Yalla S. Sangaré and Jason J. McSaprren
The junta has managed to work its way through the crisis. Colonel Assimi Goïta was sworn in on June 7. He appointed Choguel Maïga of the M5-RFP as Prime Minister. The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have suspended Mali from their organizations. For the time being, France has ceased military cooperation and, in particular, joint operations with the Malian army.
A number of international organizations have stopped their disbursements to the Malian State. Beyond these situational events, the fundamental problems of Mali remain. Which scenarios can be foreseen? This last article addresses the future of the Malian State. The evolution of the situation in Mali will depend on external and internal factors, and three unknowns.
The presidential election in France:
France plays the most significant role amongst all external actors. In fact, throughout Operation Barkhane, five thousand French soldiers have operated in the Sahel. France condemned the coup d’état and is requiring elections to be held in February 2022 in order for a legitimate authority to be in power. The sudden announcement that Operation Barkhane was either coming to an end or being transformed is therefore connected to the electoral context.
It cannot be taken for granted that President Macron will be re-elected. It is not in President Macron’s interest for the French presence in the Sahel―and especially in Mali―to become an issue in the next election campaign. Also, operation Barkhane is costly for the French taxpayers.
Ever since the undeniable achievements of Operation Serval in 2012, France has been stuck in the Sahel. France’s military successes were not accompanied by strong measures in the political sphere. France has made three mistakes in Mali.The first one is that it was accommodating with the political class, whose most influential politicians are all Francophiles which caused significant misunderstanding of the local realities, particularly in the centre and the north of Mali.
The second one is that in places where President Macron sees territories that are sliding back into lawlessness, an informed observer would see territories governed by Sharia law and the Mujahideens. Finally, there have likely been divergent opinions between the military personnel, diplomats, and French intelligence services regarding the management of the Malian crisis. As a result of the differences in points of view, it was not always possible to grasp what France’s official policy is in Mali.
The countries bordering Mali:
It is not in the interest of Mali’s neighbours for this country to collapse. Clearly, they are somewhat tired and annoyed by the never-ending series of coups d’état in Mali. The time-worn domino theory guides their actions towards Mali. Most of the attacks and the hostage kidnappings that take place in the neighbouring countries are planned in Mali, which also serves as a sanctuary for terrorists.
France plays the most significant role amongst all external actors. In fact, throughout Operation Barkhane, five thousand French soldiers have operated in the Sahel. France condemned the coup d’état and is requiring elections to be held in February 2022 in order for a legitimate authority to be in power
For the coming months, a close watch should be kept primarily on Algeria. It is the bordering country with the most influence over Malian armed groups in the north. Algeria is not eager to have two failed states on its borders: Mali and Libya. The presence of Western and international troops on its southern border is not viewed favourably by Algiers. The Algerian regime is dealing with a strong protest movement calling for sweeping social change. Foreign policy issues take second place.
In Niger, the new president is not hiding his displeasure with the situation in Mali. The country cannot simultaneously contain Boko Haram at the border with Nigeria, and the Mujahideens and organized crime at the border with Mali. Several million Malians live in Côte d’Ivoire, which itself is not removed from the crisis between the north and the south. The recent massacre of around 150 Burkinabes by Islamist-related groups is a reminder that the Malian crisis has spread not only to the centre of the country, but also into neighbouring countries.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has given its stamp of approval to three coups d’état in Mali since 2012, has become very involved in the country. The West African Heads of State travelled to Bamako in an attempt to find a compromise between former President IBK and the opposition gathered under the M5-RFP coalition.
ECOWAS first tried to salvage the regime of President IBK. Some Heads of State wanted to take a hard line against the junta, while others took a moderate stance. Personal rivalries and, in some cases, enmities between West African Heads of State reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the actions taken by ECOWAS.
The United States:
The Trump Administration had no interest in the Sahel. Newly elected President Biden has just ordered the accelerated withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. He no longer has any appetite for the war against terrorism. The Americans have also suspended military cooperation. They are insisting on a legitimately elected democratic government in Mali. The Malian authorities would be wrong to ignore the fact that President Biden has long been an influential member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Then-Senator Biden put forward the concept and proposed a plan for dividing Iraq into semi-autonomous regions.
The European Union:
The European Union (EU) has been involved since the start in a program to train the Malian army, which has had mixed results. The EU has very little to show for the astronomical amounts of money that it has invested in Mali. Europe is more concerned about issues of immigration and an unstable Sahel will multiply the number of migrants who want to cross the Mediterranean. It will be interesting to see if the European countries will want to send special forces as part of the Takuba Task Force. For the time being, the response seems to be lukewarm.
