A military coup leading to provisional institutions quickly dubbed by the international community; at least two hundred jihadists released against four hostages including an opposition figure; an imam in Bamako who plays a leading role in both cases… The political situation has been evolving rapidly in Mali for two months. Could these events lead to an Islamic republic or to peace with certain armed terrorist movements?
The identity of the 200 jihadists who returned to their lair in the north of the country is only partially known. They were released after negotiations between the new Malian government and Iyad Ag Ghali, head of a jihadist alliance affiliated with Al-Qaida.
« There are one or two important personalities but the majority of released prisoners do not present any security risk in Mali ”, assures Brema Ely Dicko, sociologist at the University of Human Sciences of Bamako. “Furthermore, it is important that Bamako re-establishes dialogue with Iyad Ag Ghali. He is a known figure and a former negotiator of the North. “
“Explore dialogue with extremists”
The Touareg leader is the only one among the jihadist groups to consider discussions with the Malian authorities. The Katiba Macina led by the Fulani leader Amadou Koufa and the Sahelian branch of Daesh (EIGS) do not intend to. Smaïl Chergui, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, called, Thursday, October 15, to “Explore dialogue with extremists. ” What could well be a roadmap for the new Malian power.
→ UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING. Our dossier on the “Barkhane” operation
Exactly two months ago, Colonel Assimi Goïta – 37 years old and former head of the Malian Special Forces in the center of the country – presented himself as the head of a junta which succeeded overnight in obtaining the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar. Keïta, says IBK, and his government, whose lightness everyone in Bamako now denounces in the face of the jihadist threat and corruption. The putschists are cheered by the crowd.
“Since independence, the democratic alternation has shifted less from the majority to the political opposition, than from civilians to the military, on four occasions: 1968, 1991, 2012 and 2020, recalls Gilles Holder, co-director of the MaCoTer laboratory in Bamako. “This time, the coup d’etat has the particularity of not having shed blood. “
“The myth of Captain Thomas Sankara”
Neighboring countries and France then condemn this coup. The new power organizes a transitional government until elections, promised within eighteen months. He obtains the release of the hostages – including Souleïma Cissé, a leading Malian politician. Without doubt, it is the result of discussions started earlier by the former president.
→ READ. Transition in Mali, the military keep control
Neighboring countries lift their sanctions, France its prejudices and Malians applaud these soldiers who have taken over the affairs of the State. “The dream for every Malian would be to find the myth of Burkinabe captain Thomas Sankara in Colonel Assimi Goïta”, explains Gilles Holder.
But before the military, it was the June 5 Movement (M5) which had united the opposition to President IBK. “It is this movement which initiated the change which allowed the arrival of the junta”, notes André Bourgeot, emeritus research director at the CNRS.
One of the central figures was Imam Mahmoud Dicko. At 65, this figure of Wahhabi Islam was president of the High Islamic Council from 2008 to 2019. He had managed to suspend the law on the family code, deemed too favorable to gender equality, mobilizing, already, demonstrators to roll back power.
The ambiguities of Imam Dicko
It remains to be seen what he wants now. Imam Dicko claims to have “Returned to his mosque”. André Bourgeot, who has spoken to him several times in the past, believes that his “ moral authority will be able to be exercised within the government ”. He also believes he played a role in the exchange between hostages and jihadists. “He is ambiguous about his project. Many consider him to be a great manipulator ”.
André Bourgeot reports what the imam had told him: “If I created the Islamic Republic of Mali, I would have the entire international community on my back. ” And also : “The population will never accept a rigorous Islam. Certainly, the dress of women changes a little in the north of the country, but the south will never accept radical Islam. “
The key is to know if he dreams of himself as a spiritual guide. For Gilles Holder, “ the belief of the imam is that bad governance is linked to lack of ethics. And he believes that Islamic ethics and a certain ethics of the Malian tradition are compatible so that they can be mobilized together, in the behavior and management of public affairs ”.
In 2012, Imam Dicko supported the French intervention in Mali, before criticizing his presence. Tough with foreign jihadists, he has always defended dialogue with Malian armed groups, such as those close to Al-Qaida.
“Our fight remains the same and it is just as legitimate as it was”
These tortuous arrangements between Malians have left a bitter taste for the French soldiers who have participated, often at the cost of their lives, in the containment of terrorist movements in the Sahel since 2013. The release of the 200 jihadists was badly experienced. “On the ground, it must be very difficult to re-mobilize the troops”, estimates researcher Caroline Roussy, at Iris.
The French Chief of Staff, General François Lecointre reaffirmed, Wednesday, October 14, his determination to continue the fighting: “It must be very clear, for all the families who have lost their loved ones in the fight that we have been waging in Mali for years, that we do not deviate from the line, that our fight remains the same and that it is everything as legitimate as it was. “
« Operation “Barkhane” will have to reinvent itself. I think that in the future it will be necessary to wage a lighter and more economic war ”, analyzes the former colonel of the navy troops Michel Goya. Currently, Barkhane’s efforts focus mainly on the Islamic State of the Great Sahara (EIGS), affiliated with Daesh, in the region of the three borders (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso).
“France is experiencing successes on the ground but operation” Barkhane “could consider changing its posture”, continues Michel Goya, evoking the idea of a possible withdrawal of the French system from Mali and in particular from Gao : “The French could stay in Chad and possibly in Niger, and the goal would be to maintain pressure at a distance. “
In the immediate future, France will deal with Bamako. “If the departure of ex-president IBK represents a disavowal for Paris, the current government remains a lesser evil. The Malian junta knows the French soldiers well ”, he believes. France also intends to rely on Algeria where the Minister of Foreign Affairs visited, Thursday, October 15, to discuss … the Malian crisis.