In late May, 38-year-old Colonel Assimi Goita staged a military coup in Mali for the second time in nine months. President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested by soldiers after Goita was not consulted on a cabinet reshuffle. Following international pressure, Goita has affirmed that democratic elections will occur as planned next year. He also appointed a civilian as Prime Minister, alongside himself as President. The United States trained Goita as part of its training programme.
Coups are evidently a relatively frequent occurrence in Mali. Six have occurred since independence in 1960. Last August, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was ousted from the presidency by Goita following mass protests over corruption and the persisting insurgency. These coups have met condemnation from the international community, specifically the UN Security Council, African Union and Economic Community of West African States. In 2012, Tuareg nomadic tribes had seized Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the north, leading to Amadou Sanogo launching a coup. Power was restored into civilian hands following negotiations. The failure of a civilian government to control the militant insurgency, economic issues and address corruption has created room for military takeovers. Civilians have suffered from fighting, with almost a million people fleeing their homes since 2013. In 2020, more than 2,800 people were killed in the Malian conflict.
The government has been struggling to respond to the conflict involving Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in northern and central Mali while being part of a wider conflict in West Africa’s Sahel. These militants have engaged in summary executions of unarmed civilians accused of contacting the Malian government. Since the start of 2021, jihadist attacks on civilians in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have increased significantly. At the start of June, 100 civilians were massacred in an overnight attack in Burkina Faso. Basic security is clearly lacking. The U.S. also has 1,500 troops in the Sahel and a drone base in nearby Niger. The five-thousand-troop strong G5 Sahel Force has also been operating in the region since 2017. France has approximately 5,100 troops fighting militants across Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. Pape Samba Kane, a Senegalese journalist, suggests France’s involvement is significantly attributable to access to gold and uranium mines. He also believes France was instrumental in the 2014 peace deal between the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) and the Malian government. This deal essentially gave France more control over the devolved Kidal region, with a resource motivation quite apart from ensuring peace. Kidal holds significant gold reserves and Timbuktu is also resource-rich. Indeed, French involvement in the region cannot be fully divorced from its West African colonialism. The arbitrary and straight borders of Mali are another tangible reflection of colonialism’s role in the present. Therefore, Malians face ramifications from both past and present colonialism.
Malians also interact with international peacekeeping forces. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has been operating since 2013 following the failed Tuareg rebellion in Mali’s north. With a total force of 18,318, MINUSMA is the second largest UN Peacekeeping mission today. It also has the highest fatality rate, currently at 245 fatalities. The mission has encountered allegations of sexual assault and fuel fraud. MINUSMA investigators also found France bombed and killed 19 civilians at a wedding ceremony in January, alleging Islamist terrorists were present.
The European Union has temporarily suspended training missions for Mali’s military and civilian security forces following the coup. Approximately 18,000 Malian soldiers have received such training since 2013. This has been part of the EU Training mission, which currently has approximately 1,100 troops from across the EU. Of note is the diverse range of 25 EU member states contributing troop numbers. It would appear the EU has been building the security capacity of Malian forces to indirectly defend the EU’s southern flank. If Mali becomes a failed state, it could become a springboard for terrorism and will ultimately push more migrants into the EU. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya could see a further influx of civilians escaping indiscriminate terrorist attacks and systemic governance failures. Migration from North and Central Africa is firmly controlled by the EU, as seen in the rapid deportation of migrants from Spain’s Ceuta enclave.
In addition to the conventional conflicts, Mali has been simultaneously dealing with COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 cases in Mali is low at 14,300 confirmed cases to date. However, this is subject to the extent of testing. Furthermore, only 0.2% of the Malian population is fully vaccinated and it relies on the COVAX programme. Vaccine hesitancy has also been an issue in Mali. A UN report has found conflict, COVID-19 and worsening economic circumstances are causing child trafficking to increase in Mali. Therefore, the problems facing Mali are varied, fundamental and straining the ability of the state to provide basic governance solutions. Indeed, as the report stated, state authorities have themselves been implicated in child trafficking.
Due to inadequate economic opportunity, many are turning to smuggling migrants and drugs as a means of earning a living. It remains to be seen how the military coup could address such socio-economic issues, which exist beyond the realm of weaponry and militaries. Mali is plagued by significant issues and a diverse range of actors who seek to grow their power. Amidst this, one cannot lose hope for negotiation, compromise and peace.
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