Telecommunications engineer, Choguel Kokala Maïga is at the forefront of the dispute against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, of whom he was however the Minister of Digital Economy, Information and Communication between January 2015 and July 2016. Ex -president of the Patriotic Movement for Renewal, a party claiming to be ex-president Moussa Traoré, overthrown in March 1991 by the Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People chaired by Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré. In this interview granted to Point Afrique, he highlights the grievances alleged against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and why his departure is the best solution for Mali.
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Le Point Afrique: What factors contributed to the birth of the M5-RFP protest movement?
Choguel Kokala Maïga: This movement arose from an awareness of all the living forces of the nation, including members of the presidential majority party that we met. They share the same diagnosis as us but do not prescribe the same medication. In any case, we have come to the conclusion that Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) does not have the capacity to lead Mali. If it continues like this, before long, it is Mali that risks disappearing because of it.
It was this crisis of confidence that brought together political and social forces from all walks of life that had nothing in common in the past. Because IBK has endeavored to destroy all counter-powers, institutional, social and political, through corruption, intimidation, imprisonment. There are even journalists who have disappeared. All means have been used to destroy any form of opposition to his regime. We have understood that nothing can work with him. Anyone who has had political agreements with him finds that he does not respect them.
While the country is at war and all the resources are dedicated to the army, we have proof that some of these have been diverted by more than 80%. Since taking office, the war which was in the north, in Kidal, has descended to the center. When he was elected, the state was in Kidal, there was a governor and prefects. Today, there is no more state on 75% of the national territory.
In 2018, when he was re-elected, the international community was an accomplice. An illustration of this is that before the Constitutional Court proclaimed its results all the heads of state, including the French president, began to congratulate IBK on its victory. It was actually a way of putting the Constitutional Court of Mali on hold to say “we recognize him as president, whether the Malians want it or not”.
Therefore, the majority of Malians have come to the conclusion that they have betrayed Mali.
There is a kind of oligarchy which has been created around it, which has grown richer, which has taken the country hostage. It was this diffuse feeling in society that prompted everyone to stand up. The Malians understood that they would no longer accept what happened and he himself understood that he can no longer impose this on them. I gave an image during an M5 meeting. I said that the election is like a driving license that the nation gives to someone, like a driver to whom the people have given a license to drive it. If this driver spends his time making accidents and there are deaths every day, he destroys everything, then the people will take away his license, and that is what is happening today. Malians no longer want him to remain president.
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How is the M5-RFP organized? How are decisions made?
The M5-RFP is made up of opposition political parties, political organizations such as the CMAS of Imam Mahmoud Dicko, associations and unions. Initially, three movements launched the M5-RFP, CMAS, the Front for the Safeguarding of Democracy (FSD) of Soumaila Cissé and another movement which is composite, bringing together people from different sensitivities, Hope Mali Koura (EMK). These three movements agreed on one thing: the departure of IBK.
All the contradictions that could divide have been put aside. Within the M5-RFP, decisions are taken by consensus. In general, when a question is asked, it is debated at length. I chair the meetings. When there is a trend that emerges, I offer a summary, which is accepted or not. If it is not, we re-debate until we reach a consensus. This is how we get the final decision and for the sake of fairness that all press releases are signed by three.
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What is the place of Imam Mahmoud Dicko in this decision-making process?
Imam Dicko is not present at our meetings. He was chosen as the moral authority because we know that he is someone who can get his message out in public opinion. Whenever he spoke on social issues, he was listened to. The only time he influenced one of our decisions was last June 19, during the second major anti-IBK demonstration in Bamako. When we decided that all the management of the M5 goes to Koulouba to deliver his letter of resignation to the president. But, when he saw the crowd and he saw the enthusiasm of the people, he said to himself that in the event of an overflow there could be many victims. Being an imam, he did not want us to walk on corpses, even to send IBK away. This is how he influenced the decision of the movement and I believe that it gave credibility at the national level to our movement and others came to join us.
The image sold to him outside by power in the international media is that of a Wahhabi imam, very rigorous, who wants to seize power, who uses extremist political parties who want to eat IBK and who are ready, even by violence, to make him go.
Imam Dicko does not seem to carry the message “IBK emerges” with the same fervor as your movement and its supporters. How do you explain it?
