On Monday 21 September, the military junta in power in Mali named the country’s post-coup interim government, though questions have emerged whether the West African ECOWAS bloc will accept the transitional leadership, given that it only partly meets conditions set by the regional bloc.
The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), which is led by Col. Assimi Goïta, announced Monday on Mali’s state television ORTM that retired Maj. Col. Bah N’Daw, 70, has been named president of the transitional government, which is set to be inaugurated on Friday 25 September. Although technically Bah N’Daw is a civilian, he is both a retired military officer and a former defence minister who served under former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. He also served as an aide to Mali’s former military dictator, Moussa Traoré, who died last week. On Monday, Goïta also confirmed that he would serve as N’Daw’s vice president, in a move that only partly meets conditions set by ECOWAS and which cement’s the CNSP’s desire to maintain some degree of influence and control over Mali’s transitional period. Both men were appointed by a panel set up by the CNSP.
Since Monday’s announcement of Mali’s transitional government, questions have emerged about what role civil society groups and political leaders had in selecting the interim leadership. Notably this concerns the main opposition group M5-RFP. While Goïta disclosed that members of the movement were involved in choosing N’Daw to lead the transition, one of the M5-RFP’s leaders, Choguel Maïga, has denied that this was the case. Speaking to reporters, Maïga disclosed that “we were not part of the body that determined the president and vice president. We learned about this decision through social media and the press.” The coalition has led demonstrations over the past several months against the Malian government and former President Keïta. It has also indicated its desire in recent weeks to be part of the transitional government. If the M5-RFP rejects the new interim leadership, this could fuel further tensions and unrest in Mali. Meanwhile on the ground in Bamako, opinions also appear to be divided over the nomination, with the local population split between wanting a civilian or military leader.
What is evident is that the new interim government will maintain strong ties to the army. Furthermore, the decision comes after the junta stated last week that it would prefer the military to run the transitional period. On Monday, Goïta disclosed that “each proposal has its advantages and its disadvantages,” referring to the choice between a civilian or military president, adding that the committee had taken “a global context” into account when selecting N’Daw, in what appears to be a reference to pressure from ECOWAS.
So far, N’Daw has not indicated whether or not he will accept the nomination. Furthermore, while ECOWAS has also yet to comment on Monday’s announcement, Goïta’s installation to become vice president is likely to be quickly rejected by the international community, which for weeks now has called on Mali’s junta to restore civilian rule as soon as possible. The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has also insisted that both the president and vice president of the interim government be civilians. While ECOWAS has previously shown some flexibility, agreeing last week to an 18-month transitional time frame for holding new elections, the regional bloc has stressed that sanctions would only be lifted if a civilian president and vice president were named. ECOWAS has already closed borders to Mali and has imposed sanctions in the wake of the 18 August coup, though it currently remains unclear what additional actions the West African bloc may undertake in the wake of Monday’s announcement. It is however likely that ECOWAS, at a minimum, will show some dissatisfaction with Goïta being named vice president, and at a maximum, maintain its stance on the issue and impose further sanctions on Mali. ECOWAS has already stopped financial and commercial trade with Mali, with the exception for basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, fuel and electricity. Further sanctions however could severely impact the West African country, which is already dealing with a severe economic downturn coupled with the ongoing jihadist insurgency and persistent inter-ethnic violence.
The crucial 15 September deadline to install a transitional government, including a civilian president, passed with Mali being no closer to having a leadership in place that will usher the way for new elections within 18 months. A day after a mini ECOWAS summit in Ghana, Mali’s junta indicated that it was working to respond to the West African bloc’s renewed demands of installing a civilian leadership. Questions however remain on who will lead the country and there is growing concern of a political standoff and a further terrorist threat to regional security.
