141. The Mali coup and instability in Africa
Author: Adeoye O. Akinola
Date: 9 June 2021
Publication: Premium Times (Nigeria)
Image courtesy of: Voice of America via Commons.wikimedia.org
On May 24, Malian interim Vice-President Assimi Goïta – leader of the August 18, 2020 coup d’état that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta from power – sacked President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and Minister of Defence Souleymane Doucouré from office. They were subsequently arrested and detained, then released on May 27 after resigning their positions. This paved the way for Goïta to become the President of the transitional government and to appoint others to fill the vacant posts. Mali had experienced military take-overs in 2012 and 2020.
Despite the militarisation of the government since August 2020, armed attacks continued unabated across the country. For instance, in April, “heavily armed terrorists” attacked the base of the United Nations (UN) Mission in Mali at the northern town of Aguelhok, killing four peacekeepers and wounding others. In March, 33 soldiers died, and 12 were wounded during an attack on a military post at Tessit town, bordering Burkina Faso and Niger. On June 6, about 160 people were killed by armed men at Solhan village in northern Burkina Faso. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. In 2020, more than 4,000 people were killed in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. The conflict in Mali has claimed the lives of 190 peacekeepers, including 120 who were killed in hostile situations, which makes Mali the UN’s “most dangerous” peacekeeping operation in the world.
Goïta accused the ousted leaders of breaching the transitional charter – a document drawn up largely by the military – by mismanaging social tensions in Mali, including a strike by the main union, and by dropping two of his allies from the government after a cabinet reshuffle. This incident had echoes of the removal of the head of the Nigerian transitional government, Ernest Shonekan – through a palace coup on November 17, 1993 – by a military member of the transitional government, General Sanni Abacha. Shonekan had assumed power on August 27, 1993. Abacha stayed in power until his death in June 1998. Many of the senior officials of the interim government, including N’Daw, are affiliated to the Malian army.
In 2017, African leaders adopted the “AU Master Roadmap (AUMR) of Practical Steps to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020.” However, the guns keep blasting. Burkina Faso and Niger are under attack by jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State of Libya (ISIL) and al-Qaeda. On May 30, about 60 people were killed during an attack…
In my earlier article on “Securing the Sahel”, published on October 21, 2020, I had drawn attention to the danger of populating the Malian transitional government with serving and retired military personnel. While Goïta promised to continue the transition programme and hold elections as scheduled in 2022, his credibility has been weakened. As expected, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali, while Paris, London, and the European Union (EU) strongly condemned the coup, threatening sanctions. The 15-member UN Security Council met on May 26 and declared the coup unacceptable. Can mere suspension and a threat of sanctions force the military out of power? No, because this is a military rule and not a transitional government. Thus, more decisive action is required by the international community.
In 2017, African leaders adopted the “AU Master Roadmap (AUMR) of Practical Steps to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020.” However, the guns keep blasting. Burkina Faso and Niger are under attack by jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State of Libya (ISIL) and al-Qaeda. On May 30, about 60 people were killed during an attack – carried out by suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ethiopian premier, Abiy Ahmed Ali, embarked on a military offensive in November 2020 to “restore the rule of law” in Tigray by removing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had attacked a federal military base. Ahmed Ali, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2019, continues with this crackdown on Tigray, and African leaders have desisted from reacting effectively. This led to the loss of lives and a looming famine. Between November 2020 and March 2021, more than 2,000 people have been killed in about 150 massacres by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, paramilitaries, and local insurgents in Tigray and over 2.2 million people have been displaced.
Nigeria has been confronted with conflict between herders and crop farmers. While herders’ attacks on farms and local communities might not have fitted into conventional security narratives, their reign of terror has recently claimed more lives than Boko Haram’s atrocities. In January, Statista claimed that Boko Haram’s attack led to the death of 32,800 Nigerians in eight northern states between 2011 and 2021. While Boko Haram seemed to be the main instrument of death in Nigeria, the dreaded herders have taken over. In March, about 70 houses were burnt, 10 Christian farmers were killed, and three people suffered injuries from gun shots at Kizachi in Kaduna State. Based on a April 28 report by The Observers, about 10,000 Nigerians have been killed and 300,000 displaced in the last decade, due to conflict involving herders and farmers.
The hitherto domestic Islamist insurgent group operating in Mozambique’s north-eastern Cabo Delgado province, drew global attention in March, when they attacked Palma in the northern part of the country. The BBC reported that the attack killed many foreigners working on a $20 billion gas plant – the biggest single foreign investment in Africa.
Mozambique is also becoming a harbour for terrorism, which is too close for Pretoria’s comfort. The regional body – the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – is still consulting on the best approach to curtail the threat that terrorism poses to regional security. The hitherto domestic Islamist insurgent group operating in Mozambique’s north-eastern Cabo Delgado province, drew global attention in March, when they attacked Palma in the northern part of the country. The BBC reported that the attack killed many foreigners working on a $20 billion gas plant – the biggest single foreign investment in Africa. More than 700,000 Mozambicans have been displaced internally due to the ensuing terrorism.
Any form of political instability in Mali will aggravate the volatility of the Sahel. While Paris has stationed 5,100-strong forces in the Sahel, there is a need for the African Union and African states to rethink the militarisation of the region by non-African forces. What is wrong with Africa? When will Africa resolve its own problems? It is hoped that both state and non-state actors, including the UN and ECOWAS will realise why it is important to be more committed to the peace and security of the Sahel.
Adeoye O. Akinola is a Head of Research and Teaching at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, South Africa.