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Time to match deeds to words in Mali

Mouhamadou Awal
Mouhamadou Awal
August 21, 2020

Mali is moving towards a dead end. Unless the new government engages all parties in dialogue and makes good on its pledges to restore the country, the democratic transition is bound to fail, says Mouhamadou Awal.

Cartoon depicting the political situation in Mali with the president as a victim of a coup
Image: DW/M. Jumanne

A few days after the putsch, Mali is at an impasse. While the international community has condemned the move by Colonel Assimi Goita, the opposition has pledged to work with the military regime for the establishment of a democratic transition. But how far will this go?

It is time to match deeds with words in Mali after the military regime declaration. The previous leaders had promised to bring peace, stability and security without any concrete result. Back in 2012, the election that brought the now-ousted Ibrahim Boubacar to power promised to restart the country. But what have we seen? The country is in a dire situation. Its economy is struggling, lacking in productivity and diversification. Even worse, security problems and poor governance continue to make the country vulnerable to terrorist groups and attacks on the civilian population.

Given the political and economic instability, the putsch is not a surprise. But if things do not change, Mali will be bound to start all over again one more time. It is time for the military regime to put concrete measures in place.

Revive public institutions

What needs to be done? What should be done? It is clear that everything has to be done over again in Mali because the political system is in a coma. The new administration will have to restructure the judicial system, which has been a playground for the previous executives. Public institutions like hospitals and schools are equally required all over the country. To achieve this, it needs to turn to neighboring Algeria, whose army bears a major responsibility for the instability in northern Mali, including the use of certain terrorist groups.

Mali also needs to reinforce its local armies to fight off the terrorists. At the moment, most troops are inexperienced and poorly supervised. Mali's military needs training to be more effective and committed in its fight against organized crime and in disarming local rebels, whose development is the result of the weakness of the state.

Mouhamadou Awal
Mouhamadou Awal is an editor in DW's Africa departmentImage: DW/A. Salisu

National dialogue

What’s needed is a national dialogue on how to move the country forward towards a stable democracy. It is the responsibility of the military group, now in a position of power, to gather opposition parties, jihadi groups from the north and center of the country together at one table.

The new leader has already achieved an initial victory after the M5-RFP opposition coalition expressed its willingness to work with him. But no sustainable change is possible until inefficient and corrupt political staff has been replaced by a new generation of public servants focused on the betterment of the country.

The opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, who was kidnapped by an armed group in March, must be released. His status as the leader of the opposition needs to be formally recognized and protected by the law.

Finally, no lasting change will take place in Mali without involving Imam Mahmoud Dicko, a popular religious figure. The establishment of an advisory council that brings together religious leaders and traditional rulers could also help the new administration better address the population’s interests and needs.

Realigning priorities

But let’s be honest: these are Mali’s priorities and they are not necessarily the same as those of the international community. As long as foreign countries are busy condemning the putsch and Colonel Assimi Goita, it will be nearly impossible for Mali to get ahead. Mali's focus should be on maintaining peace and stability while restoring economic recovery and bolstering its democratic institutions. For this to work, ECOWAS, AU, and the EU all need to throw their support behind Mali and its new government.

France too has its own set of obligations towards Mali. As the former colonizer, it must adopt a policy consistent with promoting the cohesion and modernization of Mali while helping to fight off terrorism in the region.

It’s time for Mali to break with the pattern of everlasting new beginnings and face the challenges head-on. That means engaging in a national dialogue and holding Coronal Goita and the opposition accountable for establishing credible democratic elections and for devising sustainable plans for pulling the country out of poverty.