What Mali Needs After This Week’s Military Coup

On August 18th, after months of protests and unrest, Mali military officers staged a coup that resulted in President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s resignation. The military felt the need to step in after months of mass protests over a lack of public security failed to get enough attention from the government. The protestors, who were angry with President Keïta’s inability to quell inter-communal and jihadist violence across the nation, became further enraged when several protestors were shot and killed last month. Those in support of the coup hope to establish full civilian rule in Mali now that the controversial president has left. While the coup might feel like a step in the right direction for Malian protestors, a lack of leadership will only create more instability in the region, creating an increased risk of extremist interference.

Kyle Murphy, an employee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, elaborates on the increased threat of extremist violence in Mali. As Murphy explains, “[I]nstability in the region allows violent extremists to prey on populations and advance their objectives, and displaces millions of civilians.” Jihadi extremists have already wreaked havoc on the region, and Murphy worries that the coup will only encourage this behaviour. Others have expressed similar concern for the safety of Malian citizens. The head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mali, Klaus Spreyermann, emphasized, “It remains the responsibility of authorities to assist [people affected by conflict], no matter the changes of leadership in Bamako.” In Spretermann’s eyes, Mali is in desperate need of a strong government, and it is now the responsibility of the military to establish it.

It is important to realize that neither the political handlings of President Keïta nor the interference of the military coup have established peace within Mali. The Malian people are still in danger, living in fear of extremist attacks. President Keïta failed to prevent violence from affecting the lives of his citizens. The military coup, a violent act in itself, has left the Malian government in an unsteady, transitional space. In order to establish greater peace in Mali, military leaders need to fully commit to democracy and push for the instatement of a reliable president who will hold the people’s best interests in mind. Without such a figure, Malian instability will affect not only the country’s own citizens, but also those across the West African region who have similarly been plagued by extremist activity.

Concerns for public safety are certainly warranted considering that extremists have taken advantage of an unstable Malian government before. The New Humanitarian warns of this kind of “security vacuum”: in 2012 when a Malian rebellion similarly overthrew the government, jihadists were quick to take over parts of the country. Those areas that were placed under extremist rule were forced to follow a very strict and threatening interpretation of Islamic law. While many of these jihadists have since been pushed out of northern Malian cities with the help of French troops, they have continued to launch attacks on the Malian military and incite violence between ethnic groups in central Mali. For eight years, the country has faced mass bloodshed, while the president continues to make inadequate responses.

Given the terror Mali has experienced in the past decade, it is understandable why the military staged a coup against President Keïta. The Malian people deserve to feel safe in their own country and secure in the knowledge that their government will help protect them. Nevertheless, Mali has much work to do before the nation can reach such a peaceful state. Strong leadership needs to be established immediately, and extremist activity needs to be better regulated. Not only Mali but the West African region will benefit from a stronger Malian leadership. If military leaders fail to establish such a regime, Mali will only regress further away from peace.

Lily Gretz