The resignation of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), in business since 2013, following a bloodless military coup, concludes a tumultuous political sequence that had lasted for several months.
The senior officers who seized power with the consent of the main opposition movement officially call on the population to resume their activities in peace and undertake to implement a “civil political transition” and to organize new elections. general within a time limit which has not been specified.
How did we get there, and what to expect in the near future?
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Several months of protest
By responding massively to the calls for demonstrations by the Mouvement du 5 Juin-Rassemblement des Forces patriotiques (M5-RFP) – on June 5, June 19, July 10, and August 11, 2020 – the Malians clearly and strongly expressed their anger against the “clan” management of power by IBK.
In a previous article, we dealt with the conditions for the establishment of this movement, as well as the demands it made.
If the first two demonstrations had been peaceful, the penultimate one seemed to take on all the characteristics of an insurrection and the beginning of a revolution.
At the call of their leaders, the demonstrators besieged the premises of the national television (ORTM) and occupied the various major arteries, as well as two of the three bridges connecting the two banks of the Niger River which crosses the capital. It was a question of initiating the process of civil disobedience which had been pronounced by the leaders of the M5-RFP, in order to force IBK to resign.
Although announced (officially) peaceful by the leaders of the M5-RFP, the demonstration of July 10 strongly degenerated on the ground, giving rise to looting, the destruction of public and private property, and the looting of gas stations. , Etc. The most emblematic of the violence committed by the demonstrators that day remains the sacking of the National Assembly, which was completely looted and set on fire. The authorities’ response to the sling was deemed violent and disproportionate, as it had caused deaths (23 according to the M5-RFP, 11 according to the Malian authorities) and a hundred injured. In this climate of strong tensions, several of the leaders of the M5-RFP were arrested by the authorities. The situation had reached a point of no return.
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A president insensitive to the demands of the opposition
The M5-RFP was formed around the demand for “the resignation of President Keïta and his regime”. But Imam Mahmoud Dicko, who represents the moral guarantee, had hardly ended up convincing the other leaders of the M5-RFP – after his multiple meetings with ambassadors stationed in Bamako, the emissaries of ECOWAS, and IBK himself – to waive their demand for the president’s resignation.
The memorandum addressed to IBK, the content of which was unveiled on 1er July 2020, therefore focused on several other crucial points: a reform of the Constitutional Court, so that this body no longer appears as an instrument of power; the dissolution of a strongly contested National Assembly; and the formation of a government of national unity, with a prime minister of full power who would be a credible and consensual person in the eyes of all Malians.
On July 8, against all expectations, President IBK, in a third address to the nation since the start of the crisis on June 5, and after having received the leaders of the protest, made no concrete concessions to reassure them. He simply suggested that they get in touch with the presidential majority and discuss with it the modalities of ending the crisis. This positioning was perceived by the leaders of the protest as a way of denigrating them and reducing their political struggle to a simple search for personal positions. We could already remember from this situation that IBK was far enough from measuring the gravity of the socio-political situation. From then on, his approach was interpreted by the protesters as a delaying maneuver aimed at gaining time while hoping for an implosion of the movement. It was at this point that the M5-RFP decided to break off all negotiations and return to its initial demand, namely the outright resignation of IBK.
After the failure of the first ECOWAS conciliation mission, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, five presidents of member countries of the West African organization were received in Bamako on July 23, 2020 to discuss with the protagonists on a possible way out of the crisis. An extraordinary summit followed, on July 27, at the end of which ECOWAS proposed several measures and firmly opposed any idea of President Keita’s resignation. On the other hand, in the absence of a dissolution of the National Assembly, it recommended to IBK to immediately resign the 31 deputies whose election is contested and to organize partial legislative elections; to form a government of national unity; and to reform the Constitutional Court, which is at the heart of the post-election crisis, respecting the modalities that had been suggested by the mission led by Goodluck Jonathan. In addition, ECOWAS formulated the requirement to see these various measures enter into force before July 31, 2020.
In principle, the Constitutional Court is composed of nine members, three of whom are proposed by the President, three by the Judicial Council, and the last three by the President of Parliament. The complication is that the latter is among the deputies whose resignation is demanded by ECOWAS. The latter therefore recommended that it be the opposition which proposes a list of five to six names, among which the President of the Republic would make the choice which is rightfully up to the President of Parliament.
IBK failed to get the disputed MPs to resign (or did they not even try to do so?). In addition, he recomposed the Constitutional Court without any consultation with the opposition, incorporating three members proposed by the disputed President of Parliament, Moussa Timbiné. Indeed, on July 11, IBK announced the dissolution of the Constitutional Court which was at the heart of the crisis, insofar as it was it which had ratified the election of the contested deputies.
