Political Unrest In Mali Spills Over Into Violence

A protest organized 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. And, in response to this instability and protest, Mali’s 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 as an opposition coalition to President Keita. The protest saw thousands of civilians and political opponents gather in Bamako in attempt to pressure Keita into resignation. Under his government, Mali has been wracked by entrenched inter-communal violence, staggering economic inequality, and alleged corruption inside government.

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

Protesters stormed various symbolic expressions of the state, including parliament and the recording headquarters of Mali’s state broadcaster. The scenes became chaotic, with protesters taking over key routes within city building barricades with burning tires to block a main road. Their actions prompted police to fire tear gas into the sizeable crowds. In one incident, where protesters attempted to take control of two main bridges, there were on the ground clashes with the police and witnesses have described security forces firing live rounds into the crowds. On Sunday, further crowds assembled for the funerals of the four people killed in the violence as a tense atmosphere gripped the city. And certain quarters are suggesting the death count has been underreported, with an official at one hospital in Bamako suggesting that as many as 11 civilians have been killed during the protests.

And now 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 stoked such controversy back in March. However, these concessions have been accompanied by a repressive crackdown on the June 5th Movement with six opposition figures reportedly detained in recent days. And it would appear Keita’s moves to appease his simmering nation are too little, too late. Opposition leaders have described these latest concessions as inadequate and 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 ought to have addressed the very real issues of economic hardship and inter-communal violence that has affected so many innocent Malian lives. This failure to do so has spawned a disaffected population who understand protest and demonstration as the only effective vehicles for change. In order to prevent further bloodshed Keita must concede the illegitimacy of his position, make plans to step down from power, and to implement a structured strategy of democratic renewal which provides a seat at the table for each of Mali’s political groups.