Mali, one of Africa’s prized possessions and once known as the hub of democracy in the continent is facing its worst crisis since 2012. On August 18, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita  and his Prime Minister Boubou Cissé were arrested after some Malian soldiers fired gunshots at a key army base in Kati. The incursion led to a mutiny by another faction of Mali’s armed forces.

The small army town of Kati is located right outside the capital of Bamako and is considered to be one of the most politically important places in the country.

Mali: a History of Never-Ending Problems

Mali is a country which has faced many problems. Islamist insurgency groups, political corruption and mismanagement of basic resources are only some of these issues. There are many militants who returned to the country following the end of Muammar Qaddafi’s reign in Libya in 2011. They were being supplied with weapons to fight the Tuareg rebels in the country’s north.

Nearly half of the country lives in extreme poverty without access to employment, education or healthcare and disruption caused by rebel groups has worsened the situation. The country’s economy is largely dependent on mining, agriculture and gold. Rebel groups in the country say they’ve taken matters into their own hands to fight excessive violence by security forces and widespread corruption by the government.

What Led to the Ouster of Mali’s Government?

In order to understand what led to the ouster of Keita we need to go back to March 2020 when the coronavirus started to spread rapidly across the world. At the same time, parliamentary elections were being held in Mali, where the now deposed president was trying to tighten his grip by gaining the maximum number of seats. The first round of voting went ahead despite the threat of the coronavirus and the frequent attacks by armed groups.

The second round was when all these problems deepened. The second round — which took place at the end of April — was disrupted by numerous incidents which led to the constitutional court overturning the results for 31 key seats and handing these seats to Keita’s Rally for Mali party.

Malians and opposition political parties joined hands in May the following month to form an alliance which was called the “Movement of June 5 – Rally of Patriotic Forces.” The alliance — led by famous Islamic preacher Imam Mahmoud Dicko — called on the president to step down due to his failure in controlling the extensive crises plaguing the country.

Problems Intensify

The months of June and July were extremely troublesome for Mali, with protests — not only in the capital Bamako but across the country — growing violent. The alliance called for civil disobedience and the dissolution of the parliament after Keita floated political reforms. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on politicians to form a unity government but that move was also rejected by protesting opposition groups who wanted the direct removal of Keita from office.

Just earlier this month on August 12, security forces clashed with protesters and fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters at a square in Bamako. Five days later on August 17 the opposition declared that they would not bow down to the pressure imposed by security forces and the Keita government. The very next day, Keita and PM Cissé were both arrested after some soldiers from the army mutinied and detained them.

The International Community’s Involvement in Mali

France is in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane, a counterterrorism operation against Islamic Jihadists who wish to impose their control in the whole Sahel region. France entered Mali in 2013 and has been heavily involved ever since. It also happens to be Mali’s former colonial ruler.

The G5 Sahel force is also another group of players deployed in Mali to monitor developments. The African Union and the United Nations are also playing a significant role in Mali. The UN is overseeing the implementation of the 2015 Accord, better known as the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali resulting from the Algiers Process.

This accord was brought forward to control Islamic and ethnic militias operating in Mali. Like all other deals, this one has also failed to quell unrest. Finally, the United States is also a key player in containing the spread of violence, bloodshed and terror that militia groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have continued to spread in the Islamic Maghreb.

The Aftermath of Keita’s Removal

With millions displaced and thousands killed, the future of Mali is on a knife’s edge. For France, this is an opportunity to fix emerging problems. Its presence in the country could be short-lived following the public uproar against the Malian government and its international partners.

Keita failed to clamp down on corruption by installing allies in the government. Despite numerous attempts to satisfy his citizens he failed miserably, proving that there was no democracy left in the country and showing the instability of the country’s institutions.

What’s Next for Mali?

Mali’s ever-growing problems can only be solved if a variety of genuine policies are implemented and long-awaited reforms are put into practice. It can do this by firstly integrating a peace process which would satisfy all stakeholders; the Mali government, the citizens of the country and the armed groups. Negotiations must take place between these groups to carve out a solution that would be beneficial for long-term survival.

Secondly, there should be new actors in Mali, those who are willing to respect the decisions of their people and are knowledgeable in running a country marred by years of civil wars.

Lastly, there should be new guarantors and the 2015 Accord must be used in a manner which takes the needs and wants of people into consideration. The new guarantors could be the United States or the United Nations which will help implement democratic values and oversee Mali’s reconstruction. Given the prevalence of jihadist and militant groups and its continuing political unrest, the road ahead is likely to be tough, but it can be countered if necessary actions are taken by the right leaders and stakeholders.

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