Yalla S. Sangaré and Jason J. McSaprren
On May 24, the President of the Malian transitional government, Bah N’Daw, and his Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, were detained following a cabinet shuffle that they had recently overseen. They were “stripped of their prerogatives” on May 25 by the junta that had overturned President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) on August 18, 2020. On May 26, they ostensibly “resigned.”
Behind the vague concept of “rectification,” the Malian transition government leadership has just been deposed after only nine months. This is yet another coup d’etat in a string of coups, although it does not admit to being one―the real question is whether it is also a turning point for the multi-dimensional crisis in Mali.
Is it the beginning of the end of a country that has already tumbled into an abyss, or is it―which is less likely―the beginning of a real turnaround? This series of three position papers will address the Kafkaesque situation in which Mali finds itself. This first paper deals with the recent crisis in the top echelons of the Government, and reviews the current state of affairs.
The Malian army took command on August 18, 2020, by upsetting the regime of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who had been in power since 2013. The seizure of power through a coup d’etat is prohibited under Mali’s Constitution. This is a crime to which statutory limitations do not apply. The junta, consisting of relatively young and educated officers, had committed to fighting against corruption and to restoring the Malian State, which had descended into complete decay.
The regime change had raised people’s hope and even some enthusiasm for a change in policy. In fact, the regime of President Keita had not managed to improve the security situation and, what’s more, had become embroiled in corruption scandals. Barely nine months later, the regime in charge of the transition had achieved qualified―if not catastrophic―results. The government was dissolved in the middle of a strike led by the UNTM, which is the National Workers’ Union of Mali, the country’s primary union.
Since then, the security situation in the northern regions has deteriorated. The Algiers Agreement, which was signed in 2015 between the Malian State and the rebel groups, has not been effective in curbing violence and promoting development. This context creates a volatile political situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is compounding security risks as the number of cases reported has risen to 14,500. However, analysts speculate that this data is an under estimation.
The regime change had raised people’s hope and even some enthusiasm for a change in policy. In fact, the regime of President Keita had not managed to improve the security situation and, what’s more, had become embroiled in corruption scandals
The economic situation is dismal. The consultations that led to the formation of this stillborn government looked more like divvying up the spoils on the ashes of the Malian State. In the centre and the north of the country, thousands of children have not attended school for several years now.
The citizens in these regions live in precarious circumstances and, particularly, under unsafe conditions. Let us examine how the young commissioned officers who formed the junta managed to exhaust the optimism of the population in such a short time.
BAD CASTING FROM THE START
The causes of the current crisis at the upper levels of the State have now been documented: the wrong people were appointed from the outset, the junta was inexperienced in governing a country and was given bad advice and, above all, it misread the sociopolitical environment. Hence, the arrest of the Transition President and Prime Minister on May 24 was inevitable.
The scene was set, first, by unsuitable choices of leaders in the highest ranks of government. The leader of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, had to step down from the position of President of the Transition under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The subregional organization had required the transition government to have civilian leadership. The Transition Charter created a tailor-made position for Colonel Goïta: that of Vice-President in charge of security matters.
At that point, a credible civilian candidate was needed for the office of President. Bah N’Daw, a retired air force colonel, met these criteria. In a country tainted by corruption, he was recognized for his integrity and probity. As a former soldier, he was acceptable in the eyes of the military junta supporters, the Malian public, and ECOWAS. This man also had certain limitations when it came to leading a country in crisis. He had no political experience. His time as Minister of Defence was brief.
He was not a man who could be manipulated in the Malian political cocktail where flattery and servility are often the norm. From the perspective of the members of the junta, President N’Daw was intended to play a largely symbolic role, like that of the Queen of England. Assimi Goïta and the junta would be the ones who truly held power. In summary, the government featured an unfortunate cast of characters from the outset.
AN INEXPERIENCED AND ILL-ADVISED JUNTA: THE TRANSITION GOT OFF TO A BAD START
As is often the case in Mali, the very day after a coup d’etat, the colonels are surrounded by a horde of flatterers. These fawning “courtiers” likely encouraged the officers to commit misdeeds. The junta committed a certain number of missteps. The opposition to the regime of IBK had been spearheaded by a coalition of political parties and civil society movements joined under the M5-RFP coalition. The junta, whose members belonged to the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), refused the olive branch extended by the M5-RFP coalition. Instead, the junta attempted to weaken M5-RFP by offering positions to some of its members.
A charter was needed to govern the transition period. Here again, the junta followed terrible advice in manipulating civil society members. There were fundamental discrepancies between the final version of the charter and the versions discussed at the workshops.
The subregional organization had required the transition government to have civilian leadership. The Transition Charter created a tailor-made position for Colonel Goïta: that of Vice-President in charge of security matters
The appointment of military officers to positions reserved for civilians has made the population somewhat uneasy. The public found it difficult to understand these appointments in Bamako when the north and the centre of the country are subjugated by the Mujahideens, drug traffickers and other armed militia groups. Finally, when the first government was formed after the coup d’etat, members of the military and their acquaintances took over the major ministries.
