Political Unrest In Mali Spills Over Into Violence

A protest organised by what is becoming known as the “June 5th movement” in the Malian capital of Bamako has seen at least four people killed and twenty others wounded. In response to the protest, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has now dissolved the country’s constitutional court. The movement, with the well-known scholar, Mahmoud Dicko, as its figurehead, has been coalescing in recent weeks to form an opposition coalition against President Keita. The protest has gathered thousands of civilians and political opponents in Bamako to pressure Keita into resignation. Under his administration, Mali has been wracked by entrenched intercommunal violence, staggering economic inequality, and alleged corruption within the government.

Since early June, Mali has witnessed three separate demonstrations, and each of which were sparked by the coalition’s dismissal of concessions offered by President Keita, which the protesters deem as weak and lacking in substance. Political tension between President Keita and the opposition coalition has been in place for several months since a contentious legislative election back in March. However, the most recent protest, beginning on Friday 10th July and lasting over the weekend, was unique in that it took place in the capital and turned violent quickly.

Protesters targetted various symbolic buildings of the state, including parliament and the recording headquarters of Mali’s state broadcast station. The scenes became chaotic with protesters taking over key routes in the city and building barricades with burning tires to block main roads, prompting the police to fire tear gas into the crowds. On Sunday, more crowds assembled for the funerals of the four people killed in the violence as a tense atmosphere gripped the city. Many sources are reporting that the death count has been underreported, and a worker at one hospital in Bamako suggests that as many as 11 civilians have been killed during the protests.

In response to this pressure, President Keita has dissolved the country’s constitutional court. On top of this, he has announced he will follow the recommendations made by the Economic Community of West African States to re-run the legislative elections that created the controversy back in March. However, these concessions have been accompanied by a brutal crackdown on the June 5th Movement with six members of the opposition coalition were reportedly detained. It appears that Keita’s actions to appease his angry people are too little and too late. Opposition leaders have described the President’s latest concessions as inadequate, and they will not stop until he resigns from office.

The political predicament Keita now faces is totally of his own doing. He has ducked and avoided opportunities for meaningful dialogue with his opponents, hoping that the problem might go away. Instead, he should have addressed the very real issues of economic hardship and intercommunal violence that has affected so many Malian innocent lives. This failure to do so has spawned an infuriated population who see protests as their only effective vehicles for change. In order to prevent further bloodshed, Keita must recognize the illegitimacy of his position, make plans to step down from power, and implement a structured strategy of democratization to provide representation for each of Mali’s political groups.