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Mali widens crackdown on politics, media

April 13, 2024

Mali's ruling junta has imposed bans on the activities of political parties and media coverage of political life. Suppression in Mali has been systematic since the military took power in a coup in 2020.

Mali's junta leader Assimi Goita
Mali's junta leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, has signed a decree suspending political activities in the West African countryImage: Alexander Ryumin/TASS Host Photo Agency via REUTERS

The leader of the military junta in MaliColonel Assimi Goita, has long been accused of not being genuinely interested in a "return to democracy."

On Thursday, Goita issued a decree suspending all political activities in the restive West African nation. The ban applies "until further notice and across the entire country" and affects "political parties and associations with a political character."

Government spokesperson Abdoulaye Maiga justified the move in a statement read on state television on Wednesday night, citing the need to maintain "public order."

Media silenced

Also on Thursday, Mali's high authority for communication ordered all media — whether television stations, radio stations, newspapers or online services — to cease all reporting and publication on the activities of political parties or associations.

Journalist associations, civil society representatives and NGOs, as well as opposition parties, protested against the latest measures by the Malian leadership.

Mali's Government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga announced that all reporting on political issues would be banned until further notice
Government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga announced that all reporting on political issues would be banned until further noticeImage: Xinhua News Agency/picture alliance

The president of the Convergence for the Development of Mali (CODEM) party, Housseini Amion Guindo, called for "civil disobedience until the fall of the illegal and illegitimate regime." 

Mohamed Cherif Kone, a judge who was dismissed after rebelling against the junta, also called for civil disobedience.

"For us Malians, allowing this dictatorship to prosper is not an option," he wrote on various social media platforms. The government has been "disqualified" to speak on behalf of Mali since March 26, he added.

Opposition voices largely suppressed

The United Nations has sharply criticized the new directive, saying it is "deeply concerned."

Mali's junta must "immediately" lift the suspension of political parties' and media activities, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Thursday on X, formerly Twitter.

On April 1, more than 80 political parties and civil groups used a joint statement to call for presidential elections and a swift end to military rule.

Under pressure from regional leaders, Mali's junta, which came to power in a 2020 coup, had previously pledged to hold elections and hand over power to a civilian government by March 26. These promises, however, were not kept.

Mali has been ruled by military juntas since coups in 2020 and 2021. The deteriorating security situation has been exacerbated by a humanitarian and political crisis, with opposition voices largely suppressed since then.

Withdrawal of Western troops

Since the coup, the Malian army has systematically turned away from European partners like its former colonial power France and instead allied itself with Russian mercenaries.

Bundeswehr soldiers pick up the German flag at the camp in Gao, Mali
Germany deployed roughly 20,000 soldiers to Mali over the course of the MINUSMA missionImage: Nana Ehlers/Bundeswehr/dpa/picture alliance

France withdrew its last soldiers from Mali in August. Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, was still involved in a UN stabilization mission (MINUSMA) there at the time, but withdrew the last German peacekeepers in December.

Germany's Defense Ministry said roughly 20,000 military personnel had served in Mali over the years.

'Setback for freedom of expression and assembly'

Most Malian NGOs, such as the fact-checking platform Benbere Mali, have expressed shock over the decision. Abdoulaye Guindo, the head of Benbere, which connects young bloggers across the country, is pessimistic about the future.

"We are very concerned and do not know how we can continue our activities. So we are worried. This measure by the government marks a setback for freedom of expression and assembly in our country," he told DW.

"Just in June 2023, we adopted a new constitution. And in this constitution, the authorities vigorously reaffirmed Mali's commitment to republican values. So the authorities should reconsider their decision."

Several civil society associations have already been dissolved by the ruling military, and individuals deemed too critical have had problems with the justice system since the coups.

Malian authorities have been criticized for being particularly harsh on individuals from the opposition spectrum, accusing transitional President Assimi Goita of "dictatorial tendencies" for repeatedly postponing presidential elections and the return to constitutional order.

In recent months alone, four civil society associations, including the Malian Association of Students, have been dissolved under the pretext of "public unrest." Their common denominator was the demand for upcoming free elections.

In February 2023, rioters prevented a meeting of the "February 20 Appeal to Save Mali," an opposition platform, at the press house in Bamako. This group had criticized the planned constitutional referendum by the junta.

In early March 2024, Aguibou Bouare, the president of the National Human Rights Commission, expressed concern about "serious threats to the exercise of certain civil and political rights, particularly freedom of assembly."

German soldiers leave Mali as MINUSMA ends

Edited by: Keith Walker