Mali Announces Promised Election Amid Strike, Popular Discontent

The interim Malian government has announced elections for February 2022, preceded by a constitutional referendum in October of this year. This announcement follows through on the government’s promise to hold elections within an 18-month timespan of the military coup last August.

Due to poor governance and corruption, and amid economic and security turmoil, the military stepped in to depose the government in August 2021. Bowing to international pressure, an interim government was implemented in October, promising to hold elections within 18 months. It was only until January when the military government completely disbanded, yet there is little difference in terms of who retains a grip on Mali’s government structures.

Popular discontent caused Mali’s transitional prime minister to step down on May 14th—only to be immediately reinstated to form a broad-based government in a cabinet reshuffle, and overseeing the referendum and election. This comes after opponents and the international community criticized the interim government for failing to implement reforms. While military leaders promised a “refounding” of the Malian nation, no previous government officials have been prosecuted and no structural changes have been implemented.

This discontent is exemplified in the public sector strike which began on the Monday following the prime minister’s “stepping down.” A collapse of pay negotiations with the government will shutter banks and offices for four days.

Even though a “broad-based” cabinet reshuffle has been promised, the main opposition group to the government has refused to participate. Known as M5, this group played an important role in protesting the governance of the deposed prime minister and his government. Promised a “refounding,” the Malian nation appears to be tearing at the seams instead.

This leaves a big question: will the interim government (the military government, for all intents and purposes) uphold its promise of a constitutional referendum later this year? Will the promise of elections be upheld within the 18-month timespan? These questions are only going to be answered with time, but the actions of the main civil opposition do not paint a rosy picture.

What’s more is that even if these elections and referendums do happen, nothing is preventing Mali’s new military-political class from maintaining power—whether overtly or covertly. And in fact, the response of the opposition seems to show that this is a common sentiment in Malian politics.

The Sahel, and by extension Mali, is facing incredible humanitarian issues. Recently, the UN reported a record 29 million people residing in six countries of the Sahel region all need humanitarian assistance. With fighting still happening within Mali, the country faces an uphill struggle in every arena.

The people of Mali and the Sahel need strong leaders and international support more than ever, and it’s become apparent that the current Malian leaders are incapable of this. At best, they have been dragging their feet; at worst, they plan to maintain power even after the supposed elections. It is imperative that the opposition group, M5, joins whatever broad-based cabinet that the interim government has planned. Although this carries a danger of muffling any serious opposition to the current establishment, both sides must see that a true “refounding” of the Malian nation will only be possible at the end of such a path.