NIMD’s Sahel Regional Director on Current Events in Mali

By Mirjam Tjassing, Sahel Regional Director at NIMD

For many weeks in the streets of Bamako, Malians were protesting against the regime of Mali’s sitting President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (also known as IBK) due to allegations of corruption and mismanagement on his watch. IBK, who was re-elected for his second Presidential term in 2018, was also facing doubts over the veracity of recent legislative elections, and whether he could lead the army effectively in a longstanding war with religious extremists in Northern Mali.

Events came to a head this week as high-ranking officers staged a coup in the country. Following the coup, IBK dissolved parliament and  resigned from his post. Mali’s last coup took place in 2012, when power again changed hands after the military took action against the government.

What is the current situation in Mali?

Currently in Bamako, people are going about their businesses very much as usual. Things are relatively quiet compared to recent weeks, when tens of thousands of Malians took to the streets repeatedly, protesting. Acts of civil disobedience that had interspersed the demonstrations, such as self-made checkpoints in the streets, seem to have disappeared completely.

Listening to people I’ve met over my years in Mali, the feeling was unanimous that the political situation had become untenable. Mali’s democracy was dysfunctional, based on keeping powerful actors happy through power-sharing deals, as opposed to a ‘public-first’ government that reflects the will of voters. Public dissatisfaction was at an all-time high, and it would have been almost impossible for the opposition movement of religious, political and civil society leaders to back down on its demands for President IBK to step down. Yet the President had the backing of the international community. It was at this moment of impasse that the military intervened.

This week’s coup has brought the resignation that the public were asking for, but now a conversation needs to be had in Mali on where to go from here and how to put the people back at the heart of governance.

What can civil society, and NIMD, do next?

The coup leaders have expressed their commitment to passing on power to a civilian government and organise elections. Elections will be essential, but not enough.

As NIMD we will reach across Malian society to push for a dialogue about how to make this always regrettable coup d’état into an opportunity for deepening democracy and increasing the credibility of Malian institutions.

You can hear more from Mirjam and her analysis of events in Mali in her interview with the BBC World Service (interview begins 49:10)