“The military cannot be an alternative to the political problems of our countries”

In Mali, the junta has taken over the reins of power. A few days after overthrowing President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, Colonel and Vice-President Assimi Goïta was installed on Friday May 28 as Head of State. This new coup weakens the transition underway since the resignation of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) in August 2020 under military pressure.

Mathias Hounkpe, political scientist and administrator of the political governance program of the NGO Open Society Initiative for West Africa (Osiwa), analyzes this new episode in the politico-military crisis that Mali has been going through since 2012.

What signal are the Malian soldiers sending who have just carried out a new coup?

They demonstrate that whatever agreements are signed, they seek to impose their will. On the grounds that appointments do not suit them and that there would be cases of violation of the Transition Charter – which in my humble opinion has not been proven until then – they suspend everything. Even if this would be the case, it is not for the military to take the place of justice. Their gesture is inadmissible. It is time to understand that the military cannot be a credible alternative to the political problems of our countries.

How do you analyze their request to keep control of the defense and security ministries, positions from which they were excluded during the last reshuffle?

It is obvious that beyond the importance of these positions for the fight against insecurity and violent extremism in the country, these ministries will play a central role in the organization of the next elections, after the end of the elections. eighteen months of transition. Moreover, it is important to note that despite the demands of civil society and most of the opposition, the transition has always insisted that it be the Ministry of Territorial Administration, held by a soldier, who oversees upcoming polls. One of the stakes of this coup could well be the control of the elections and of the future president.

Wasn’t this blow predictable? Isn’t an alliance at the top of power between putschists and civilians doomed to failure?

However, this alloy has worked in Burkina Faso. In 2014, after the popular uprising against Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré, it was the military who first took power. On the other hand, they were easily erased to allow the transition to continue.

But in Mali, from the start, the putschists did not have the firm will to return power or to share it. Not even with the M5-RFP [Mouvement du 5 juin-Rassemblement des forces patriotiques, un conglomérat d’organisations politiques et de la société civile qui ont fait descendre les Maliens dans la rue pour réclamer le départ d’IBK en 2020] who had paid a high price for it.

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They dragged their feet to involve civilians in the management of the transition. Moreover, in the first version of the charter, the putschists suggested that the transition be led by one of their own. They had to twist their arms to impose a civilian. The dissolution of the CNSP [Comité national pour le salut du peuple, l’institution politico-militaire mise en place par la junte en août 2020] should have intervened as soon as the institutions of the transition were installed.

But, there again, it was not until January 2021, following a mission from ECOWAS [Communauté des Etats d’Afrique de l’Ouest] for them to accept it. From the start, it was therefore clear that the military did not want to share power.

Malian civil society and some religious leaders have been at the forefront of the popular protest that led to the resignation in August 2020 of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. What is their room for maneuver in the face of the coup leaders?

One of the problems in Mali is the division of civil society. The putschists play against each other all the more easily as part of this civil society was disappointed by the transition. Moreover, the dismissed president and prime minister received very little support. Those who challenge the coup d’état do so on principle. In recent weeks, a wind of popular discontent has been blowing and protests are about to resume. A strike by civil servants led by the central trade unions was underway.

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Even religious leaders, very influential in Mali, express apprehensions vis-à-vis the transition. Naturally, the putschists instrumentalize this climate of mistrust and are now appealing to the M5-RFP, which they had however carefully ignored after the departure of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

Thursday in Bamako, demonstrators demanded the departure of France from Mali and the intervention of Russia. And a dividing line seems to be emerging among the military between Francophiles and pro-Russians. Is Russia playing a role in the Malian crisis?

In Mali, the shadow of Russia has been hovering for a long time and anti-French and pro-Russian protests are nothing new. When the military overthrew President Keïta, there was a feeling that France had obviously not supported them, and there was already a rumor that they had another powerful sponsor. Especially since several of the putschists were trained in Russia. The fact remains that it is difficult to disentangle the truth from the falsehood of the involvement or not of the Russians in the political crisis in Mali.

France strongly condemned the coup by threatening the putschists with sanctions. However, she recently dubbed, in Chad, the seizure of power of Mahamat Idriss Deby, the son of Idriss Deby who died in April. Isn’t that contradictory?

Yes. In addition, France’s contradiction lessens the scope of its threats against the Malian putschists. Even if I do not see a cause and effect relationship between these two events, the Malian soldiers and their supporters can use it as a pretext to discredit the French position, by instilling the idea that Paris is playing a double game and reacting accordingly. of his interests.

The military is making a comeback in political affairs in several countries, in Mali, Chad and Niger where, in March, the president Mohamed Newly elected Bazoum escaped a military coup. How do these coups de force fit into the history of democracies in the Sahel?

They are indicative of a deep democratic crisis. In Africa, after the alternations of the 1990s, the democratic experience is running out of steam. In this regard, the 2020 presidential elections in West Africa were painful. We have seen presidents serve more than two terms, exclude rivals …

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These chaotic moments are conducive to military interventions. The recent popular revolts in Senegal, if they had not been quickly brought under control, could have resulted in a coup, just like in Benin during the presidential election and in Niger. There is a serious warning for the ECOWAS, which seems powerless in the face of the coup d’état in Mali. It must be firmer because we have the feeling that, from now on, there is a country where it is the military who decide. Given the state of democracy in the region, this is a dangerous example.

However, electoral meetings are now linked in most West African countries.

This is the difference between the 1960s and today. At the time, at the slightest crisis, even a strike that was a little too long, the military seized power. Elections are now being held, but civilian actors know how to use democracy to carry out coups d’état. In West Africa, we are witnessing a confiscation of power by civilians, who, elected, use the institutions to stay in place as long as they wish.

The most obvious case is Côte d’Ivoire. In 2020, outgoing president Alassane Ouattara rushed to run for a third term following the death of his runner-up, Amadou Gon Coulibaly. He feared that his party would lose the reins of power without it. It’s hard to imagine in a Western democracy.

Like Alassane Ouattara, former opponents like Guinean President Alpha Condé are struggling to leave power when they had fiercely fought for alternation. Why in these countries, institutions fail to be stronger than personal ambitions?

In Africa, democratic systems are young, but to play their role of counter-power, institutions need time. In the United States, without solid institutions, Donald Trump would still be in power. Let us not forget that in the old Western democracies the first fifty years were also chaotic, much more than is the case in Africa today.

The continent needs time, strong institutions and not strong men as Barack Obama said during his African tour in 2014. It is also wrong to think that democracy is not suited to Africans as some say. It is a diet that requires fighting to make it work.

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