Frustrated with a lack of progress, the West African ECOWAS bloc appears to be growing impatient with the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), currently in power in Mali. After meeting with junta leaders in Accra, Ghana on Tuesday, six leaders from ECOWAS called on the CNSP to nominate a civilian transitional government within days not weeks, setting a new 22 September deadline. ECOWAS officials reiterated that once a civilian leadership has been installed, regional sanctions on Mali would be lifted. The major takeaways from Tuesday’s summit are that ECOWAS leaders have again made it clear that a civilian leadership be in charge of the transitional period. While officials on Tuesday firmly rejected the idea that the transitional government could be led by a military individual, one point that ECOWAS has shifted on has been the timeline of the transitional period. Officials accepted the 18-month transitional period, which is a move away from the 12-month period that it had initially demanded, though it is far off from the junta’s first proposal to hold new elections in 2023. ECOWAS further stipulated that the junta would need to be disbanded once the transitional government is in place.
In response to Tuesday’s summit, the CNSP on Wednesday 16 September confirmed that it was working to respond to ECOWAS’ renewed demands. Col. Major Ismail Wague, spokesman for the junta, told reporters that ECOWAS had given the junta an additional week to meet the requirements, warning that it would face further sanctions if the deadline was missed again. ECOWAS has already halted financial flows to Mali and has closed its borders. Questions however remain whether or not the CNSP will yield to growing regional pressure and install a civilian leadership or whether they will attempt to include some military figures within the transitional government, which will be tasked with organizing a new election within the next 18 months.
While the CNSP and ECOWAS have agreed on a timeline for the transitional period, they remain divided on who will steer the country for the next 18 months. Over the weekend, the junta had noted that the transitional leader could be either a civilian or a military official. ECOWAS however appears, for the time being, to remain adamant that a civilian lead the government, and it is supported by internal actors and regional partners in its position. During Tuesday’s summit, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo reiterated that “we need a civilian leadership for the transition.” This position appears to be supported by the M5-RFP opposition coalition with Choguel Maiga, a member, praising the regional pressure for a civilian leadership. Meanwhile the African Union Peace and Security Council, which met via video conference on Thursday 17 September, also reinforced its appeal that the Malian transition be led by a civilian though like ECOWAS, it has accepted the 18-month transitional period.
The question now remains which side will blink first in Mali’s ongoing political struggle. West African leaders appear to have already given in to the military junta’s timeline, backing down from earlier demands that democracy be restored within a year. With the international community all calling for a civilian leader to be installed, it is unlikely that ECOWAS officials will easily reconsider this demand despite the threat that the ongoing political upheaval could set back efforts to contain Mali’s growing terrorist threat. For the CNSP, the prospect of additional sanctions being imposed on Mali could result in the military junta to install a civilian leader with the hopes that it will still have some degree of influence over Mali’s future. Evidently, Tuesday’s new deadline will be closely watched across the West African region and internationally, and it remains a test for the two sides, with both the CNSP and ECOWAS wanting to achieve their own set goals and maintaining a degree of influence and sense of control.
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.
On 7 February, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued an update on Burkina Faso, for the first time advising against all travel throughout the nation, with the exception of Ouagadougou. In the capital city, the FCO advises against all but essential travel, up to the toll booths on all roads out of the city.
Since 2013, Burkina Faso has seen a significant rise in criminality, ethnic violence and terrorism. The violence initially emanated from Mali, and made its way into northern Burkina Faso. Over the past several years, the violence has continued to push south, and Burkina Faso is replacing Mali as epicentre of Sahel security crisis.
In 2019 alone, the country experienced 200 terror-related attacks, 30 kidnappings, and 32 incidents of violent crime. These numbers could be higher due to unreported incidents. On 27 December, the Burkinabé government extended the state of emergency in fourteen provinces for an additional year. These measures, which give security forces extra powers to search homes and restrict freedom of movement. will remain in place until 12 Jan 2021.
If current trends persist, Burkina Faso risks becoming a launchpad for Islamic extremists to expand towards coastal West Africa, and the epicentre of conflict will likely shift from northern region to the southern Burkinabé border. Outside of Ouagadougou, there have been regular attacks on police, military personnel and civilians, particularly along the borders with Mali, Niger and Cote d’Ivoire and in the Eastern Region.
