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Mali Coup Highlights Unresolved Regional Issues

By Mariama Diallo August 21, 2020

A delegation of African leaders is headed to Mali, where the military junta denies it mounted a coup and rejects calls to release Mali's president, saying that Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, also known as IBK, is safer with them for now.

A U.N. human rights team visited Keita and other detainees late Thursday, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, said.

"What happens next is really anybody's guess. Do we have new elections? There's no parliament, there's no government," says analyst W. Gyude Moore, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

"Most frightening, I guess, is that in 2012, there was a similar thing – a mutiny by soldiers – and the jihadists almost took over the country," he added. Moore served as deputy chief of staff to former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

This comes after Keita was forced to resign this week, hours after mutinous soldiers detained him and top officials in his government.

Keita, who said he had no choice but step down, was democratically elected in 2013 and was serving a second term.

Addressing Malians on state TV, he told them that for seven years he had the happiness and the joy of trying to redress the country's problems through his best efforts.

"If today, after weeks of turbulence, of various demonstrations, sadly punctuated with victims before whom I bow, which I never wished for this country … if today it pleased some elements of our armed forces to conclude that it should end with their intervention, do I really have a choice? Because I do not wish for any blood to be spilled to keep me in office," he said.

In response and on state TV, the soldiers behind Tuesday's military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). Through its spokesman, Colonel-Major Ismael Wagué, the group said, "Mali descends into chaos day by day, anarchy and insecurity because of the fault of the people in charge of its destiny."

Wagué, who spoke with the Associated Press on Thursday, denied that Keita had been ousted from power by force, insisting that he resigned of his own accord. The military junta have since released two senior officials and promised to oversee a transition to elections within a reasonable amount of time.

Yeah Samake, a leading member of the Malian opposition Coalition M5-RFP, told VOA English to Africa that citizens are looking forward to a yet-to-be established transitional government, which he hopes will organize fresh elections next year.

Weeks of demonstrators had demanded Keita's resignation during frequent anti-government protests that began in early June.

"When the protests first started, they were really about increasing salaries of teachers and doctors, and as the protests continued without a response from the government, the demand of the protests expanded. Then it included the failed parliamentary elections. … There was a perception that there were allegations of deep corruption within his administration and a significant amount of nepotism," Moore noted.

Jo Scheuer, Mali resident representative for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), told VOA from Bamako that, while there's no justification for a coup, it's important to note that underlying issues go back many years.

"The conflict in the country goes back in terms of decades of unrealized development opportunities and grievances people have in terms of basic access to services, a lack of rule of law and so on. You have the events following the Arab Spring, the coup in 2012 in Mali, the ensuing establishment of international terrorist groups in the country and in the subregion, and of course the miscontent as well in terms of the recent elections that are seen as not being 100% fair. On top of that, with the security situation with a number of massacres over the last 18 months … so all of this together breeds dissatisfaction," Scheuer said.

He says it's hard to predict what's going to happen but "in terms of stability of the country and the region, developments of the past year have been deteriorating. The security situation has gotten worse. We'll have to see what kind of dialogue this new government might be able to establish with other groups in the country, how they might with the presence of the U.N. mission, the French army that is here, Barkhane, the G5 military support, perhaps return into a situation where security could be restored."

The UNDP, he says, is present in more than 170 countries worldwide. The immediate short-term impact on its program in Mali, he said, "is that it will slow down part of our work," but he also says that the work won't stop. "UNDP and the U.N. have a large presence in the country also dealing with humanitarian issues, and of course the work supporting local communities in dealing with these crisis elements will continue regardless of the coup."

The coup has been strongly condemned by the international community, including the African Union; the United Nations, which has peacekeeping troops in the country; and the West African bloc ECOWAS, whose leaders late Thursday called for the mobilizing of a standby regional military force, saying Keita must be allowed to serve out the three years left in his term after this week's "coup attempt."

Instability in Mali is even more concerning given the number of elections coming up in West Africa, Moore says.

"Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ghana. So we have five elections coming up. Two of those elections will present issues. In Cote d'ivoire and Guinea, we have presidents who are going for a third term and those are already beginning to raise questions, so for ECOWAS the stability of the region is really, really important."

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