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Mali's junta and opposition on diverging paths

Abu-Bakarr Jalloh
September 15, 2020

Mali's political crisis deepened when the opposition rejected the junta-backed postcoup charter. The dangerous stalemate is about more than whether a civilian or a soldier should lead the transition.

Malick Diaw the vice president of the military junta in Mali
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Cattani

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) convened in Accra, Ghana, on Tuesday to discuss the political stalemate in Mali and possibly issue further sanctions. The military junta has missed ECOWAS's one-week ultimatum to designate a civilian leader who would lead a one-year transition period. The bloc had stopped financial transfers into Mali and neighboring member states closed their borders with the country.

Many Malians believe that ECOWAS did not play a constructive role in the conflict. They want to solve the problems on their own. The meeting in Accra were on the minds of many in Mali's capital, Bamako.

"Mali is an important member of ECOWAS. When a coup occurs, it is normal for sanctions to be imposed," said Bamako resident Sadibou. "We expected this, but we ask ECOWAS to take all views into account. If we can reach an agreement, ECOWAS should support us."

"ECOWAS should support Mali," Maimuna, another city resident, says. "With everything that is happening, they should really support Mali and not impose any more sanctions, nothing at all."

Nigeria's former president Goodluck Jonathan (left) and ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou
ECOWAS mediators were in Mali just days before President Keita was deposedImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Civilian or military leader?

Mali's military junta, which overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 18, had backed a charter that outlined an 18-month transition government. According to the charter, the government will be in place for 18 months comprised of 25 members, along with a transitional council representing Mali's numerous ethnic groups.

The charter allows for a president — as the head of state — as well as a vice president. They cannot stand for reelection after the term of the transitional government lapses. Both will be selected by a council set up by the junta.

On Sunday, the opposition M5-RFP coalition rejected the junta's postcoup charter. "M5-RFP distances itself from the resulting document which does not reflect the views and decisions of the Malian people," said the coalition in a statement.

M5-RFP said the discussions took place in an environment of "intimidation, anti-democratic and unfair practices worthy of another era." The coalition includes opposition groups, religious leaders and civil figures who organized months of protests against the former president.

Men and women seated in at a conference center
Delegates at the conference in Bamako to discuss Mali's transitional governmentImage: picture-alliance/AP

Power play in Bamako

After the coup, the military received strong backing from opposition and civil society. However, their paths increasingly began diverging after it became clear that each group wanted more than the mere ouster of President Keita, according to DW's Bram Posthumus in Bamako.

"M5 is not happy about the level of recognition from the military," Posthumus said. "The military has paid lip service to their existence. M5 and the military have never been singing from the same hymn sheet."

Read more: Mali junta frees deposed President Keita

The charter was penned after three days of negotiations with M5-RFP and other political parties. A major discrepancy between the negotiations and the charter was the pressure for a civilian interim president.

The negotiations agreed that the candidate would be a civilian, but when published the charter said it could be a civilian or a soldier. "The desire to grab and confiscate power for the benefit of the CNSP does not justify the means," said the coalition's statement, referring to what the junta calls itself as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP).

But not everyone in Bamako share the coalition's opinion. "The M5-RFP are making themselves too big," says 68-year-old truck driver Ibrahim Diallo. "It is undisputed that the movement brought about the change. I'm sure everyone agrees on that, even the military. It is best now if we try to unite so that our country can move forward, so that things can move forward." Sixteen-year-old Mendy Berthe doesn't really trust the coalition either. "I think the military will be up to the task," she said.

Malick Diaw
Colonel Malick Diaw is vice president of the junta led by Colonel Assimi GoitaImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Konate

The M5-RFP claims to be representing the general opinion of all Malians. But a "recent opinion poll shows that the majority of Malians are in favor of a military-led transitional government because they do not trust politicians in the M5 movement," Posthumus says.

For Eveline Jacques of the Mali Emergence party, it is not so much the civilian or military profile that counts in leading the transition: "Civilian or military it doesn't matter. It just has to be someone who will get us where we are.''

A civilian leadership is just one of the range of major differences between the military CNSP and the opposition M5-RFP. The junta's main frustration has been the government's response to Islamist jihadists and several pro-independence uprisings. "The military are very unhappy with the kind of equipment they have to work with," Posthumus says. "The key issue for Mali to get of this situation is not so much the politics, it is the security situation. That means to put an end to the roadside bombs and terror attacks by jihadists, who have weapons far more superior to that of the Malian army."  

Read more: Violent response to anti-government protests in Mali

Former Prime Minister Moussa Mara told DW that he is optimistic that the junta and the opposition coalition could put their differences aside: ''The aim is for us to succeed in bringing Malians together and also work with the international community. So we trust that the CNSP and all leading politicians will work to ensure that cooperation with ECOWAS takes place under the right conditions."