Archivo de etiquetas | "military coup"

Reasons of a new military coup in Burkina Faso

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Reasons of a new military coup in Burkina Faso

Fecha 1/02/2022 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

Between January 23 and 24, militaries ended the era of Roch Kaboré as president of Burkina Faso. So, the emerging transition received a mortal hit and, therefore, the country once again is under the rule of an authoritarian regime lead by militaries. In this context, it is proper to analyse why this is happening.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | January 31, 2022

(Fotografía: Agencias)

To see militaries taking the power from a democratic or authoritarian leader is not big news, neither to witness a military coup in West Africa or, especifically, in Burkina Faso. In this latter one, its history is full of authoritarian regimes or dictatorships. Since independence, democracy has not been a trend in the burkinabe politics. Between 1960 and 1966 there was a single party system, followed by a military coup led by Aboubakar Sangoulé Lamizana, who clinched power by the force in 1966 and established a military regime until 1980. In this latter year, Burkina Faso started a crisis process which consolidated the 80s as a decade of military coups and political instability. On November 25, 1980, Colonel Saye Zerbo seized power but nearly two years after he was ousted by another military coup. Then, on August 4, 1983, Captain Tomas Sankara led another military coup. Among other issues, Sankara changed the name of the country from Alto Volta to Burkina Faso but his path was abruptly cut-off on October 15, 1987, day in which Captain Blaise Compaoré led a military coup that ended with Tomas Sankara’s death.

Compaoré was the first leader to stay in power for a long time but the problem was that he did not set up a democracy. Even if he gave signs of openness, his period (1987-2015) was categorised as a dictatorship or, at least, an authoritarian regime. This situation ended in 2015, when, in an unprecedented milestone, the power control changed due to massive protests instead of a military coup. After demonstrations of the citizens, Compaoré agreed to leave the office and once again the militaries came to power. Nevertheless, this time they organized elections and they were won by Roch Kaboré. So, this latter one became the first non-military president of Burkina Faso and he symbolized the first transfer of power to a civilian. Unluckily, he confronted a very difficult situation, as terrorism was emerging in the country and gaining strength in the region, especially in bordering or near countries like Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

Furthermore, corruption and poverty grimped, making clear that Kaboré would have to face big challenges. At the same time, he had the big task of establishing a democratic institutionality in a country with no democratic experiences and with a historical dependence on militaries. Even if he was not able to make big changes, in 2020 he was releected for a second and final term.

A good cocktail for a military coup

During 2020’s presidential election, some sectors criticized the process, pointing out that the insecurity and the covid-19 pandemia limited the right to vote. In fact, the day of the election nearly 600,000 voters could not express their will as 926 polling stations were not able to open or operate during the electoral day.

Then, the corruption scandals of members of the government or close people of Roch Kaboré weakened his presidential figure. In the midst of this, the inter-ethnical confrontations and especially the terrorist attacks had a notable increase. As a matter of fact, according to Acled’s database, violent events in Burkina Faso jumped from 254 in 2018 to 1,337 in 2021. The same happened with the fatalites, which changed from 303 in 2018 to 2,294 in 2021. Suming up, during the period 2018-2021, the country registered 2,910 violent events and 7,111 dead people.

Even worse, the covid-19 pandemia plunged the country’s economy into a crisis, with a negative progression of the annual GDP growth, a rise of poverty (36,2% in 2018, with peaks of 61% or 71% in the northern regions) and a public debt of 47% (about this latter figure, it must be said that the African average is way bigger).  Still more, according to Relief Web, there are almost 3.5 million people in need,  2,076,319 people in food crisis or emergency (IPC Phase 3 or more) and 631,787 children acutely malnourished. Furthermore, the UNHCR estimates that the country has almost 1.4 million internally displaced people (IDP). These figures must be taken into account, as they demonstrate the dramatic situation of the country.

The corollary (and sentence) was the horrible attack perpetrated on November 14, 2021, by nearly 300 terrorists in the village of Inata, which is located in the Soum province. The death of 53 police officers and 4 civilians was too much for an already tired population, who went to the streets to ask for Kaboré’s resignation. The scarcity of the weak Armed Forces of the country -same situation experienced by Mali- was tragically and dramatically exposed.

The failure of the government in its fight against terrorism was unsustainable, especially in a moment in which the external military missions or forces (as Takuba) were being seen, by the local population, as powerless and useless.

Even though Roch Kaboré had announced a plan of economic transformation and a campaign against corruption in 2021, his fate was already written. The security issue, as seen in other countries of West Africa and/or the Sahel, is perceived as essential and, therefore, the success of them is deeply tied to the progress made in this issue and, particulary, in the fight against terrorist groups which seem to be strong as never before.

Final comments

Burkina Faso’s recent military coup demonstrates that West Africa and the Sahel are facing a political and social crisis that hits different countries and in varied ways. Therefore, the regional integration blocks and the African Union must react in order to avoid a surge of more violence, especially the one coming from terrorist groups, as this situation deteriorate the already weak democratic institutionality of the States. Concerning this issue, the foreign powers have to understand that the dynamics have changed and, in fact, a sentiment against external influence has been increasing in some countries, especially in Mali. So, the solutions have to come from the African multilateral and bilateral mechanisms. In this process, the external powers -such as France, Russia, Turkey and United States- should act as positive partners who complement the African initiatives. Nevertheless, reality shows that some foreign players will continue with their interventionism, something that could lead to a diplomatic clash among external powers.