Terror attacks are very likely in Burkina Faso, including Ouagadougou. These attacks can be indiscriminate, and targets include security forces, religious sites, restaurants and places visited by foreigners. Travellers are advised to be vigilant at all times, and particularly around religious holidays.
• Malian elections are due to take place on 29 July, with a second-round run-off to be determined if no candidate wins an absolute majority (51%).
• There is significant risk for disruption at polling stations in northern and central Mali, where insecurity is heightened by the presence of terrorist organisations, and ethnic clashes continue.
• There is a potential for residual disruption or violence in the days following the election.
• MS Risk advises travellers in the area to avoid large gatherings or places frequented by foreigners. Terrorist groups have targeted military facilities of the G5 Sahel joint force and most recently conducted attacks at Sevare Airport in the Mopti Region.
MS Risk has previously assessed Mali as a HIGH-THREAT location for terrorist activity and ethnic clashes. There has been an increase in violence in Mali in the lead-up to the 29 July 2018 presidential elections. This is likely to be exacerbated in the period leading up to the election, and in its immediate aftermath. Polling stations in northern and central Mali that are ostensibly in the control of terrorist groups may be exposed to violence or attacks as a means to thwart voting. There is a heightened risk of demonstrations as the election draws nearer; these could result in clashes with police or opposition protesters.
MS Risk advises against all travel over the weekend, especially to the provinces of Gao, Kidal, Mopti and Timbuktu, as well as to parts of the provinces of Kayes, Koulikoro and Segou. MS Risk advises against all but essential travel for the remainder of Mali, including the capital Bamako. Mali is under a state of emergency, which is in effect until 31 October 2018.
The United Nations and France have provided an increased security presence throughout the election process. This is likely to include patrols and security checks. This is in addition to the already robust security measure in place at key junctures throughout the country. There are likely to be more vehicle and personal security checks during this time in which no one will be exempt.
On 29 July, Malians will vote in a presidential election, determining whether incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will win a second term amid rising discontent over increasing insecurity in the country. The election occurs amid increasing violence and insecurity in northern and central Mali; with concerns that polls may not be able to open in certain parts of the country. There are three interconnected concerns that exacerbate the security conditions: Terrorism, increasing ethnic violence, and distrust in the security forces.
In recent years, militant extremists have returned from fighting in large terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS in areas like Libya, northern Nigeria, and further afield. Upon their return, they have brought with them extremist ideologies, contacts and sometimes significant money that has allowed them to recruit members and build operations in order to start new cells, including the Azawad Salvation Movement (MSA), and al-Qaeda affiliates Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Macina Liberation Front. This threat is exacerbated by the free movement between West African countries. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is comprised of 15 countries which, like the European Union, allow their citizens to travel between them without visas. Border areas in much of West Africa are porous and sparsely secured, making it difficult to track the movements of would be militants.
Northern Mali has become a sanctuary for terrorist organisations, as the area is sparsely populated, difficult to patrol, and lacks sufficient government influence. Attacks in the northern regions of the country have typically involved terrorist groups targeting local security officials, the Malian and French armies as well as peacekeepers from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA). According to open source reporting notes, in 2016 there were 118 attacks in Mali against MINUSMA elements. As the election draws near, the frequency of attacks has increased.
On 29 June 2018, a suicide bomber in a vehicle painted in UN colours attacked the Malian headquarters of the G5 Sahel anti-terror task force in Sevare, killing two Malian soldiers and a civilian. The attack was the first on the headquarters of the G5. Al-Qaeda-linked organisation, “Support Group for Islam and Muslims”, claimed the attack. They are the main extremist alliance in the Sahel region, and in northern Mali.
Two days later on 1 July, French soldiers of the Barkhane military operation in northern Mali were ambushed by terrorists near the town of Boure, Gao region. One resident of Gao said the French convoy was clearly targeted by a suicide car bomb.