Imam Dicko explained to us that, from 1990 to today, as a religious, he was involved in all the negotiations that took place in Mali, including the negotiations that took place between the movements of challenge and the regime of Moussa Traoré. In all the crises in Mali, he was among the mediators. Today is the first time he has been in a position where mediators have asked him to give up something. These mediators are not just anyone. They are the heads of state of ECOWAS.
Imam Dicko is only there because the situation in the country requires it, but afterwards he will return to his mosque. He has no political agenda, contrary to what has been said here and there. He thinks that if we are not careful, if we force things too much, we risk multiplying our enemies, doing a lot of damage, when it is a power which is finished, which is completely disowned and which will fall without the need to destroy the country.
It is true that the politicians wanted to assault the regime, whatever the cost, but told him that we should not pay too high a price and that IBK would leave without violence. He does not want us to give the impression of being extremists, war-mongers who do not want to understand anything. All the harm that IBK does is thanks to the levers of power: the army, the security services, the state finances, the administration and the justice. So they must be taken away from him peacefully, and without humiliating him. Now, if he refuses, history will remember that he is responsible for the violence.
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Is the M5-RFP carrying out a peaceful “coup”, a reversal of power?
It is not a peaceful coup. There is someone at the head of the state who has been trusted. We realized that we were wrong. IBK does the opposite of everything it said to the Malians and “institutional fetishism” means that we are told “keep it even if it destroys the country”. During the revolutions in eastern Europe, people were dissatisfied with their presidents at the end of their mandate. They wanted to overthrow them and the West supported them. So why is it different for Africans, when we know what IBK is doing with our country?
Why refuse the outstretched hand of the Head of State and stay on a hard line demanding his departure?
It was not an outstretched hand. It’s a habit at IBK. Ibrahim Boubacar is a player who arrived at the end of the cycle. Each time he reached out, the one who grabbed it was rolled in flour. Three times when he was in trouble with religious organizations, he reached out to the political class, in particular to Soumaila Cissé. His hand remained outstretched while he was under pressure. As soon as the pressure dropped, he withdrew his hand and stabbed Soumaila Cisse. While he was negotiating, he went to look for people in his party who wanted to become ministers. Because, in its conception, we don’t come to government to work, we come to get something. I was in his government and I can testify that he is not looking for competent people. He is looking for relatives and servants of his family. As long as you are like that, you can stay in government for a long time. When you are no longer, you leave.
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In your opinion, the country’s problems are the result of a man and his regime or a generalized system of corruption and nepotism in place for almost forty years?
When we say that IBK and its regime must clear, it is a total change of the system that we want, the refounding of the Malian state, the profound change of all the rules of management of the society, the change of the system. Everything is to be reviewed, everything must be laid flat. Without it, we will not go anywhere. What we want is a real change towards what we call a new Mali, “Mali Koura” in the Bambara language.
In the current situation, there are only three solutions: either there is a coup, we do not want it; either there is a bloody popular insurrection and he will end up leaving like Blaise Compaoré in Burkina, we do not wish it; or there is a peaceful and massive popular insurrection, it is in this way that we register.
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Are you ready to break the laws and the Constitution to achieve your goals?
The President of the Republic is only in violation of the Constitution. We wrote a document that we gave to the international community to show that, every day, it violates the Constitution. The first to put the Constitution on hold is IBK, its government and its external supporters. In most countries, the election of a president is only valid when the Constitutional Court has validated it. All the presidents of the countries who gave us lessons today sent letters of congratulations to him without the Constitutional Court validating the results. In short, as if to say to us “your Constitutional Court is nothing, it is like a banana republic court”. They had already chosen it. The IBK government, every day, only violates the laws and the Constitution.
So, for you, the international community is also at fault.
Malians are frustrated because they feel that the international community is always there to support the powers, whatever they do. We know that the international community has worked to impose IBK in 2018. But we also keep in mind, despite our frustration with it, that the precarious balances that we have achieved have been possible thanks to the international community, notably the Union African, ECOWAS, France, the UN.
At one point, we talked about anti-French feelings in Mali, but that is not the case with us. The truth is that the Malians, in their great majority, have the feeling that this regime; who is incompetent and corrupt; uses France and the international community as a crutch to maintain itself. It is this frustration that makes people attack France, but there are no anti-French feelings.