Concerning this latter issue, Russia’s presence in the region -particularly with the Wagner mercenaires- may open a new era of influences and poses a big challenge to France and other external players that want to mantain their influence in the Sahel. The same should be said about Turkey, whose military presence in Africa is growing. The big loser is France, who has been permanently losing power and influence in the region. The peak of this trend is the recent expulsion of the French ambassador in Mali.

In relation to the African integration blocks, as expected, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West Africa States (Ecowas) announced Burkina Faso’s suspension, which are formal and obvious sanctions. So, the Ecowas and the AU will have the challenge of really changing the chain of military coups that have affected Mali, Guinea and, now, Burkina Faso. Even more, it sould be taken into account the situation of Chad, which could be described as a “soft” military coup. If the regional integration blocks are not capable to give solutions to the political instability, the democratic fragility of the region will get worse and the utility of the AU and the Ecowas will, once again, be analyzed.

This context may be an excellent opportunity for Morocco and Algeria, two countries that are currently being confronted (due to the Sahara conflict) and that are trying to deepen their ties with Sub-saharan countries. In relation to this, Morocco has historical bonds with West Africa and thanks to Mohammed VI ‘African policy’ has gained influence in the Sahel. At the same time, Algeria’s President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has been developing a new policy toward Sub-saharan States and is trying to recover the relevance they had in the past, especially in countries like Mali. So, the ‘Cold War’ between Algeria and Morocco could open a new front in the Sahel.

Finally, the humanitarian situation, the wave of civilian demonstrations and the clashes between farmers and shepherds will be relevant variables that, surely, will play an important role in the current process of social and political changes in West Africa and the Sahel.

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Chad after Idriss Déby’s death: comments and projections

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Chad after Idriss Déby’s death: comments and projections

Fecha 2/05/2021 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

On April 20th, the longtime President of Chad was killed and, according to the official statement, no specific information was given. Beyond this confusing issue, the fact is that Idriss Déby, who had recently won the presidential election, is dead and, therefore the country is facing an unknown fate.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | May 2nd, 2021

In order to understand the situation, it is necessary to briefly explain  the context in which Deby’s death happened. As it would be too long to describe the whole scenario, the focus will be put on the latest circumstances that took place before the passing away of Idriss Déby.

Firstly, presidential elections were held on April 11th, in an electoral process that was boycotted by three of the main opposition candidates. These latter ones argued that the insecurity and the lack of transparency, among other problems, where an obstacle to democratic elections.

At the same time, Idriss Déby’s regime experienced clashes with the Front for Change and Concorde in Chad (FACT), a rebel group founded in 2016, that supposedly has 1.500 fighters and that has found shelter in the southern part of Libya’s territory. After fighting against Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), in 2017 they signed a pact of ‘non-agression’ with Haftar and in 2019 became part of this latter’s forces. As it can be seen, the FACT is composed by tchadian mercenaries that, due to their implication in the Libyan conflict, were able to form a well equiped strength. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that, according to local and foreign sources, the FACT lost at least 300 fighters during the latest clashes -which started on April 11th, the day of the presidential election- against the Chadian government.

It is necessary to add that while the FACT members are mainly Tubus (an ethnical group spread through Chad, Libya and Niger), Idriss Déby was a Zaghawa. While this is not the main reason of the confrontation between the FACT and Déby’s regime, it could be relevant in the further events that could take place in the political and social arena. Why? Basically, because the Tubus would surely like to return to power and other ethnical grups, like the Arabs, could also have the same goal in mind. However, the Tubus and Arabs would not be the only ethnical groups implied in the fight for power as Déby’s nepotism generated annoyance and rage in the Zaghawa people. In fact, an opposition branch emerged during the latest years and confronted the abuse of power of the recently dead president. 

Finally, on April 19th,the official results of the presidential election, held on April 11th, were published. Idriss Déby won with 79.32% of the votes and therefore assured a sixth period as President of Chad. The participation rate was 64.81% and the process was contested by opposition parties and the civil society. Among other accusations, the main were political harassment, violence against civilians, imprisonment of political rivals and lack of transparency. As a matter of fact, Human Rights Watch published a report about the mentioned abuses.

What will happen now

The fight against terrorism is the main topic that keeps attention, as Idriss Déby played an important role in Sahel’s counterterrorism. For instance, Chadian forces joined the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and also were part of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF). Even more, Chad had sent some troops to Nigeria, in order to attack and control Boko Haram movements in that country. Now, the big question is what will happen but there should not be any big change in Chad’s approach to this issue. Albeit, in the short-term, Chadian forces could return to Chad, in order to maintain the internal security of the country and, especifically, to confront FACT and other rebel groups that, eventually, could follow the steps of the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), which has joined the FACT in its political-military fight against the Chadian government. In fact, there are reports about the withdrawal ()  of Chadian troops from the triple border. Also, France has already expressed its concern and Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently recognised that they have analysed if Chad will be able or not to accomplish the military engagements in the Sahel. Furthermore, it should be put on the table the possibility that AQMI and Islamic State decide to attack Chad, so that they force Chadian troops to return to the country and, therefore, allow the terrorists to achieve some victories in the Lake Chad and triple border areas. In this scenario, it is not a surprise that on April 27th 12 Chadian militaries were killed in an attack mady by terrorists in the Lake Chad region.

France has lost a big ally in the Sahel and, thus, it is a logical thing that Emmanuel Macron declared that France will support the Transitional Military Council (TMC). Security is one of the most important issues for the French government and Chad’s efforts in counter-terrorism are well appreciated by France, especially after Chad deployed 1.200 militaries in the triple border region (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso), where Barkhane -whose headquarters are located in N’Djamena- is already fighting against terrorist groups.

