While the world is engrossed in news covering the coronavirus pandemic, Africa’s 8th largest country is on the verge of the worst political crisis after month-long demonstrations wreaked havoc. Perched between seven countries in West Africa, and with a population of over 19 million half of which depends on food aid, Mali’s turmoil is in need of an urgent solution.
While the regional body ECOWAS promised “to take strong measures that will contribute to the resolution of the crisis” the situation in the country seems far from resolved and threatens to spread across borders if not contained. For decades, Mali has been marred by ethnic conflicts, coups, economic collapse, and corruption all of which have worsened under President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s rule.
The last straw was drawn in March 2020 when parliamentary elections were rigged to allow 30 of Keita’s loyalists and relatives to win seats. In a move to force the resignation of Keita, a coalition of opposition parties led by Mahmoud Dicko rounded tens of thousands of civilians and took to the streets in protests that escalated and became deadly. 11 died and thousands were injured after the army fired five rounds of ammunition in a bid to disperse protesters.
This further aggravated the people of Mali and their demands not only called for the dissolution of the current government but also for the prosecution of the army personnel responsible for the killings. Perhaps worried for the security of their own countries, ECOWAS members scrambled to resolve the matter by holding emergency one-day summits on 24 and 27 July.
The regional body recommended Mali to “form a Government of National Unity (GNU), to hold new bi-elections and to set up an enquiry into the death of the 11 civilians.” “We take note, but we really believe that this is not the will of the people, it is not what we expect,” said opposition spokesperson Nouhom Togo who is convinced that the will of the people is to remove Keita from power.
While ECOWAS says the removal of Keita is unconstitutional, the opposition is adamant that it will not rest until a transition government is put in place. “There is a small chance this plan might work. Some of the opposition groups I spoke to today are saying perhaps if they are given a substantive position in the government they will consider the proposal,” commented Manu Lukunze a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.
The general sentiment is that President Keita’s regime is the root cause of Mali’s problems. Since his election to power in 2013, millions have fled their homes due to ethnic conflicts. And the economy has become one of the worst on the continent with the average worker earning less than US$120 per month.
President Keita, on the other hand, claims he is keen “to take all measures” in his power to resolve the matter. As of 27 July, he had dissolved the constitutional court and announced that he was willing to have a re-run of the March bi-elections. He also met with opposition leader Dicko to discuss a way forward.
“We talked about everything that concerns this crisis and the country in general. I think that with the will of everyone and all parties concerned, we will, God willing, find the solution” said Dicko after the meeting. Dicko says he does not “have any issues” with ECOWAS proposals although he wishes they were not vague.