Mali Coup Leaders Transitional Proposal Suffers SetbackSeptember 15, 2020 in Mali
Nearly a month after a military coup resulted in the removal of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Mali continues to struggle to set in place a transitional period, amidst growing international pressure and fears that jihadist groups will profit from a power struggle. Divisions however emerged over the weekend as just hours after the military junta in power announced their agreement to an 18-month transitional government, the country’s opposition declared its objection to the move. With a meeting due to take place between the regional ECOWAS bloc and Malian authorities on 15 September, questions remain about Mali’s political future.
Talks were held late last week between the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), political leaders and civil society groups, with the aim to forge a path forward. Malian officials are under a 15 September deadline imposed by ECOWAS to name a president and prime minister, with the bloc calling for a 12-month transitional period. ECOWAS has threatened to impose further sanctions on Mali should the deadline pass with no leadership in place. On Saturday 12 September, after three days of discussions, the CNSP agreed to establish an 18-month transitional government until an election could be held. Spokesperson Moussa Camara specified that the interim government would either be led by a military officer or a civilian – a likely sticking point. While ECOWAS, the opposition coalition and the international community have all called for the interim president to be a civilian, the military leadership maintains that a civilian or a soldier can fill the role. The charter for the transition also includes a vice president and transitional council that will serve as the National Assembly. The charter gives control of the defence, security and re-foundation of the state to the vice president. It also states that an interim legislative body is to be established comprising of the opposition coalition, known as the M5-RFP. The agreement effectively moves away from the CNSP’s previous proposal of a three-year transition period and that a new constitution should be written first.
While it briefly appeared that Mali’s political crisis was beginning to get back on track, the M5-RFP announced on Sunday 13 September that it has rejected the transition charter. The coalition, which took part in the negotiations and which led mass protests ahead of last month’s coup, stated that the resulting document was an attempt by military leaders to “grab and confiscate power.” It further disclosed that the charter did not take into account what it said was a majority vote for a civilian interim leader, and “did not reflect the views and decisions of the Malian people.” While the military junta and opposition coalition were initially united in wanting the departure of President Keita, the two groups are increasingly appearing to diverge. Any additional divisions between these two groups are likely to create further instability in Mali, and may result in violent demonstrations and protests amongst locals who are increasingly becoming frustrated with the situation.
The ECOWAS bloc is set to hold a mini-summit on the current situation in Mali on Tuesday 15 September in Ghana. Presidents from six countries in the regional bloc will be in attendance. Issues at the top of the agenda will likely include the timeline of the transitional period, and the fact that it remains longer than the year set by ECOWAS; and who will lead Mali’s transition, with regional leaders having already stated that the leader must be a civilian. Mali’s junta will try to convince regional leaders to accept its road map, though it remains unclear whether a solution will be announced after the summit, including if ECOWAS will accept the 18-month transition period and whether a leadership will be announced, or whether Malian authorities will be forced to go back to the drawing board, and what any delays will have on sanctions that the bloc has threatened to impose. What is evident is that a transitional government needs to be put in place quickly, and it needs to be accepted by all parties to avoid any further tensions and violence. Any delays to having a responsible leadership in place will need to be avoided in order to keep the jihadist threat at bay.
Whatever the final decision on a transitional leader and period, it is evident that the military junta will maintain a relative degree of influence over the transitional government. Even if a civilian leader is chosen, it is likely that they will be close to the junta, and the military is also likely to have a strong presence in other positions of power. It is also likely that the M5-RFP will attempt to have some degree of influence, and will want to have civilian participants within the transitional government that have close links to the opposition coalition. Questions have also emerged about the ongoing peace process, and what impact the transitional period will have on it. The Coordination for the Movement of Azawad had previously signed a peace agreement with the Malian government. While representatives had not travelled to Bamako to participate in recent consultations on the transitional period, the junta had intended to travel to Kidal to hold talks last week, though they were prevented by weather conditions. Sidi Brahim Ould Sidat, the president of the Azawad group, has disclosed that “we have men, weapons and we control two thirds of the country and the CNSP is no more legitimate than us,” adding “we have two choices to make now: either we enter the transition process and have made a new constitution of Mali together in which we recognize ourselves, or we wait after the transition and we continue negotiations with the government that will be put in place.” It is evident that militia groups in Mali are waiting to see the outcome of the transitional process, though either way, Mali’s peace process remains at a standstill for the time being.
Meanwhile the situation on the ground has not improved, with jihadist militants advancing their operations and continuing to launch deadly attacks. In the weeks since the 18 August military coup, at least 9 terror-related attacks have been reported, spanning from the northern desert regions to the central parts of Mali. Targets have included French forces, and local troops. In Bamako, rallies have been held in support of the CNSP and M5-RFP. The Mouvement Populaire du 4 September (MP4), a new formation that supports the ruling junta, has called for a rally on Tuesday 15 September at the Monument de l’Independence to express support for Mali’s de facto authority, the CNSP, while the Popular African Youth Movement (MPJA) has called for a sit-in in front of the French Embassy on 17 September to denounce French military forces in the country.