The tie with France has been very strong in the military field, and, for example, Idriss Déby was able to send 2.000 troops in 2013 to northern Mali. That is why Chad is a key player for France in the Sahel. As a matter of fact, Déby confronted more than ten rebellions or attempted coups, highlighting those of 2006, 2008 and 2019, and in the two last ones, he received France’s military support, something that allowed him to continue in power.

Another relevant aspect will be the challenge of having a military-civilian transition that allows Chad to have stability and start a process of slow, but progressive democratisation. In regard to this issue, a transitional chart has been published and it created three main bodies. The most important is the Transitional Military Council (TMC) will be led by Mahamat Déby. The TMC will be in charge of the security aspects, the peace of the nation, the stability of the country and the main frameworks of cultural, political and economic affairs. A Transitional Government, composed by the Primer Minister and ministers, has also been established and its main task will be to “lead and implement the national policy defined by the Transitional Military Council”.  As it may be seen, it will not be an independent entity and it should work within the limits given by the TMC. Finally, the Transitional National Council -whose members will be chosen by the TMC’s President- is going to be responsible for the legislative function and will examine and adopt a new Constitution Project.

Currently, Mahamat Déby -Idriss Deby’s son- has come to power as the chief of the Transitional Military Council. Even though he has been described as a respected and well prepared leader, the problem is that the Chadian Constitution has been overtaken/surpassed. In fact, according to this latter one, in case of a void presidency, the President of the National Assembly should hold the attributions of the President and if there was an impediment for that, then the first Vice-President should come into power. Furthermore, article 82 of the Constitution establishes that the interim President cannot dissolve the National Assembly, nor change the Constitution or remove members of the government. Unfortunately, these three limitations have not been respected by the Transitional Military Council, which has argued that they have done that in order to preserve national security. In this context, those measures have been categorised as part of a military coup. Thus, the situation of the militaries will be a key issue, as a split of the Chadian forces could destabilize even more the social and political situation. Actually, there have been some testimonies of internal divisions within the Chadian army but there have been no official statement. So, until now, it seems that those informations are merely rumours or just opinions but, as expressed in this article, Mahamat Déby will have to face the challenge of conveincing the older generals of his capacities and, at the same time, keep united the ethnically mixed Chadian forces.

It must be pointed out that, on April 26th, Albert Pahimi Padacke was appointed as the new Prime Minister. This designation was rejected by the opposition, which has claimed that Padacke was a former member of Idriss Déby’s cabinet (he was Prime Minister between 2016 and 2018). Even if he participated in the recently held presidential election, obtaining the second place with nearly 10% of the votes, he is seen as a continuity of the old regime. Nevertheless, external powers, like the United States and France, have approved the appointment of Padacke. Basically, because he is a civilian and not a military, something that could reinforce the necessity of a civilian or civilian-military transition instead of a merely military transitional government. This latter issue is very relevant, as clashes between policemen and protesters have erupted in N’Djamena and the southern part of the country. The confrontations have left  at least six dead, 36 wounded and 12 arrested people. So, that is why it is so important that the TMC has already named a new government, which has been recognised by Saleh Kebzabo, main oppository of Idriss Déby. The leader of the National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR) declared that they made this decision in order to be part of the transitional government. In regard to this latter one, it included some opposition members and even Lydie Beasssemda, the only woman that ran for the recently held presidential election (arriving in the third place). The fact that Mahamat Ahmat Alhabo, from the Party for Freedom and Development (PFD), has been appointed as Minister of Justice and Human Rights can be seen as a signal of conceding power to the opposition. Also, it must be highlighted that the cabinet will have 40 members and nine of them will be women. Finally, the creation of a Ministry of National Reconciliation and Dialogue -given to Acheick Ibn Oumar, a former rebel- seems to be interesting and, consequently, something to observe during the political process of the transition.

Another key issue is the relation between the rebel groups, the TMC and the transitional government. While the rebels of the FACT stated, on April 25th, that they were keen to a ceasefirse and talks that could lead to a political arrengement, the TMC rejected their offer and declared that there would not be any dialogue with them. Even more, the head of the TMC, Mahamat Déby, claimed that they would ask Niger to provide help in order to capture and bring to justice those ‘war criminals’. Some days later, on April 29th, the FACT knocked down a helicopter of the Chadian Armed Forces, worsening the situation and demonstrating that the military confrontation will not stop before an agreement is signed.

Finally, Chad’s situation has spread fears and worries along the Sahel and other bordering regions. For example, the Head of the Presidential Council of Libya, Mohammed Menfi, and the recently elected President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, held a phone call in which they shared views about the current situation in Chad. On the same line, on April 24th, Libya, Niger and Sudan expressed their concern about Chad’s situation and, among other issues, called for a meeting of the African Union Security Council. Menfi went beyond the diplomatic encounter and ordered the Libyan army to secure the southern border with Chad. On April 27th, South Sudan sent a security representative to Chad, while on April 29th a mission of the African Union arrived to N’Djamena. Its delegation should stay in the chadian capital until May 6th and will publish a report with conclusions not later of May 8th.


Idriss Déby was a symbol of an old school-type military leader, that is, one that used to wear the uniform and go the battle front. He was one of the last African autocrats or dictators coming from the militaries, such as Muammar Al Ghaddafi, Omar Al Bashir or Isaias Afwerki, that gave political stability but through autoritharism and a regime that put individual or collective freedom -and even Human Rights- under the security needs. While being able to make some tiny changes in Chad’s political system, he just disguised a leadership of a past era. Therefore, even if the sudden murder of Déby was a shock for the country -Chad was not prepared to a quick and unexpected transition- it may be an opportunity to democratise the institutionality of the country and, the most important, to strengthen Chad as a modern State. Being one of the poorest nations in the world, the task will be tough and very riskful, especially with the current context of insecurity, instability and changes in the Sahel and neighbouring regions or countries.  

