GP Insights # 402, 23 August 2020
On 19 August 2020, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced his resignation, three years before his final term was due to end. It was reported that the soldiers detained him at gunpoint along with Prime Minister Boubou Cissé who was taken to a military camp near the capital Bamako. In a televised address he stated that he was also dissolving the government and the Parliament, adding: "I want no blood to be spilled to keep me in power."
Later, the soldiers behind the coup, calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People pledged on state television to stabilize the country and oversee a transition to elections within a "reasonable" period. Although the coup attracted global condemnation, the news of Keita's resignation was received with celebration with anti-government demonstrators extending their support to the military.
What is the background?
First, the political crisis in Mali. Political tensions have been brewing ever since the re-election of Keita in 2018. In March 2020, there were renewed tensions, after a dispute over the results of a parliamentary election, where Mali's constitutional court overturned the results of 30 seats, a move that was advantageous for ten candidates in President Keita's party. In June, the opposition, under the "5 June Movement" (M5-RFP) which is made up of religious leaders, politicians and civil society members, took to the streets demanding the resignation of Keita, accusing him of allowing the country's economy to collapse and mishandling of the already worse security situation especially the deadly violence associated with Islamic extremists and ethnic separatists. Due to this turmoil, the regional bloc, Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) called for the creation of a "consensus government of national unity"; however, this was followed by massive protests from the Opposition.
Second, the anger against the President was not limited to civilians. The military had its own grievances which included lack of salary payment and complaints about the government indifference about soldier deaths. The inability of the government to resolve the crisis is likely to have pushed the military into action.
Third, Mali is no stranger to political unrest. The 2020 coup comes eight years after Mali's last coup in 2012 which saw Malian soldiers overthrow the then-president Amadou Toumani Toure after they revolted in the camp to protest against the government's inability to manage the rebel groups in the north and over elite corruption.
What does it mean?
A coup once again has resulted in destabilization of Mali, leaving the country's Presidency, and stability in a mess. As uncertainty looms large, with no clear agenda or solution, Mali will only be pushed further into chaos. The absence of a strong leader with a popular appeal could also have devastating consequences not only for stability in the country but for the wider region. Further, whether the military can be trusted to keep up to its claims remains a question to be answered.
As the insurgency in northern Mali has spread into the country's central regions and into Niger and Burkina Faso, which has become the epicentre of violence. There are major doubts about what happens now with the counter-insurgency efforts by international players such as France and the US in the region.
Most countries in North Africa face challenges due to the unstable status of democracy, economic inequality and religious and ethnic insurgency which persist across the region. Further, the region has a long history of strongmen who have spent decades in power. Some are still in power; it is the fight against these strongmen that often leads these coup attempts plunging the country into chaos.