On 25 July, Ambodedjo Airport in Sevare, central Mali, was shelled. There were no casualties reported, and reports of damage are unclear. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but it is believed to be linked to extremist groups that have continually targeted security forces in the region. The G5 headquarters are located in Sevare, and Ambodedjo Airport is one the UN’s major air hubs — and the only terminal serving the regional capital of Mopti.
Mali announced the dates of the presidential election in February, prompting al-Qaeda’s Mali branch to issue warnings on social media against going to the polls. Abdou Abdirrahmane As-sanhaji, senior judge of a coalition of jihadist groups, wrote: “Our duty to all is to neutralize these unbelieving unbelievers [referring to politicians] with hands stained by the blood of the innocent and with pockets and safes filled with the money of the needy.” These threats and the increased violence in the region may thwart voter turnout, particularly in regions that have ostensibly been under the control of terrorist groups. Earlier this year, Al-Qaeda affiliates also issued a threat against Western interests in West Africa. These targets include MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, as well as the French-led Operation Barkhane, and the G5 Joint security force.
In May, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres highlighted security shortcomings on several of MINUSMA’s sites in Mali, citing “Poor conditions on and around the site.” Further, the G5 Sahel, which was to be fully operational by mid-2018, has faced delays due to logistical issues, and recently, accusations of human rights abuses. The UN reports that in May, Malian soldiers of the G5 force had “summarily” executed 12 Fulani men in a market in central Mopti region, in retaliation for the death of a soldier. The extrajudicial killing led to significant distrust of the organisation within the local population. This exacerbates the already significant issue of distrust in security forces leading to community organised militias.
Distrust in security forces leads to rising ethnic tension
The increasing distrust in regional security forces has caused a rise in community organised militias, which have caused several communities in northern and central Mali to organise their own self-defence organisations. This produces a cycle of distrust that benefits terrorist organisations. The Malian army attacks civilians, believing them to be extremists, and the terrorist groups attack civilians, believing them to be complicit with the military. In turn, the civilians organise defence groups to protect their communities, but in turn express distrust at other communities, who they could believe are complicit with extremists. This divide has recently fallen along ethnic lines, particularly between the ethnic Fulani Muslims and other groups such as the Tuareg, Peuhl and Bambara. Tuaregs in Mali have formed militia called IMGHAD Self-Defense Group and Allies (GATIA), which supports the Malian military. The traditional Tuareg pastoralists have long clashed with ethnic Fulani herders; in recent years, the Fulani have been accused by the Tuareg, Dogon and Bambara of being recruited by extremists. As a result, clashes between the Tuareg and Fulani have exacerbated the crisis. In July, the UN reported that at least 289 civilians, and including young children, have been killed in communal violence since the beginning of the year.
Similarly, light-skinned Arab and Tuareg communities have consistently complained of persecution by Malian soldiers, made up mostly of black ethnic groups from the south and centre of the country. On 25 July, armed protesters from Mali’s Arab community fired shots into the air, burned tyres and torched vehicles in Timbuktu. The protest was comprised mainly of Arab youths protesting against worsening insecurity and ill treatment by security forces. Demonstrators filled the streets, forcing shops and banks to shut. The protest reportedly began after the robbery of a pharmacy owned by a black Bambara trader late on 24 July. Malian troops arrested four Arab youths, sparking a gun battle. There were no casualties reported. The situation has calmed, however the tensions between the groups is ongoing.
Northern and central Mali are already difficult to patrol. However, the lack of security, coupled with the seemingly targeted attacks on particular ethic groups, whether from the military, or from ethnic- or community-aligned self-defence groups, could worsen conditions. These actions could cause some amongst the victims to sympathise with the terrorist groups, creating an opportunity to increase recruitment for radicalised anti-government activity. Alioune Tine, the UN’s Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, noted that violent extremists had taken advantage of the lack of basic services “to exploit communities and pit them against each other”. Overall, this serves to exacerbate the security situation throughout the country and undermine both domestic and international efforts to quell the rising insecurity.