In regard with the ideas exposed in the previous paragraph, there should be an análisis and revision of the political stability model based on authorisarism. In different contexts and with diverse variables, it has failed in a lot of African countries. The process of political and social change that started in the Maghrebian states in 2011 is a proof of that failure and Algeria, Libya and Tunisia are well demonstrated and studied cases. In the Sahel, Mali has tried to advance steps in the democratisation process but the security risks and the lack of good governance have become a massive osbtacle. Similiar situations affect other Sahelian states, such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Nevertheles, the bet for democratic stability has to be a priority. The big deal is how to compatibilise that task with the capacity of solving current problems and, especially, in urgent issues like counterterrorism, immigration, climate change, covid-19’s pandemic, social unrest and human development.

So, the current situation of Chad must be analysed taking into account the regional context, in which there are lot of menaces (terrorism, drug smuggling, person trafficking, climate change, intercommunity violence, poltical and social instability, among others), conflicts (war in Mali and Libya, Gerd dispute,  political and social instability in Central African Republic, weak stability in South Sudan and transition in Sudan, Niger and Mali) and even nearly failed States, Chad was seen as an example of stability and this allowed Idriss Déby to control the country with an iron fist. Now, Chad will face the mission of maintaining the stability but, at the same time, starting a democratisation process. If it is already a massive task for a nation that has no democratic tradition, the challenge seems even tougher due to the previously described current context.

In this scenario, it is probably that the main powers support the TMC and the transitional government, even if, according to some elements, it is against democratic principles. Actually, France has expressed its will to help Deby’s son and the United Nations has declared that Idriss Déby’s death was a “loss of an essential partner”, demonstrating that the securrity issues are far more relevant than democratic reforms. In the same line, Amina Abba Sidick, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Idriss Déby, has said that even democracy is essential, sometimes the reality makes impossible to avoid some situations or decisions, that is, to put the security as the priority issue. That is why he suggests to support the TMC in order to maintain the unity and stability of the country. As it can be seen, pragmatism seems to be the most accepted approach in the current context as regional and external powers know that the collapse of Chad could have disastrous consequences for the Sahel and bordering regions.

The present conflict will be a test for the G5 Sahel, in order to see if they can take the responsibility of mediating in the conflict. According to some information, the G5 Sahel asked Niger and Mauritania to play an active role in this issue, something that could also have positive consequences, in case of achieving good results, for the transitional processes that both countries are witnessing. If they are able to manage the current conflict towards a civilian transition that paves the way to more democratic institutionality in Chad, including transparent and democratic elections, they could strengthen their leadership as presidents of Mauritania and Niger, countries that also need to work hard for improvements in their quest for a stable and more democratic institutionalities. At the same time, it will be a good way to measure the extent of the diplomatic arms of France and if Emmanuel Macron will understand that his latest failures (Mali and Libya) impose him not to play an active role and just give the demanded support. Concerning other African countries, it will be a challenge for integration blocs (as CEDEAO, Sahelo-Saharian Community, African Union) and neighbouring States. In this point, it could be a good opportunity to see mediations from the Maghrebian countries or even from those coming from the Horn of Africa, as conflicts in the Sahel have direct implications for the mentioned regions.

Another relevant topic is the presence of thousands of mercenaries in Libya. Since last February, Libya has a national union government -something that happened after seven years of confrontation between the National Government (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar’s forces- and recently have been signed some agreements, including, among others, a cease-fire arrangement. Furthermore, different parties involved in the conflict have stated that it is imperative to expel or withdraw diverse mercenary forces that currently are involved in Libya. This could have important consequences for Chadian rebel groups that are based in Libya’s southern region but also for neighbouring countries. What could happen with the rebels, and especially the FACT, if they are compeled to quit Libyan territory but without being able to return to Chad? This is just one of the questions about this issue and, in fact, United Nations’ Security Councial has already expressed its concern about the future of nearly 25,000 thousand mercenaries that currently are in Libya.

The consolidation of a civilian transition will strongly depend on the ability of the FACT to be a leader of diverse rebel groups that represent different ethnical groups. The civil society can put a lot of pressure and, for example, the Union of Syndicats of Chad (UST), called the people to go on strike and to protest against a transition led by a military. Also, the participation of the rebels should be taken into account, as the FACT has already expressed, on April 24th, their desire of a cease-fire that is accompanied by a political solution to the conflict. In regard to this issue, it is important to recall that the FACT has a political purpose (to topple Déby) and, at least until now, they are just a rebel group trying to change the political scenario and not a terrorist grup. Thus, in order to have a strong and durable dialogue, they should be part of the transition, as an exclusion of them could lead to further confrontations between the FACT (and maybe other rebel groups that have declared their support to them) and the TMC. So, the latter one’s decision to do not negotiate with the FACT, officialized on April 25th, can be categorised as a mistake. However, there have been positive signals, as the announcement of a transitional government with civilians and opposition members in it, the support of the Syndical Confederation of Chad (CST) and the meeting between Mahamat Déby and representatives of the CNJT, among others.

