Civilian-Military Standoff Post-Coup Threatens Mali’s Economic and Political Health

Colonel Goïta addressing the press following the coup.

Following months of protests against the Malian government under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), on Aug 18, the military staged a coup d’état. Led by Assimi Goïta, the 37-year-old colonel declared the formation of a National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). These protests have come at a time where Mali is facing a growing al-Qaeda linked insurgency and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mali had been roiled by protests since early June following accusations of fraudulent electoral practices. In the lead-up to the elections, members of the opposition had been harassed, culminating with the abduction of opposition leader Soumalia Cissé on March 26. Furthermore, Parliamentary elections had already been delayed from Nov. 2018 to Mar. 2020. 

Voter intimidation marred the first round of elections resulting in a turnout of over 12% in the capital city of Bamako. A month later the constitutional court revised the results of approximately 30 parliamentary seats giving President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s (IBK) party, Rally for Mali, a majority in Parliament. 

Following the court’s ruling, protestors immediately took the streets and a coalition of religious leaders, opposition politicians, and civil society took shape. Calling themselves the M5-RFP (Mouvement du 5 juin Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques), the heterogeneous coalition is led by Imam Mahmoud Dicko. Security forces responded with force with Human Rights Watch reporting the death of at least 14 civilians by their hand.

Imam Mahmoud Dicko addressing a crowd. Photo:  Adama Diarra | Reuters
Imam Mahmoud Dicko addressing a crowd.

IBK, in an attempt to appease protestors, dissolved the constitutional court on Jul. 12; however, this still did not meet the requirements of protesters demanding his resignation. On the morning of Aug. 18, coup leaders raided a military camp in Kati, 15 km from the capital. 

While not initiated by the M5-RFP coalition, supporters backed the military-led coup and the arrest of the President. However, this relationship diverged quickly as on Sept. 15, the coalition announced their rejection of the military junta’s political charter. The relationship has not improved as scheduled talks have been cancelled by the military junta.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded swiftly to the coup as well, placing sanctions on all financial flows and shutting their borders with the land-locked nation. The sanctions have since taken their effect, with trade revenue down 16.7% and credit-rating agency Moody’s downgrading their credit rating to poor

The military junta has since taken steps to improve their relationship with ECOWAS, appointing Bah N’daw as President of the Transition. N’daw had previously served as Minister of Defence from 2014 to 2015. However, his credentials as a former military man have come under scrutiny, discharging with the rank of colonel-major from the Malian Air Force. 

Subsequently, on Sept. 27, the transitionary President Bah N’daw appointed civilian Moctar Ouane as the Prime Minister of the transition government. The former minister of foreign affairs had been chosen over 14 other candidates of the M5-RFP opposition coalition.    

Despite the appointment of full civilian Moctar Ouane, ECOWAS has still refused to lift sanctions on Mali. A statement issued by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, serving as ECOWAS envoy to Mali, reiterated the need for “a full civilian government.”  

The military junta had promised a transitionary period of 18 months in its charter, vesting control of defence, security, and refoundation of the state with Vice-President Colonel Malick Diaw. It remains to be seen what the role of M5-RFP coalition leaders will be, and if the military junta intends to include them in the transitory government and the subsequent administration.