A MISREADING OF THE ENVIRONMENT
The regime of colonels did not correctly gauge the situation and, above all, did not understand how distressed Malians were. The pandemic has had an impact on the Malian economy. Transfers of money from the diaspora have been lower. The regime underestimated the social unease and the ability of the UNTM [National Workers’ Union of Mali] to mobilize.
There is a general desire to blame Prime Minister Ouane for the failure of the negotiations with the UNTM. Clearly, there was an expectation that the strike would lose steam. The margin of manoeuver of the Malian State is certainly limited. The preceding governments had made commitments that they were not able to keep.
CRISIS IN THE UPPER ECHELONS OF GOVERNMENT
This is the context in which former President N’Daw consulted with all of the stakeholders in the transition following a visit from the ECOWAS mediator, who recommended greater inclusivity. He decided to give new momentum to the transition. Moctar Ouane resigned from his position and was then immediately reappointed as Prime Minister by the President of the Transition.
His mission was to form a more open and inclusive government that welcomes the contributions of opposition parties and civil society. The wheeling and dealing that led up to the formation of this government took a lot of time and effort. It was necessary to satisfy the 200 or so political parties, certain religious leaders, civil society, the diaspora, and the donor agencies that keep the country on life support.
Finally, the M5-RFP coalition had to be included. These are the circumstances in which Moctar Ouane formed his second government. The publication of the list of the members of government was the spark that lit the powder keg. Members of the officially dissolved junta who held the portfolios of Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Security were not reinducted.
The regime of colonels did not correctly gauge the situation and, above all, did not understand how distressed Malians were
Claiming that he had not been consulted, Vice-President Assimi Goïta ordered the arrest of President N’Daw and of the Prime Minister. They were stripped of their prerogatives before “resigning.” The crisis at the senior levels of power is a symptom of a deeper malaise: a State that is collapsing.
THE STATE OF MALI AS IT REALLY IS: A COUNTRY IN DECAY
The current crisis conceals a darker reality. Behind the appearances, Mali is divided into three zones. A small part of the northernmost edge is under the command of former rebels who were signatories of the peace agreements. They have created a hybrid government entity there, halfway between Somaliland and Kurdistan, under the watchful gaze of the international community.
In the centre of the country, the multifaceted conflict is similar to the one in Somalia; it is dominated by non-state actors and fractured into fiefdoms controlled by the Mujahideens or the Peul, Dogon and Bambara self-defence militias. For the time being, the south is still governed by what remains of the Malian State. Thus, four-fifths of the territory is no longer under the control of the Malian State. Basic services are no longer provided there, and State representatives are absent.
Since Malian independence in September 1960, with the exception of Alpha Oumar Konaré (1992‒2002), all of the presidents have been overthrown by a coup d’etat. President Dioncouda Traoré was able to complete his term. He had been beaten and left for dead in his office at the Koulouba Presidential Palace, while the security forces turned a blind eye. More than 200 political parties make up an extremely fragmented political landscape.
Regarding security, the noose is tightening around Bamako. The Mujahideens already hold sway over the regions of Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou. This situation is all the more paradoxical given that, in addition to the armed forces and Malian security forces, the United Nations, the Barkhane Forces (France), the G5-Sahel, the Takuba Force, and all sorts of special armies and counterinsurgents similar to the “Barbouzes” operate in Mali.
After the coup d’etat on May 24, 2021, Mali was in a total deadlock. Armed groups in the far north of the country continue to strengthen their hold on the populations. In the centre, Islamists amputate hands and impose Sharia law. In Bamako, peaceful citizens can be kidnapped, as we saw with the activist Rasth Batch and, in particular, with President Bah N’Daw. After suspending joint military operations with the Malian army, France announced the end of Operation Barkhane.
Since Malian independence in September 1960, with the exception of Alpha Oumar Konaré (1992‒2002), all of the presidents have been overthrown by a coup d’etat
A number of observations can already be made. The crisis is far from being resolved. Nationalist and populist discourse cannot hide the fact that, for the time being Mali needs the international community. This discourse tends to conceal an inconvenient truth: the cause of Mali’s problems is mainly internal. The international community was undoubtedly mistaken. Malians need to put their own affairs in order.
The junta has cozied up to the M5-RFP after maintaining that the spokespersons for this coalition are at the root of all the evils that the country is enduring. This rapprochement will give them a little more time. It will not help in any way to solve the fundamental problems as M5-RFP is divided. Mali is faced with a steep slope to climb out of this hole. Yet another stakeholders’ or refoundation forum will not change things.
Nor will yet another government embracing national unity, inclusiveness and openness, run by has-beens. Mali and Malians must face reality with clear-headedness and a willingness to make tough decisions. The country is in dire straits. Mali cannot continue to do the same thing over and over again, while hoping to achieve different results.
Crédit photo : Senenews.com