Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, unfortunately, found himself facing the wrong end of the gun barrel and was compelled to resign as officers from the higher echelons of the armed forces initiated a coup on the morning of August 18th. What started with a few gunshots at the army barracks outside the Bamako, soon saw soldiers roll into the capital city in tanks and take control of the state, effectively overthrowing the civilian government. The recent events are almost like deja vu of what the country experienced in 2012. Having gained control over the levers of power, the military arrested the President, who had himself entered office seven years ago on the waves of an unconstitutional takeover. While in custody, the President made his first appearance to deliver his official resignation speech in which he called for a complete cessation of bloodshed during this period of unconstitutional transition. Taking the stage after the President, the coup leaders assured the citizens that they would adhere to the 2015 Peace Agreement with the Northern Armed Groups and collaborate with International Counter-Terrorism Forces. However, keeping in mind past coups in the regions and how the 2012 Tuareg Rebellion ushered in a fragile political environment, concerns have been raised pertaining to the effect of the current coup on the country and the Sahel region as a whole.
Background of the coup
Mali, a Francophone country, has not for the first time experienced an unconstitutional transition of power. The year 2012, has been a watershed moment in the country’s political history. The coup in 2012 led to the election of the just-deposed President Keita. Once in office, Keita’s true colors started to surface, and he was soon regarded as an ineffective leader, who had failed to provide the economic stability and physical security that the country needed. Mali’s almost decade long experience of political upheaval started with the coup in 2012, as it created a power vacuum, which was effectively exploited by Islamic fundamentalist groups, by aligning themselves with ethnic militias and capturing territories in the North of the country. The country’s civilian and military leadership have spent the better half of the decade keeping a check on rising Islamic tendencies. Unfortunately, the violence has only risen over the years, resulting in mounting casualties and forced internal and external displacement of people.
The country has also noted a manifold increase in contentious activities, most common of them being protests in large cities. One of the immediate causes leading to a string of protests around the country was the decision by the constitutional court to overturn the provisional results of March’s legislative elections, which led to Keita’s party winning 10 more seats in Parliament. What is astonishing is that unlike coups, in general, the Junta seems to have the support of the country’s citizenry. Looking back at the last decade and the political and economic struggles that the people have endured, such a trend is to be expected. However, less enamoured by the coup is the United Nations that had 15,000 peacekeeping troops in the country, France which has about 5,000 military personals in the country, and the ECOWAS, which has taken drastic decisions to impose border restrictions and halt all financial and monetary dealings with the country.
Effect on Peace and Security
Apart from the obvious domestic ramification that followed the recent transition of power in the country, one of the greatest concerns is regarding the future of peacekeeping operations in Mali. The country under the reign of Keita was home to several international troops from France, America and at the same time, transnational bodies such as the United Nations Peacekeeping force. In the case of France, the new developments offer a dilemma, whether the French government will find a favourable partner in the new Malian leadership or whether they will choose to conduct their operations independent of the Junta’s control and influence. However, what has got international actors and scholars worried about is America’s redefined role in Mali’s future. America has been the linchpin of all counter-insurgency operations in Mali. By law, the US is not supposed to provide military assistance in the form of aid and troops to any government formed as a result of a coup d’etat. This raises questions as to whether the superpower will cease all efforts to assist Mali, or will bypass its laws to ensure an end to rising Islamic fundamentalism.
The greatest impact of the events that unfolded on the 18th of August has been on the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which is made up of troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritius, and Niger. The member states are considering placing sanctions on Mali and following in the footsteps of the ECOWAS. The current situation has also made us reflect on the refugee situation. Mali houses close to 45000 refugees and has recorded an internal displacement of about 250000 citizens. How the country develops and strengthens its relationship with partner nations in Europe and Africa will be instrumental in deciding the manner in which Mali will deal with its vulnerable population. For European nations, Mali’s security and stability is important as it curtails refugee flows to the southern borders of the continent. However, no concrete decision can be taken until the provisional government highlights its plan for future engagement with countries.
Conclusion and what is next in store for the country
As the clouds of uncertainty gather over the republic, there is an air of uncertainty. There is widespread disagreement, regarding the reinstatement of Keita as the head of state. His ineffective leadership skills have led many to believe that a move of the following nature, will only plunge the country into further chaos. However, of late many have pointed towards Mahmoud Dicko, the leader of the protests as the next in line to lead the country. His widespread support among the civilians and his far-reaching influence over the politics of the country have resulted in him being the de facto ‘kingmaker’. The military leadership that initiated the coup has highlighted its three-year plan to shift to democratic rule and have requested international stakeholders such as the United States and France to continue aiding the country through this difficult time. Countries find themselves in a moral dilemma, as to whether to help the African nation or not. Many have emphasized the point that it is in the best interests of nations to assist Mali, because the last time the country underwent an unconstitutional transition of power, it provided Islamic fundamentalists with a chance to sow the seeds of discord and instability.