Mali’s “Fresh Start” is Becoming a Pipe Dream as Colonel Malick Diaw is Elected Head of Interim Legislature

Mali’s “Fresh Start” is Becoming a Pipe Dream as Colonel Malick Diaw is Elected Head of Interim Legislature

The Malian coup d’état, that came to fruition on the 18th August last year, was motivated by a need to end the corruption and bad governance that had brought the country to standstill and to address the instability that continues in the north of the country. In the aftermath, the Comité Nationale pour le Salut de Peuple (CNSP) followed through, conducting consultations with key stakeholders to develop its charter for transition. It vowed to return the country to civilian leadership within a “reasonable timeframe”. Nevertheless, as the CNSP has become comfortable in its position of power, cracks are beginning to show. Army personnel dominate the interim government and even with ECOWAS bearing down, the hope of a more transparent and democratic government is beginning to dissipate. 

Towards a new kind of government

The interim government that took over from Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s in August last year is causing a crisis of confidence. The positive reactions expressed by the international community, albeit after its initial condemnation of the coup, now stands in contrast to sentiment of large factions on the ground.

On the one hand, the international community has been keen to support the transitional government after the quick formation of a plan that showed ‘promising signs that the country can emerge from the cycle of mistrust, violence and repeated coups.’ The charter, created between the 10 and 12th September last year, declared a transitional period of 18 months after which power would be handed back to the civilian population. It also provided for the designation of a president of transition, drawn from either civilian or military candidates, tasked with leading the transition to provide the right environment for democratic elections.

International powers had further incentive to support the interim government in ensuring security in the region. Since 2013, Mali has suffered attacks from incursive terrorist groups into its northern regions. In this way, the robust regional leadership in place has allowed the continuation of interventions by the UN. The United Nations Multidimensional Integration and Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has declared that it will press forward with patrols and installations of civilian protection bases. Niger has also expressed its support for strong governance as a critical factor for the stability of the region.

Nevertheless, there are still issues that the government faces. Both France and Germany have urged for a more inclusive government, including women and young people. The government formed in the wake of the coup only appointed four women out of its twenty-five members. They have also pushed for the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement resulting from the Algiers process.

On the ground these concerns multiply. The 5 June Movement (M5-RFP), responsible for the mass rally on the 5th June before the coup, have expressed discontent with the appointment of former Minister of Defence Colonel Major Bah N’Daou and Colonel Assisi Goïta as the transitional president and vice-president respectively. The process of selection, they claimed, had not been inclusive.

The irregularities of the National Transitions Council (CNT), designed as a replacement for parliament, have proven how keen the military is to stay in power. The election of Malick Diaw, a participant in the august coup, as its head and the veto powers given to the vice president over appointments have sparked criticism. The M5-RFP has since boycotted the legislature, stating that it would not serve as a “stooge for a disguised military regime”.

Why is military control so worrying?

Despite the grand proposals of the interim government to provide the basis for fair democratic elections, no serious reforms have been taken to improve the military and structural issues remain endemic. Furthermore, divides between the military and civilian population will only aggravate the security issues already present in the country.

First, the lack of civilian leadership has allowed the Malian army to forego any accountability. This can be seen by the revenge attacks on Islamist prisoners captured in Gao at the beginning of the conflict and furthermore, after allegations of unchecked humans’ rights abuses against civilians accused of supporting Islamist militias in 2017. The Human Rights Watch documented 27 cases of enforced disappearance. The Malian government has since provided no information for the families of the missing individuals.

Clientelism has further prevented security initiatives from being effective. The distortion of the selection process through bribery and nepotism has meant that those with higher potential have not necessarily been trained. In this way, the army remains incompetent in the face of security threats to the state. This can be seen in the failure to recapture the city of Kidal from Islamist militias in 2014. With no incentive for reform through civilian leadership, whether the military will be able to ensure the continued security of the country is unsure.

Secondly, the condemnations of the interim government’s action by the M5-RFP marks a significant divide between the civilian population and military, which could deepen institutional instability. The M5-RFP was a vital player in the dissent of the Kaito government and was able to mobilize a large amount of the population for its demonstrations on the 5th June and 12th August. Consequently, its position within the country suggests that it will have the capacity to remount protests against the government in the future.

For all its claims to promote more stability and transparency in institutions, it is not unreasonable that military control will prove unable to act on its promises and cause further divide within the population.

Military dominance sows division in Mali

The continuation of military dominance in the interim government leaves Mali in an unstable position.

Throughout the trials of the coup, the West African Regional Group, ECOWAS has taken a strong stance. In August, they imposed a sanction regime of the country, suspending its membership, closing all land and air borders and halting financial transactions and trade flows in and out of the country with the exemption of basic consumer goods. This points to a good chance that ECOWAS will be successful in pushing for election within the 18-month period. ECOWAS has increased pressure on the government to clarify this, after several civilians were arrested on suspicion of attempting to destabilise the government.

Nevertheless, as has already been seen, the terms of which these elections will take place lie firmly in the hands of the Malian military. Although the military inaugurators of the coup, the Comité National pour le Salut du Peuple (CNSP) bowed to international pressure to relinquish power to an interim government, this government is starting to resemble the military junta that came before. Changes to legislature will allow the government to continue its influence beyond the elections if they are carried out. No clear election roadmap has been established.

The continuation of military control poses a wider threat to regional security. The lack of reform and the prevalence of corruption that has undermined the military’s ability to stand up to incursive terrorist groups in the past suggests that these will likely continue in the future.

Furthermore, opposition from the M5-RFP is likely to remain. As increasing developments highlight greater military control it is not unlikely that they will use its influence to remount protests against that government. Although terrorism has decreased in the aftermath of the coup, the resurgence of a rift will likely aggravate the situation further and hamper the government’s ability to address future terrorist threats.


Categories: Africa, Politics

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