The presence of Western and international troops on its southern border is not viewed favourably by Algiers. The Algerian regime is dealing with a strong protest movement calling for sweeping social change. Foreign policy issues take second place
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has lost a tremendous number of men in Mali. Despite these sacrifices, MINUSMA has a reputational problem in Malian public opinion. Indeed People wonder whether this Mission serves any useful purpose given that the situation has continually worsened.
The situation in Mali has deteriorated on the political, humanitarian and security levels since the deployment of MINUSMA. The futile debate about a more robust mandate conceals a more fundamental debate about the adequacy of the mission for the nature of the conflict. Rivalries and tensions between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council will have an impact on the future of MINUSMA.
The G5 Sahel Joint Force
The G5 Sahel Joint Force is supposed to be operational. There are, quite visibly, coordination problems between its members and the other actors operating in the field. Discipline problems within the G5’s armies are interfering with their actions.
The causes of the Malian crisis are internal. While the country has been under trusteeship since 2013, the international community has very few strong results to show.
What to watch for internally
On the domestic front in Mali, attention should be paid to the cohesiveness of the Army, the National Workers’ Union of Mali (UNTM), the legitimacy of the M5-RFP coalition (Movement of June 5th–Rally of Patriotic forces), and the response of the armed groups that were signatories to the peace agreements.
Despite these sacrifices, MINUSMA has a reputational problem in Malian public opinion
This is the most important actor to observe. The Malian army has come a long way after losing its hold in many regions of the country. In 2012, para commando forces attempted a “reverse coup d’état” against the junta in power at the time. The brutal repression that followed left its mark. Since the last transition, there seems to be a division in the army between the “Red Berets” and the “Green Berets.”
Goïta, the leader of the junta, has acknowledged himself that the dismissal of the defence and security ministers by Former President Bah N’Daw would have created tensions and even a split between the National Guard and the Green Berets. Since 1968, all of the juntas that have taken power were ultimately undermined by divisions. Nobody knows how far the men on the ground really support what is happening in Bamako.
How did they respond to the end of the cooperation between France and the United States? There also seems to be a conflict between young officers in their forties and senior officers who are older than them. In summary, for the time being, the junta seems to have the army’s support.
This support is given conditionally. The military forces have plunged Mali into yet another transition because they consider that the political class has failed. They are therefore accountable to the Malian public.
The National Workers’ Union of Mali (UNTM)
The UNTM has fought hard for political pluralism and social justice in Mali since the 1980s. The most important national trade union has temporarily suspended the general strike but the union has not renounced its claims. It is common knowledge that the State has limited capacity to address the UNTM’s complaints.
Yet these complaints are legitimate. In order to buy peace, the former regime created inequities between different public service agencies. Both Goïta and the new prime minister have held out an olive branch to the UNTM. However, the union’s base is impatient. The truce may be short-lived.
The M5-RFP Coalition: An Unknown
This is another important unknown factor. The M5-RFP was an unusual, hybrid coalition that encompassed religious leaders, an association of political parties, civil society organizations, etc. The day after President IBK was toppled, the M5-RFP coalition was, in fact, weakened.
Goïta, the leader of the junta, has acknowledged himself that the dismissal of the defence and security ministers by Former President Bah N’Daw would have created tensions and even a split between the National Guard and the Green Berets
First, a number of its members were co-opted by the junta, either into the government or into the transitional parliament. Imam Dicko, whose charisma enabled M5 to mobilize the citizens, has distanced himself from the movement. The nationalist wing has jumped ship. The most established political parties in Mali do not belong to the M5 movement. The political party of the designated prime minister himself is not very strong. Which M5 really represents Choguel Maïga?
Pro-Bamako armed groups will most probably join the transition. The former rebels who were signatories to the Algiers Peace Agreement wanted pledges. It would appear that they have been reassured by the new prime minister and the leader of the junta.
The armed groups, regardless of their allegiance, say one thing and mean another, which makes it difficult to manage the crisis. The groups that were signatories to the Algiers Peace Agreement are all serving in the Government.
The positions of the terrorist armed groups (TAGs):
The Mujahideen groups have not reacted to the coup d’état. They likely do not feel that it has anything to do with them. The junta, through the High Islamic Council of Mali, has made overtures to these groups in the Ségou region. Time is on the side of the Mujahideens.
They control a good part of the territory in the centre and the north of the country. The Conference of National Understanding held in April 2017 and the National Inclusive Dialogue held in 2019 recommended that the Government negotiate with the Mujahideens.
In return for coming to the table, they are making two quite clear demands: the departure of foreign troops and the imposition of Sharia law. Will the Malian Mujahideens embark on the “peace train,” or will they bide their time while waiting for the political class to deliver Mali to them on a silver platter?