It should be said that the current situation in Chad is a demonstration of how different political, social and military issues are so connected between them. Chad is part of the Sahel, a region that is always linked with the Maghreb, Wesstern Africa and the Horn of Africa. In these three geopolitical zones, diverse players are defending their interests and, therefore, complicating even more the board. For example, the dispute between Turkey and Qatar against United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -even though there have been some approaches during the last weeks- is taking place in Libya  and Somalia, but also in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the case of Egypt, it is implied in the Gerd’s conflict (against Ethiopia and involving Sudan), has played an important role in Libya -where it confronts Turkey- and is always paying attention to what happens in its southern borders (that is whay Chad is very relevant for Egypt). Russia is a key actor in Central African Republic, but also in Libya and even in the Horn of Africa (mainly Sudan), while the United States and the European Union have a strong presence in the Sahel and Libya.  There are more examples of how connected the diplomatic moves and the geopolitical interest are, so it seems that the region composed by the Maghreb, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa may get even more attention and will witness the fight for power between the most powerful nations but also among regional or other international key players.

It is important to understand that Chad’s developments could aggravate the humanitarian situation in the country and in the Sahel, a region in which, according to a report published by UN on April 27th, 29 million people were in need of assistance. Even more, OCHA has established that 6,4 million people are in need of assistance in Chad but only 3,8 millions of them have been targeted. The country hosts 473,000 refugees and has 236,000 internally displaced people.  Futhermore, nearly 4 million people are facing alimentary insecurity, a number that could rise up to 5,1 millions during the June-August period. Finally, 15 of the 23 provinces have an alarming nutritional situation. Refugiados y desplazados.

Internally, it must not be forgotten that clashes between herders and farmers have been taking place in the Salamat region (Southeastern region of Chad) and this situation could worsen with the sum of various of the elements previously mentioned in this article.

Finally, it is impossible to project what will happen in the future, as it depends on the international developments taking place in Chad. In this regard, there are three main scenarios. The first one is that Idriss Deby’s son gives continuity to his father’s regime, something that could be very bad news for the Chadian people but good news to the regional or international powers that do not want to lose an excellent ally in their fight against terrorism in the Sahel and the Chad Lake Basin. The second one is a transitional period in which opposition forces progressively come into power. It could be through a national unity government or due to a well constructed relation between the official power (the 18-months TMC), the civil society and the political parties. The third one is the rupture of the regime and political institutionality, something that could lead to unpredictable or unknown scenarios. This should be the worst of all the situations, as it could plunge Chad into chaos and, therefore, worsen the already complex context of the Sahel, Horn of Africa and the North of Africa.

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Mali: from social discontent to the military junta

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Mali: from social discontent to the military junta

Fecha 3/09/2020 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

Since June, the M5-RFP movement started to lead the social unrest of the Malian population. Even if at the first moment the group did not demand the resignation of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the country’s president, after July’s deadly riots everything changed and the dialogue between the government and the M5-RFP was nearly impossible. In that context, the mediation efforts of the Economic Community of Western Africa States (Ecowas) were the last hope in this tight process but the integration bloc also failed. Even worse, in a blink o fan eye, a military coup took place and Mali’s future seems to be uncertain. 

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | September 3, 2020

(John Kalapo/Getty Images)

Mali’s history has experienced social unrest, military coups (1968, 1991, 2012 and 2020) and tuareg rebellions (1962-1964, 1990-1995, 2007-2009 and 2012), so it is not surprising to see that the incipient democracy (1991-2012) was destroyed during the last years. Therefore, it seems mandatory to analyze which were the causes of the current crisis, which has been described as a “multidimensional crisis” but also as a “convergence of multiple crisis in different dimensions”. So, in this context, it is interesting to review some of the main reasons of today’s situation and, in order to do this, the internal (Mali’s actors) and external factors (integration blocs, international organisations and great powers) of the current conflict will be analysed in this article.

Mali’s mistakes

The country’s current situation is a consequence of bad governance and this puts on the table the urgent need of reviewing the democratic institutionality of the Malian state. If 1992’s Constitution was a good step towards a new era -the end of the Cold War and Moussa Traoré’s dictatorship- today it is mandatory to adopt new measures and adapt the Constitution to the new times, it is, the current issues that affect the Malian population and the democratic institutionality of the country. Nevertheless, the most important thing is that good governance is imposed as the only acceptable way of leading a country. During the last 15 years, Mali has suffered a permanent deterioration of the State’s capacity to govern well, degradating the Malian population´s quality of life but also damaging the democratic roots that emerged in the 90’s.   

Therefore, all of the above mentioned caused  the failure of the State and not only in one aspect. It is a conflict about security, social inequalities,   education, health, decentralization, governance and the fight against corruption. At the same time, there has to be a new paradigm in politics. The ‘idolic’ way is not the recomendable path and it is time to build a robust and trustful State that has solid roots and can work without depending on one leader, a specific political party or even a political conglomeration.

The best examples of how badly Mali has been governed are the two military coups (2012 and 2020), the tuareg rebellion (2012) and the disrupt of terrorist groups (2013-nowadays). Those elements merged to generate a deep security (and humanitarian) crisis, which added a new item in the formula, it is, intercommunitary violence.

One of the big mistakes of IBK was his incapacity to establish solid ties with the opposition and the militaries. In the midst of coronavirus pandemic, maybe the correct decision was to postpone the legislative elections. However, he insisted in organizing them and, the worst error, the process was not fair and 31 seats of the National Assembly were contested. After that, he did not have the capacity to dialogue with the opposition or to simply announce partial elections for the 31 parlamentaries that won with a suspected unfair or corrupt process. The same can be said about 2018’s presidential elections, as violence and a low turnout (nearly 35% of the voters) were the main protagonists of the second tour.

