The mutiny of the Malian soldiers of the Kati garrison, in Bamako, on Tuesday August 18 finally led to the forced resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his government, opening a new page of instability for the country which will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of its independence on September 22. If, in the aftermath of this coup, the junta led by Malian army colonel Assimi Goita clarified its intentions promising in particular to return power to civilians after a transition intended to organize new elections, this scenario did not not at all favored by the international community. The African Union has decided to suspend Mali from all its institutions until constitutional order is restored. The United States and the European Union are on the same line and demand the immediate release of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. The same goes for the countries of the region united within the Economic Community of West African States. However, in Mali, the reading of events is more nuanced. Beyond the sanctions and the times that promise to be difficult on the economic level in addition to the coronavirus crisis – all the visionaries have long been in the red -, the country wants to seize this transition to regain control of its destiny and propose its own solutions. Boubacar Haidara, associate researcher at the Les Afriques dans le monde (LAM) laboratory at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, spoke for Le Point Afrique on the situation there and the genesis of this umpteenth coup d’état in Africa.
Le Point Afrique: How is the military initiative received on the spot?
Boubacar Haidara: There is no real surprise. It had to happen, it was just a matter of time. President IBK has clearly let slip any possibility of a peaceful resolution of the political crisis arising from the contestation of the legislative elections in March and the demonstrations which followed. Neither has it succeeded in installing virtuous business management.
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What is the socio-political context of this seizure of power?
Even if the causes of the crisis are many and varied, the legislative elections of March and April 2020 where some thirty opposition seats were torn from those for the benefit of the presidential party were the detonator. The Constitutional Court has become the target of the demonstrators because it is the institution that validated the results of these elections.
Things rushed with three big protests. There was first a first mobilization on June 5 organized by both political and religious movements, in particular Islamic movements, which is a first in the history of Mali. This first rally was a show of force by opponents of President Keïta. From the start, the leaders of the protest demanded his resignation.
When did the situation start to explode?
The turning point took place between the second and the third mobilization. In fact, in the meantime, IBK had still not reacted to the demands of the so-called June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces. He had made no proposal, had given no opinion. It should be understood that the context was already changing. If, for the first two demonstrations, it was question for the opposition to initiate a process of civil disobedience to counter President IBK, the mobilization of July 10 took place in a particular context also at the internal level of the movement. We have seen the first divisions emerge between Imam Dicko and the others. Mahmoud Dicko, who is often seen from abroad as being a danger to Mali – was singled out, because he finally appeared as the most moderate person within this protest movement. Dicko was not on that hard line which demanded the departure of IBK. He has even been accused by some of allowing himself to be bribed by IBK.
After discussions, a memorandum was finally put in place, drawn up for IBK and urging it to reform the Constitutional Court so that it was no longer an instrument of power. The M5-RFP also demanded a resumption of legislative elections as well as the appointment of a new prime minister who would have had free rein to lead the country. So the M5 had made several requests that went in the direction of keeping the president in power. But, there again, IBK objected to an end of inadmissibility. There was therefore the famous third demonstration which saw the opponents come back with this demand for the departure of President IBK. The idea then was to enter concretely into the process of civil disobedience, that is to say to prevent the public services from functioning, to block the main accesses to the capital, to paralyze the city of Bamako and the activities.
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What role did Imam Dicko finally play, who today says he does not want power? Will he continue to wave the threat from the streets to get what he wants?
In reality, Imam Mahmoud Dicko understood very well the need to join forces with political leaders to carry out his fight to the end. But it should not be reduced to its sole religious function. The people you see on the streets don’t come out because of religion. People are coming out to express their displeasure with an increasingly weakened state in all areas. And Imam Mahmoud Dicko who advocates values that speak to them: morality, integrity, respect, etc. posed as a moral authority, a guarantor for these people. The other political figures of the M5-RFP do not have the same influence, in addition to having rubbed shoulders with IBK or having been a member of its teams, they have very little credibility. Between the crisis in the North, in the central regions, and the political crisis in Bamako, there has been a convergence of crises. And Imam Dicko saw it coming.
When did the army find itself at the center of the political game?
The army did not place itself as the arbiter of the political crisis, it intervened to put an end to a situation that was totally blocked. Since all the players, both internally and externally, with ECOWAS in particular, had not succeeded in bringing together the power and the opposition. ECOWAS, supported by the international community, proposed a roadmap calling for the resignation of the 31 deputies whose elections raised questions, it also asked President IBK to reform the Constitutional Court and to appoint a government of national unity. Emissaries made the trip as well as five heads of state, an extraordinary summit of the fifteen ECOWAS leaders was organized, but nothing worked.
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Between an army that easily leaves the barracks and religious leaders who lead the demands and almost bend power, where is Mali going?
In any case, I can assure you that the religious are not going to take power. There are three recognized religious authorities in Mali. The sheriff Ousmane Madani Haïdara, president of the High Islamic Council, the sheriff of Nioro, Bouyé Haïdara, and Imam Dicko, who holds a so-called Wahhabi Islam. It is a branch that falls under Salafism, but it is not the same as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, even though both fall under the same ideology. What differentiates them is the violence obeyed by the jihadist movement, and not Wahhabism. Among the three, Dicko found himself marginalized, and the power of Bamako made ample use of this membership to demonize him already with the two other religious leaders, but especially with the international community. The message was: if you don’t support IBK, this is what awaits Mali.
