Mali coup: What’s next?

How to read the current events in Mali, is it “just” a mutiny of unsatisfied soldiers or do you think it could lead to some broader political changes in Mali? What kind of role can ECOWAS, EU countries, especially France, play in solving the crisis? Read few comments.

Gregory Mann, Professor, History Department, Columbia University

This is more than a mutiny, but military officers stage coups for their own reasons and interests—these may overlap with those of some broad part of the population, but they’re not identical. Given the broad political mobilization over the last few months, however, the civilian opposition will likely have an important voice in whatever decisions are made going forward.

ECOWAS mediation has already failed to resolve the political crisis that Mali has endured over the last several months. US diplomatic intervention, under the current American regime, is not welcome and has proven to be flat-footed. France is widely held to be a duplicitous player in the broader security crisis (the French army has also recently arrested a Malian officer for arms-trafficking). In other words, French diplomatic pressure will not be welcome, and may backfire. Mali’s neighbors will need to take the lead in offering counsel to resolve this political crisis, and to work toward disentangling the situation without further bloodshed (after 11 protestors were killed in July).

Magnus NorellAdjunct Scholar , The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Senior Fellow, European Foundation for Democracy (EFD)

I think it’s clearly much more than “just” another mutiny, even though this coup resembles what happened before in 2012, starting at the same base – Kati army camp – north of Bamako, when the government was overthrown and leading up to Keita becoming President in 2013.

Mali is struggling with the Pandemic, wide-spread corruption and the on-going threat from militant Islamists, which has become much worse during the last few years, despite French and American military aid.

The present government has been seen as incompetent in handling all these crises and I think it finally boiled over. At the same time, there is no question that these protests, leading up to Keita’s resignation, drew strength from the main opposition-figure in Mali, the Imam Mahmoud Dicko. When his movement (or rather network of supporters) – CMAS – joined forces with the June 5-movement – the so called “Rally of Patriotic Forces” – it gained a lot of influence.

Whether this will be enough to usher in (needed) political changes is however doubtful. The government hasn’t controlled the whole of Mali’s in many years and the Islamist insurgency is worse than ever (which is part of why people are protesting), and the chaos brought about of both the current problems and the coup, has really left Mali in a very difficult position.

Furthermore, the Army has been better at killing its own people than in fighting the rebels, and without the French intervention in 2012, Bamako would have been overrun as well (France still have 5100 soldiers in the region). And the fragility in the Sahel means that a coup and/or violence in any country in the neighborhood will spread to others. With the coup, a power vacuum has opened up and that is bound to inject even more regional instability, with severe negative consequences for the fight against the Islamist insurgency.

Dicko, who is in many ways the face of the opposition to the government, is himself a Salafi, and in many ways close to the ideology of the Islamists. His very conservative views on women (in 2009 he helped pressure the government not to expand the rights of women) and statements to the effect that the insurgency is punishment for alcohol consumption and homosexuality, is not necessarily helping things.

Also, earlier he tried to present himself as a mediator between the government (initially he supported Keita) and the rebels, but this has not lowered the tensions, so far at least.

The last time around, in 2012, protests from both ECOWAS- countries and the EU (mainly France), helped to restore some semblance of political order, but it didn’t last, as is obvious now.

And just like the coup in 2012, the African Union suspended Mali and ECOWAS closed their borders with Mali. The intervention then was intended to prevent exactly the kind of situation the region now faces, with more unrest and a sharp rise in deaths linked to the Islamist insurgency.

Since this is a regional crisis as much as a Malian one, it will be a very tall order to turn things around again. As stated, the insurgency has spread to neighboring countries and the Islamist rebels has used the Pandemic to expand their areas of operation.

So I think a much more muscular and sustained military and political presence is needed, and that in itself is fanning the flames of protests, since resentment with foreign intervention is part of the protests. The trick will be to find new faces without the taint of corruption, who can work with whoever is willing to go that extra mile, for a long time, to help Mali help itself. And at the same time keep a regional eye on things. Right now, the military coup-leaders enjoy support because years of mismanagement and corruption made people angry. But that can easily change if things don’t turn around fairly quickly.

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