When the turmoil and protests progressed and finally transformed into deadly riots, once again IBK did not respond in a good way. The Malian forces dispersed rioters -it has to be said that some of them were destroying public goods or even state buildings- but the response was too violent and at least 11 protesters died. According to the opposition, there were 23 deaths.  After that, and being cornered by the M5-RFP movement, he decided to dialogue and to offer some concessions (but not too many). Unluckily, it was too late and the discontent was even bigger than before. Now, the people wanted IBK’s resignation too and that was the main obstacle in this process. Finally, even if IBK accepted to change the members of the Constitutional Court, once again he made a mistake and named three members proposed by the National Assembly’s President, something that was rejected by the M5-RFP. It was a chain of huge errors, including the conflict, which started long before the legislative elections, with the powerful imam Mahmoud Dicko.  In regard with the militaries, some of them complained about the indifference of the government and the president himself about issues like the salaries, the equipment, the working conditions and the deaths of soldiers that were killed during operations against terrorist groups. So, it is not a big surprise to see mutinied soldiers against him.

Nepotism and corruption also deserve a paragraph, as they are two main sins of IBK. For instance, a 40 million dollar plane purchase in the middle of a crisis, the appointment of his son as the head of a Defense Commission of the National Assembly and the buy of 15-euros military socks are some examples of his non-transparent actions, something that irritated the Malian population in general but also international donors or partners such as the FMI.

Concerning the military intervention, some researchers have concluded that the coup could be motivated by the weak support of the Malian state towards the Armed Forces of the country. This is a very interesting point, as lots of Malian soldiers have died in attacks -some of them even in the military camps- perpetuated by terrorist groups. In this regard, the Malian Armed Forces have been demanding an improvement of their equipment, but also of their salaries and work conditions.  A deeper analysis should also take into account the fact that a UN’s report established that important military or security officials had tried to boycott the Algiers Agreement of 2015. In this point, two main names are highlighted and they are the general Keba Sangaré and Moussa Diawara, chief of the State Security General Direction.  Among other accusations, they have, seemingly, made alliances with particular groups of leaders of the armed groups that signed the Algiers Agreement but also have taken bad decisions in issues like the launch of the combined force composed, in equal parts, by the Malian Armed Forces, ex-rebel formations and pro-government armed groups. So, it is not strange to see that the military junta declared that their aim is not to change everything but to “clean” the conduction of the Malian Armed Forces. However, there should be a complete and transparent investigation about human rights’ violations and violence against civilians perpetuated by Malian Armed Forces. It is necessary, in order to have a stronger transition and a solid “new State”, to clarify what happened, who were the responsibles of civilian massacres and who will pay (with jail) for those crimes.

A final comment is yet to be made and it is about the role of the protesters. Even if they were fighting for logical and fair demands and that they suffered with violent response from the government forces, the M5-RFP movement has to analyse its role or its influence in the violence that exploded during June and July. Destruction of public and private property, lootings and even attacks against the National Assembly building should never be part of legitimate and fair demonstrations. The same applies for those groups that did not want to establish an open dialogue with the government. It seems that Mahmoud Dicko tried to calm down the mood but he was not able to do that.

External powers’ errors

Regional and international diplomacy have not been able to find a solution to the crisis, so it is evident that multilateralism has failed. Hence, it is urgent to improve and strengthen the existance of integration blocs, as today they are not in conditions to offer a trustful and good mediation. For example, it is not a logical thing to have great expectations about Ecowas, as it has a dual problem. The first one is that in the past it has not been able to find solutions to crisis that have affected member countries of the Ecowas. The second is that among Ecowas’ members there are governments that are facing social unrest due to bad governance, corruption and, maybe the most important, the big mistake of staying or willing to stay in power even if it means to pass over the Constitution or the democratic institutionality. Guinea’s Alpha Condé and Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara (both seeking third mandates) and current examples, which can be added to Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé (dictatorship).

Concerning the participation of the United Nations and world powers such as the European Union, United States, Russia or France, they have demonstrated that their influence and participation has not been the ideal one, especially in the security issue. In this latter point, there are important initiatives but they have failed. Minusma has 13.289 military personnel in Mali, Barkhane force has  5.100 militaries and there are also military forces of Tchad and the G5 Sahel. It should be added the relevant support of the EUTM and EUCAP Sahel Mali. Despite this military presence, terrorist group attacks, intercommunitary violence and violence against civilians still remain, sadly, as a normal issue. Thus, it will be important to see what will happen with the coordination of the military missions. In relation to this, a new military force was announced, the Takuba, and after the military coup it is a logical thing to analyse what is going to happen with this initiative. Until now, the speaker of the coup plotters has declared that Minusma, G5 Sahel Barkhane and Takuba will continue to be their partners. Time will tell if this statement is part of the official continuity they have announced (in this issue) or if it is just a pragmatic view, as the Malian state lacks the necessary resources to expel the international or regional military missions that currently are operating in the country.

France is surely one of the greatest losers after the coup. In this point, it is important to mention that foreign presence and particularly the french one are not well received by some part of Mali’s population. Indeed, some protesters and supporters of the M5-RFP movement demonstrated their reject towards the international forces operating in malian territory. The fact that France ‘forgot’ IBK and told Ecowas that his return was “iresponsible and dangerous” is a proof of the french pragmatism in the middle of a crisis that has shown France’s failure in Mali. The military coup was not the goal of France but in the current context it was the lesser evil. So, France should analyse its approach to Mali’s situation, especially in the military and/or security issue. The difuse or even contradictory measures and actions taken by the french government have had a negative impact in the Malian population, generating mistrust towards military forces and French political figures.