The opposition expected a real reform of the Constitutional Court, but the announced changes resulted in a simple replacement of its 9 members, some of the newly appointed being very close to the government. This is the case of Amadou Ousmane Touré, until then chief of staff to Prime Minister Boubou Cissé, who became the president of the new Constitutional Court. A designation seen by opponents as the guarantee of the perpetuation of old practices so decried. IBK then proceeded to the appointment of a mini-government of six members holding the key portfolios (foreign affairs; justice; territorial administration; defense; security, economy and finance), while waiting for the opposition to decide to integrate the government.
In the end, IBK made no real concessions. The dialogue between the opposition and the authorities had therefore lost all meaning. The various actions (or rather inaction) of the president have helped to radicalize the positions of the protesters.
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The entry into action of the army
Some of the demonstrators and leaders of the M5-RFP were well aware that the demonstrations alone would not be enough to make IBK resign. Oumar Mariko (member of M5-RFP, former deputy and president of the African Solidarity Party for Democracy and Independence), who is cheered by the crowd during M5-RFP rallies, regularly calls on the Malian soldiers to support the M5 -RFP, to “be men” and to help liberate Mali. Because the fight that the M5-RFP leads – according to him and all the other leaders – is also a fight in favor of the soldiers who die at the front because the money intended for the supply of equipment (as well as the payment of bonuses ), is hijacked.
As soon as the first information on a possible coup d’état begins to circulate, the youth of the M5-FRP immediately asks, via social networks, all of its supporters to go out in mass in the streets and to support the army.
The soldiers simultaneously arrest IBK and its prime minister Boubou Cissé. The disputed President of the National Assembly, Moussa Timbiné, as well as several ministers of the current and previous governments are also arrested. On August 19, around midnight, President IBK’s last speech – in which he announced his resignation, the dissolution of the National Assembly and the government – was broadcast on national television, the ORTM. This speech is followed by that of the putschists, gathered within a National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP).
They list all the demands of the M5-RFP (recalling the disputes arising from the legislative elections and denouncing insecurity, political patronage, family management of the State, the embezzlement of public funds, the corruption of justice, the crisis school, bad governance and the killings of M5-RFP demonstrators on July 11 and 12). It is in view of all this that the putschists “decided to take our responsibilities before the people, in order to prevent the country from sinking”, they explain. The day after the fall of IBK, the CNSP immediately rushed to meet Imam Mahmoud Dicko, initiator of the protest and “moral authority” of the M5-RFP.
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And now ?
Several observations emerge from this troubled situation.
It is first necessary to underline the engagement of the Malian youth in the political sphere. This youth has, in fact, been the spearhead of all the actions of the M5-RFP. Let us recall that the Malian political class has undergone only a very limited renewal since the democratization of the country in 1992. IBK’s overthrow of power therefore represents a real opportunity to see new figures emerge on the national political scene.
On the other hand, this latest crisis seemed to demonstrate an awakening of the conscience of the people, who no longer hesitate to demand forms of governance that suit them. The experience of the seizure of power by the military in African states teaches us that they often tend to retain it. In the Malian case, this scenario seems very unlikely because the positive already lies in the fact that the CNSP immediately announces a civil transition, which will be followed by an election “within a reasonable time”.
While the international community (ECOWAS, the United States, France, etc.) has “condemned the coup d’état” and calls for a “rapid return to constitutional order”, the opposition, for its part, is said ready to work with the junta. Choguel Kokala Maiga, the president of the M5-RFP strategic committee, rejects the qualification of a coup and calls on all supporters of the movement to come out on August 21 to support the CNSP, and to show the international community that the people Malien is favorable to the military – a way, too, of implicitly putting pressure on the latter so that they are not tempted to monopolize what is brandished as the “victory of the people”.
It should be up to the members of the civil transition to decide on the fate of IBK and its political allies still in detention. In any event, given his age (75 years) and his fragile health, but especially in view of the pressure from the international community and, in particular, from France, IBK could quickly be released and certainly assigned to residence at his home in Sébénikoro where he has always resided.
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* Boubacar Haidara is an associate researcher at the Les Afriques dans le monde (LAM) laboratory, Sciences-Po Bordeaux / Lecturer, University of Ségou, Mali, University of Bordeaux Montaigne.
** Lamine Savane holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Montpellier / ATER and associate researcher at the Cepel-Cnrs laboratory at the University of Ségou.