, March, and April 2016 between the MARC representatives and the MINUSMA SSR-DDR section, the Ministry formally requested the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for his support in the implementation of implementation of the strategy and action plan.

 

We asked Eric Blaise, what his 5 personal top key-qualities are when facing havoc? Where or how do he finds his strength and balance to cope with a stressful situation?

Eric B.: Patience, perseverance,politeness, tolerance and respect. I enjoy walking and talking to other colleagues to find the right balance and change views on issues in a bid to get rid of the stress.

 

Which are the tools gained from the time at the GCSP that have specifically served Eric and proved to be crucial and effective assets in his daily operations?

Eric B.: The best tool is to have a clear vision of the goals ahead. Once the vision is clear on what is to be done, I find the balance to identify the best resource to get it done.

Communication is the most effective tool in a team environment.  This way many ideas could be thrown at the table and team could agree on the best possible solutions to solve a problem.

 

Special thanks to the MINUSMA Director of SSR-DDR (Mr Samba Tall) and the entire team particularly our team leaders (Tahir Ali - Gao and Madieng Ndiaye - Mopti) for their enweaving support.

Alumni who would like to contact Eric Blaise: connect to www.gcsp.ch/MyGCSP and look him up in our directory.