Finally, external powers (European Union, France, Russia and Germany, among others), multilateral organisms (United Nations) and regional blocs (African Union, G5 Sahel and Ecowas, among others) must change their approach to local or internal conflicts. Clean and fair elections (maybe it is time to review the use of this concept) plus military presence and or security forces do not assure that demoracy will work and, even more important, that human rights will be defended. The easy work should be replaced by a committed initiative in which cooperation, in different issues, is complemented with respect for democracy, human rights and good governance. This has been a big mistake of external powers, which have participated with a short-term and exclusively military view.  Therefore, it is vital to clarify what will be understood while talking about “counterterrorism”, “security issues” or “defense of democracy”. Until now, it seems that foreign actors do not coordinate well between them but also that they do not share the vision of what should be done or avoided while participating (or perturbing) internal issues.

Conclusions and recommendations

 Mali’s current situation can be defined as a convergence of different crisis in diverse fields (political, humanitarian, economic, security, social unrest, etc.).  Mali’s political crisis needs a true solution and this one can only be achieved through deep structural and social changes. In this context, a national unity or civilian led transitional government could help, as well as new legistlative elections, but the current crisis needs deeper reforms. It is about changing the way in which politics is seen by the political parties and military elites. It is about building a well defined and powerful State. It is about good governance and erradicating corruption. It is about creating a participative democracy but not just copied from the European or Westerner models. It has to take into account the country’s specificities. So, a bigger effort will be needed as until now all the presented proposals have failed and, therefore, it will be very tough to find a legitimate and consensuated way towards democracy.

Clientelism and nepotism maybe were accepted in past decades but now the people are not keen to accept those bad practices. So, it is important that African politicians understand that they have to establish dialogue with opposition parties, the civil society and groups that used to be kept aside of the political arena. In this sense, the transitional government has to include, in first place, trusted leaders. Also, young voices, women and representatives of the Algiers Agreement as opposition and official political parties. These latter ones should avoid presenting too old candidates for future elections and need to work with younger generations that understand the needs of the youth.  

It is a bit odd or contradictory to see military men taking the power in their hands. It is well known that the Armed Forces, not only of Mali but of other Sahelian countries also, have made permanent abuses against civilians. Even more, some of them have been categorized as human rights violations. Therefore, it is necessary to think about how good it could be to give the power to those people and if they are trustworthy. A strongly based transition should not be led by armed forces that have attacked civilian population and that is why it is so important that the military junta has no relation with the cases of human rights violations and violence against civilians.

Other states of the region (West Africa and/or the Sahel) should be aware of the current situation in Mali, in order to prevent a “domino effect”. For instance, the Ecowas has sent a message to Ivory Coast, suggesting a dialogue to resolve the political crisis that is taking place after Alassane Ouattara declared that he will be candidate for a third term as president. In the same region, Guinea’s Alpha Condé is looking forward to a third period, while Togo is facing a dictatorship. Besides, Guinea-Bissau faced a political crisis in 2019 and other countries are trying to recover or to establish a desired democratic structure. It is the case of Niger (military coup in 2010), Burkina Faso (in 2014 ended Blaise Compaoré’s era), Gambia (Yahyah Jammeh was ousted in 2016) and Sierra Leona (its current president lead a military coup in 1996). In this issue, it must be remembered that terrorist groups take advantage of the chaos generated due to political instability, social unrest and inter-community violence. So, it is very important to reinforce the State, in order to control the territory, organize a democratic institutionality and to make political, economic and social reforms.

A change in the counterterrorism strategy seems to be mandatory. Until now, the main element of the international missions or forces was to implement military or security tactics but they forgot that for achieving their goal it is necessary to have a solid, strong and stable State. So, from now on, the analysis of the context should be wider and with a multidimensional vision, it is, the process includes different variables and they have to be studied one by one but also as a system of connected elements.  In brief, the fight against terrorism is useless without supporting a reconstruction of the Malian state and, particularly, the democratic institutionalization of the country. And this latter issue can not be validated by the single fact of having a “democraticaly elected president” and/or “transparent and normal legislative elections”.

It is important to highlight that a military coup or the fall of IBK are not the solution for a problem that has deep roots. Mali is facing a conflict of mutual mistrust between politics and the civil society, but also confronts long-time problems like corruption, state fragility, insecurity, labour precarity and lack of economic resources to generate a good descentralization, among others. This will not end today, nor tomorrow. Therefore, Mali needs a serious and long-term process that takes into account the urgent needs of the people and the State structure.  Also, it is time to review the 1992’s Constitution, as the years have passed and it is evident that big changes have to take place. Some may talk about a total refoundation, while others will defend modifications of the current model or system. Far beyond of this conceptual discussion, deep reforms need to be created and launched. Thus, the civilian rule must be restored as soon as posible, in order that the new process can be seen as legitime and built by a democratic platform and not by a military junta. In relation with this, it is mandatory that the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) appoints a civilian leader as head of the transition government. If they fail in doing so, it could be interpretated as a will of staying in power.