The situation in the centre of Mali:
The situation in the centre of the country is worrisome. Conflicts between and among communities have grown to alarming proportions. The attitude of the Peul (Fulani) community will be the determining factor. The Peuls are trapped between the Malian and foreign military armed forces, the self-defence militias, and terrorist armed groups (TAGs).
The Peul populations are stigmatized and have been victims of massacres. The Peuls as a group are being portrayed as terrorists, which is concerning. How will the Peul populations respond? Will all of this stigmatization tend to drive them into the arms of the TAGs?
The Dogons are stigmatized just as much. To deal with the absence of the Malian State, they have made the necessary arrangements to defend themselves. The self-defence militias are explained as being supplementary personnel of the army and Malian intelligence services.
This is a simplistic reading of a very complex reality. Some of these militias have committed very serious crimes. The Dogon populations in the centre of the country have been subjected to atrocities in a climate of indifference since 2011. All of the communities in the north and the centre of Mali have been pampered by the Malian State, except for the Peuls and the Dogons. These two communities are the main victims of the jihadists and militias.
In return for coming to the table, they are making two quite clear demands: the departure of foreign troops and the imposition of Sharia law
The future of Mali will depend on these two communities, which are not covered by the Algiers Peace Agreement. The ability of both communities to find a suitable way of life and to keep their distance from radicals should be watched.
The post-election period:
The biggest unknown will be the post-election period. It is hard to believe that the soldiers will return to the barracks. In 1992, President ATT had created a precedent by willingly giving up power. What will be the margin of maneuvering of the new President and the new authorities with regard to the soldiers? Will the junta “choose” a candidate who will “keep the seat warm” while waiting for Assimi to return in 2027? It is too premature to speculate.
It is, however, realistic to say that Assimi and his colleagues from the junta will still make their presence felt for a long time on the political landscape. The public opinion considers that the old guard has failed and that a new generation is needed to take over. By being careful in its interactions with the religious leaders and even the UNTM, the junta is probably preparing for the future.
What can be expected for Mali?
In announcing the end of Operation Barkhane, President Macron at least clarified things. When the situation is viewed in a clear-eyed manner, it is hard to be optimistic. The appointment of Chogel as Prime Minister―the 11th prime minister in 10 years―will not change many things.
As Minister and CEO in charge of a large government agency, he did not make a lasting impression. Mr. Maïga was the harshest critic of the Algiers Peace Agreement. He has already repudiated these criticisms, which were nevertheless well-founded. Under pressure from the international community, the new duo in leadership positions in Mali has committed to holding elections in February 2022. This is a very short timeline. It is impossible to hold credible elections in Mali because of the generalized insecurity. Most of the territory is under the control of armed groups. The elections will not solve anything.
The Peul populations are stigmatized and have been victims of massacres. The Peuls as a group are being portrayed as terrorists, which is concerning
A national awakening:
Threats by the international community have shown Mali that it is no longer truly independent. The political class can take steps to regain control. A request can be made to ECOWAS to extend the transition by at least 24 months. Under this scenario, a government is formed with competent people who have integrity.
After an exhaustive audit, this team puts the country back on its feet. The Algiers Peace Agreement undergoes a thorough review. The country does the painful but necessary work of making a brutally frank diagnosis of its situation and implementing the drastic and very painful remedy that is needed.
A slow decline
The second scenario would consist of the establishment of a government seeking to divide up the pie. This government will organize botched elections. All sorts of machinations will be used to impose the Algiers Peace Agreement, which cannot be applied.
The Mujahideens continue to harass the foreign and Malian forces. The country remains under the trusteeship of the international community, which decides to withdraw after a few years. The north becomes independent, with tribal conflicts like the ones in South Sudan, and the rest of the country remains unstable.
An Islamic Republic with an autonomous region in the extreme north of Mali:
The Mujahideens agree to lay down their arms. They make an alliance with those in the south who want to negotiate and collaborate more closely with the Islamists. In part through the voting box and in part through arms, they impose their rule and gain ground throughout the country as a whole. Mali becomes an Islamic republic.
A new alliance
Several groups of populists would like for Russia to have a presence in the country. In the Central African Republic, Russian mercenaries have had great success. They have stabilized a country that was collapsing. It must be said, however, that they are dealing with rebels who are slackers. In Mali, the Russians will face experienced fighters in a very hostile physical environment.
The first scenario is unlikely, given that the political class is in a hurry to go to the polls. The second scenario is the most likely. The third scenario can no longer be ruled out when a seven- to ten-year horizon is considered. Finally, the arrival of Russia will not change anything as Mali’s problems are internal.
Mali has wasted a decade. Lacking a vision, the political class in Bamako focused on its desire to avoid fundamentalism and partition. In the long term, there is a danger of Mali having both of these.
Crédit photo : Seneplus.com