This has been exploited by the authorities, who use this anger to say to the French “you see, they are against you, it is the opposition that manipulates them; I am your partner ”. We know that in our demonstrations, the people who burned the French flags were involved in beatings by the state. When we took some of them, we discovered that they were special service agents who had come there to discredit the movement.
The Malians are not against the French, the Malians are against the fact that France is emerging as a crutch on which stands an incompetent and corrupt regime, which is destroying our country. France is our strategic ally on all fronts: the French language we use, our first economic partner. She is the one who brings our files to the UN; it is she who has children who come to die in Mali; it is she who came to save us from the advance of the jihadists. We cannot forget all that.
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The M5-RFP was not on the same line regarding the aims of the movement after its two major popular demonstrations. Can you explain to us what the differences were?
I told you that the M5-RFP is a grouping made up of political parties, associations of unions from various backgrounds, who do not have the same political culture, who do not have the same conceptions of organization of society, the same visions of how to gain power. They found themselves on one objective: to send IBK away.
While we are working to get him out, we are also working on organizing the state after he leaves. It will then be necessary to open up to the whole of society, including the supporters of IBK who are martyred today, to speak deeply of our problems and find solutions because we all make the same diagnosis. So it is completely normal that, on certain questions, there are divergences, as when Dicko explained to us that we must let go of ballast so as not to appear in the eyes of the international community as hardliners.
By accepting that IBK remains in power, but stripped of all the tools and instruments that it uses to destroy our country, Dicko introduced the fact that one should not humiliate IBK or push him into exile. We want to offer it an honorable exit. And so, of the eight organizations that make up the M5-RFP, there is one organization that does not want to change position. They want IBK to leave and immediately. We are convinced that he will leave, but not immediately. We discussed this for three days with the EMK. In the end, they refused to sign, but we didn’t make a big deal out of it.
The existence of the Convergence of Republican Forces (CFR) tends to prove that M5-RFP does not speak on behalf of all Malians. What do you think of this movement? To achieve your goal, must you not have the majority of the people behind you?
You know, it’s rare for everyone to agree on one thing. The CFR uses the money to attract people, in particular the sum of 10,000 CFA francs which it even distributes to children so that they come to their meetings and so that they make the idiots useful for the IBK regime. Even with that, they could not fill a room with 3,000 seats and, noticeably, the parts of the presidential movement are not part of the CFR. He’s just the baby of the oligarchy.
Some people accuse you of wanting, via this protest movement, to return to business because you yourself have been part of one of the governments of IBK and that you come from the political generation which has exercised power in Mali since the 1990s. How do you respond to that?
Wasn’t Macron in the government of Holland? Emmanuel Macron emerged because he was in the government of François Hollande. He resigned to run against him. Macky Sall, the President of Senegal, was Minister, Prime Minister and President of the Assembly of Abdoulaye Wade. Who found fault? The President of Burkina, over the twenty-seven years of Blaise Compaore’s mandate, he has spent twenty-six years with him as Minister, Prime Minister and President of the Assembly. These are the arguments used by IBK supporters to try to discredit me. I left the government under the conditions that everyone knows. I strongly disagreed with him. I did not want to make waves and I asked to be released. I didn’t want to make a dramatic resignation.
The question that needs to be asked is “how can a president find himself in five years with seven former ministers running for president against him?” Are all these people wrong? You should know that we were only responsible for the sectors for which we were responsible. Some talk to me about army problems, but never discuss defense and security issues in the cabinet, never. The president discusses it with the soldiers and his Minister of Defense.
What will be the future actions of M5-RFP? How far do you plan to go?
From July 10, if IBK does not follow up, this time it is his very regime that we will no longer recognize. We will enter into a logic of civil disobedience, all the main arteries of the country will be taken, all the centers of power which are illegitimately occupied by its representatives, the people will take them, and we will put vigilance brigades so that no red light is not broken.
Mali needs to set an example for Africa and the world that change can be made. The people can be angry without burning, breaking, or killing. IBK will step down from power. The only debate here is whether to do it with the risk of violence or to minimize the risk of violence. He cannot stay, the population will never again accept to be led by this oligarchy. And it can no longer direct as in the past.