Mali: A New Government, But What Next?

Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, has appointed the former Minister of Finance Boubou Cisse to the position of Prime Minister and invited him to form government. This follows the resignation of Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga and his government on April 19, which was announced with no formal reason. However, Prime Minister Maiga had been facing protests across the country following a spate of ethnically motivated violence, including a massacre in late March which killed over 160 people (see the OWP report here).

The new Prime Minister is under pressure to halt the interethnic violence and clamp down on al-Qaeda and Islamic State forces as fighting continues across the country; another 15 people were killed in an attack yesterday (April 28) in the Mopti region. Prime Minister Cisse is seen as a candidate of appeasement who was appointed after consultation with various civil society actors. Particularly noteworthy is his Fulani ethnic background, the same as those who were killed in the March massacre.

Violence in Mali has been on the rise since 2012, following a conflict with ethnic Tuareg separatists and Islamist fighters (with links to al-Qaeda) in the northern provinces of the country. While international powers have provided support (including a French military intervention in 2013), tensions are still running high and often boil over into violence against both military and civilian targets. The United Nations has also been involved in the country, including sending peacekeepers and technical staff as part of the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and recently through imposing sanctions on rebels in the region. In January and February this year alone, the U.N. documented seven violent episodes in the central region of the country and counted almost 50 civilian casualties. Mali has also had the greatest casualties of any U.N. peacekeeping mission every year since 2012.

The new Prime Minister will have a difficult time pursuing the end of the conflict, as the boundaries of the French colonial state still foster divisions between ethnic groups; attempts at decentralization and giving those in the North more autonomy have yet to be properly implemented, and have been criticised across the country for supposedly being hijacked by political elites. One of the signatories to the Peace Accords, the Coordination of the Movements of Azawad, has attempted to impose strict laws in the province of Kidal, including bans on alcohol, regulations on transport and movement, establishing residence permits, and redefining the role of religious authorities in society. This was done against the express demands of the central government (who claimed it was a violation of the peace accord), leading Foreign Policy to call it a de facto independence announcement of the region.

The resignation of former Prime Minister Maiga following a national response to the continuing violence demonstrates the impact the conflict is having on the people of Mali. However, changing governments is rarely a successful means of ending conflict, and Prime Minister Cisse will have to solidify his control over the government and attempt to improve on his predecessors efforts to stop the violence with the same resources and capacity at his disposal. His main advantage is his connection to the most problematic region and ethnic group, which will hopefully help him find ways to create meaningful compromises and broker a (probably fragile) peace.