Boubou Cissé, the former Prime Minister, nonetheless proposed a government of national unity, the Constitutional Court was renewed …
It is true, but, when you read the recommendations of ECOWAS which recommended that the opposition appoint 5 judges among whom IBK should retain three names, it is ultimately the much maligned and contested President of the National Assembly who was responsible for appointing these three judges. And the one who becomes the president of the new Constitutional Court is none other than the chief of staff of the Prime Minister, Boubou Cissé! People are not crazy.
But the people who were in the street behind the M5-RFP do not represent the majority of Malians, how do you explain that we have come to this, with an intervention of the army?
The turning point is when the June 5 Movement announced that it would resume demonstrations and occupy Independence Square day and night. They warned that no one would return until IBK resigned. We had reached a point of no return.
Let’s say that the army was ready and that, then, the calls also multiplied on social networks to mobilize the populations. The strategy was to make the military and populations appear side by side. Let everyone show that they are fighting for the same causes. Many have put forward the motivations which are ultimately the same: the funding allocated to the army, education and vital sectors of the State which are hijacked in full view of all without any consequences for the authors, mismanagement, the economic crisis, the lack of salaries for civil servants, the game of divisions, etc.
Would you say that President IBK had failed to grasp the extent of the resentment …
IBK was completely disconnected. I would even say offbeat, you just have to look at these last speeches. The hour was serious, and he was not on the right tempo.
After the 2012 coup d’état, Mali was thought to be rid of what some have called the “curse of coups”. With which glasses can we analyze what has just happened?
The condemnations of the international community are quite legitimate because we must not encourage coups d’état, but the situation in Mali was special. ECOWAS has already decided on sanctions against the country and withdrew it from its bodies, financial flows to Mali are suspended, etc. This is the most normal thing that could happen.
I am currently in Bamako, and what I can tell you is that the situation is completely different from that of 2012. I was already there during the events of March 2012. Tuesday August 18, the images in speak volumes about the resentment of the populations vis-à-vis IBK and its power. The government did try to demonize the protest, but in fact it is a very, very popular movement. I attended all the demonstrations that took place on Independence Square, I have never seen in Bamako so many people gathered in one place and for the same cause. We must also pay attention to the messages of the populations when the soldiers surround the home of IBK, they said in Bambara: “Let us go in, let us go in, take what belongs to us”, that’s it. content of the messages sent to IBK which differ from those of 2012.
There is a sociology that is different. We see young people, we see women, we see civil servants, people of all social classes who are just fed up with everyday life. You are going to find institutions in the streets that are not happy because their complaints are not accepted by the state. You will find the wives and families of the soldiers who died in the fighting because the money for the material was misappropriated, you will find young people in the streets, teachers on strike.
It’s been two years since there has been a school in Mali. Two years that primary and secondary students have been deprived of class because teachers are constantly on strike. Just because of an article that was not properly taken into account by the state. In 2019, out of nine months of schooling, Malian children went to school for only two months, and this year 2020, it was expected that from March they will find their way back to class, but the president did not kept his promise, so the teachers went on strike again, and from that time until the protests started, there was still no class. And IBK didn’t seem interested in the matter. He did not even argue with the education unions.
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What seems indisputable is the phase of uncertainty that has opened up in this country when all the lights have long been in the red.
There is a real risk that the system will persist. We do not know what will happen with the soldiers who have just taken power. We know that in Africa the military tend to stay in power forever. But, for now, we have to look at the present. They say they won’t even lead the transition, it will be a civilian transition, which is a very good thing.
The problem is that Malian politics is mainly driven by the same political staff since the 1991 revolution …
Malians are aware of this, but young people have taken on this problem head-on. We have never seen Malian youth so interested in political issues. The IBK presidency will have, in any case, shown that the populations are more and more alert, which could dissuade the next Malian government from indulging in certain abuses.
But this youth, it is not in business …
We hope that this coup will be the occasion for a renewal of the political class, and it is the aspiration of young Malians first. And without Imam Dicko, there would not have been this opposition, there would have been no one in the street because people no longer trust political actors, and moreover, that is what most of the other political leaders suffer from the contestation. They all suffer from this closeness to IBK and the fact that they are not that far away from him, but I also believe that it is a realistic strategy to give strength to the movement. I agree that in order for the real aspirations of Malians to be taken into account, there must be a real inclusive dialogue. And this dialogue must begin now.
What has just happened is a major turning point. IBK was the only president of Mali to have obtained the greatest participation in the polls of the democratic air. He had received a real plebiscite. And when you see how he was kicked out of power, I think that’s a lesson for all aspiring rulers.
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Who could take over from the junta?
For the moment, there is no figure that stands out. In the M5-RPF, many have glowing resumes and great runs, but none really stand out.
The main absent from these events is Soumaïla Cissé …
Yes, absolutely. If he was present, he would weigh a certain weight in the current political game and surely he would have appeared as the man for the job, a like IBK was for the Malians in 2013 after the coup d ‘ Status of 2012.
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