It will be interesting to see the development of the relation between the M5-RFP and the military junta. Different members of the movement have celebrated the military coup -some of them even denying that it was a coup- and the M5-RFP declared, on August 19, that they wanted to work with the militaries in a “republican transition”. In this regard, the question is if they will still be open to collaborate with the junta, even if the latter one has announced that they want a three-year transition with a military chief in power, while the M5-RFP wants a transitional government of no longer than two years. Even more, what will happen if the junta does not clean the Malian Armed Forces and is not capable to investigate the violence made by military forces against civilians? Or what will happen if the junta is not capable of doing a credible investigation about the deaths during the riots that took place in June and July? Finally, the role of the military junta (CNSP) has to be supervised by the Ecowas, the African Union, the political parties and the M5-RFP movement. It is not time to draw conclusions but some facts may allow to take some distance about their defense of democracy. The desire of a 3-year transition, their changes about the leader of the transitional government (first they said it was going to be a civilian or military but later they declared that they wanted a military), the publication of the “Fundamental Chart” (the article 41 may be seen as a violation of the 1992’s  Constitution) and a preliminary mistake of leaving the M5-R FP out of a meeting organized to establish the transition’s roadmap should be taken into account.

Concerning new elections and an eventual review of the Constitution, some concepts or initiatives must be established with a clear meaning. Is it correct to talk with terrorists and, if yes, who will be the legitimate speaker? Is it good to talk with all the parties involved? Which type of amnesty should be implemented with former trafficants, terrorists, armed groups, coup leaders or rioters? Which will be the sanctions against corrupt politicians?  Those are some of the questions that should be answered before planning new elections or political systems.  In relation to this issues, the “Alliance Sahel” should be reinforced and be opened to African “players” and some international key actors that can help with economic resources but also with a more analytical approach who takes into account the reality of the country. The Coalition for the Sahel and the   Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel (P3S) should algo gain more protagonism but it should be understood that too many initiatives may tangle the transitional process, as the previous experience in different type of conflicts has demonstrated that it is very difficult to reach agreements when there are too many actors involved (Examples: Libya and Somalia). In the current situation, th G5 Sahel, the Ecowas, the African Union and the internal players should be the leaders of the process but always counting with the support of the United Nations, European Union and world powers -such as France, Germany, Russia and United States, among others- that want to cooperate.

About the islamists, they should be included in the national dialogue as they can be key players, especially in the talks with terrorist groups. It is true that each country or region has its own particularities but maybe it would be useful to follow the example of countries like Morocco and Tunisia, which allow islamists to participate in politics and even to have political parties that have won elections and, therefore, arrived to power.

Concerning the mediation of external powers, Ecowas members have to be pragmatic and assume that IBK cannot return to the presidency. A military coup is never a solution but in such a difficult context, the recommendation is to establish relations with the M5-RFP movement and with the CNSP. Admitting the military junta as the main power may be seen as a support for anti-democratic processes but it is even more important to avoid further chaos. Now, it is time to act with tact and realism. The militaries want a transition of three years with a military in command. That should not be accepted but the agreement has to be achieved as a result of a peaceful process that includes a sincere dialogue between the CNSP, the M5-RFP movement and, surely, the politicians. It cannot be forgotten that the officialism is still powerful in the current National Assembly, so they also should be part of the solution. However, in a first moment, it is necessary that Ecowas and the military junta reach a middle-point that can give a consensuated base to the process. Military coups are very harmful for democracies but third mandates and bad governance too. Even if it can sound as a repeated cliché, this crisis may allow Mali, on the one hand, to start a new political process and, on the other one, it can be the starting point of a renewed diplomacy of regional blocs in Africa. There are lots of questions in the air, so the limit between wishful thinking, beautiful declarations and concrete actions or solutions has to be defined. It also has to be found a correct way to aggregate the different actors in one single path towards peaceful and democratic resolution of political, social and economic conflicts.

About the future of the military junta, it is important to clarify that even in the first days after the coup there was a total rejection, within the upcoming weeks the situation changed. Pragmatism has been a key element and it has allowed the CNSP to remain in power and even reinforce it. The visit of Algeria’s Foreign minister, the meetings with EU delegations, the continuity of the military missions and even a trip to Burkina Faso and Niger are useful examples to conclude that the junta has been accepted as a legal counterpart. Even more, the M5-RFP also has been keen to talk with the militaries and Mahmoud Dicko has recognised the junta as the current government. Nevertheless, as he recently told, there will not be a “white sheet” for them. Far beyond from the debate about the rejection or acceptation of the coup -it is, if there is a partial/total acceptance or reject of the coup-, the concrete fact is that the military junta will govern for some more time and will not be a transitional power of some weeks or months. About this latter issue, it is a typical trend in Africa and particularly in the Sahel, region in which the ousted presidents or dictators do not come back to power and coup leaders keep the control of the country. Time will tell if the current military junta will finally be a transitional government or, as it has happened on another countries -like Mauritania, in 2008, for instance- they will seek to come into power.

Related with the situation described in the above paragraph, Burkina Faso and Niger will have presidential elections in November and December, respectively, and the development and final results of this processes may increase or decrease the risk of democratic failure in the Sahel. So, Mali’s conflict  has to be solved in a fair and peaceful way but what happens there has to be taken into account by the politicians and political parties who seek an arrival to power in Burkina Faso and Niger. Democracy is a must in the Sahel, as political, social en economic instability could amplify the current humanitarian crisis that currently affect millions of people in the mentioned countries but also neighbouring ones. As a final comment, the military junta, the M5-RFP and the political parties have to understand that the short-term solutions cannot wait. Basically, because an important part of the Malian population confronts difficult situations and will deal with further risks. In fact, a recent rapport of the United Nations has warned that 6.8 million people need human assistance. This number is very worrying as in January it was 4.3, it is, a 55% jump. Even worse, 121.300 people will fase floodings risk, especially in Gao, Kayes and Mopti regions, which will concentrate 44% of the total number of persons that will be affected by floods. The described situation will join other difficulties that already exist like the effects of climate change, Covid-19 pandemia and migratory issues.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

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