CHANGING FOREIGN RELATIONS OF MALI: ROLE OF THE MILITARY JUNTA

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Mali has maintained democracy throughout; however, during the last decade, i.e. 2011-2021, it has experienced Simultaneous Military Coups, thrice, i.e.,2012 followed by 2020 and then again 2021, which led to the constrained internal as well as external relations of the country.

History & Situation Overview of Mali

The Republic of Mali is a West African landlocked country. The nation gained independence from France in 1960. Since its formation, the region has had a long history of coups before 1992. The governments were overthrown in 1968 and 1991, respectively. However, In 1992, the civilian government was reinstated to ensure political stability. It also introduced elections conducted every five years. Since then, the country has portrayed the image of a multi-party state. However, due to Mali’s response to the emergency in Tuareg, things escalated, leading to the first military coup in 2012.

The 2012 Tuareg rebellion was the primary cause of the 2012 Malian coup d’état. The map depicts the
regions of Mali controlled by various separatist/rebel groups.

2012 Malian coup d’état

During this period the insurgent groups captured territories and commenced warfare against the government in January. The agenda of insurgency was to establish Tuareg as an independent state. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a separatist group, led this movement. 

Malian army in the Bamako street during the 2012 coup

An interim government was established to control the harsh sanctions imposed by numerous countries on Mali and promote stability. However, the Interim government requested France’s support due to the escalating situation. Hence the country deployed troops in January 2013. This is known as ‘Operation Serval’. The peacekeeping forces successfully gained a hold on most northern regions and successfully pushed back the rebels. In the 2013 elections, Boubacar Keita became the president after winning the presidential elections in August. Later, his party “Rally For Mali” succeeded in the parliamentary elections held in November. 

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta succeeded in maintaining Mali’s stability from 2013 till he was
forced to resign in 2020.

Since then, the country has maintained political stability and re-elected President Keita in the 2018 elections. The rebel groups were still present and posed security threats to Northern and central Mali. however, the abduction of the opposition leader during the 2020 elections created a security crisis in the central and northern regions.  

2020 Malian coup d’état

In June 2020, protests began, accusing the government of corruption and its inability in handling the security crisis. The situation worsened when there was a fire inside the military base at Kati by the militants. The location is 15 kilometers away from the capital, Bamako. 

Amid the coup d’état, the military kidnapped President Keita, Prime Minister Boubou, and other senior government officials. All this led to the resignation of President Keita and the dissolution of the government. On the other hand, the United States suspended Mali’s military aid immediately. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended all the financial assets. Further, it closed all the regional borders, threatening other member countries. The African Union (AU) imposed strict sanctions. Mali’s membership got suspended as well. Moreover, the European Union halted all the missions in Mali. 

Col. Assimi Goïta served as the Vice president of the interim government after ousting Mali’s President and
Prime Minister in the 2020 coup.

The 2020 coup strained the foreign relations severely and put significant International Pressure on the Military Junta in lieu of all the backdrops they faced during the coup. In order to get the sanctions lifted, the Junta approved a political charter regarding the power transition within 18 months, i.e. February 2022 elections. Also, the Junta appointed an interim government with Col Bah Ndaw and Moctar Ouane as the Vice President and Prime Minister, respectively.

Another unstable administration

However, the stability within the administration was short-lived as the coordination among the members were disturbed. The power of the transitional government was seized by Col. Goita to preserve the ‘transitional charter and defend the republic’. He accused the government of reshuffling the cabinet and removing influential cabinet leaders appointed by the military. The aftermath led to the reappointment of Col Goita as Mali’s Interim President by Mali’s constitutional court. Moreover, the World Bank further blocked Mali’s payments. 

Threat to Mali’s Security 

All the disturbances throughout the decade have strained Mali’s internal and external relations. When Col Goita was appointed interim president, he appointed Chogeul Maiga as interim prime minister. He assigned him to establish the new cabinet and focused on the February 2022 elections scheduled earlier in 2020. The Prime Minister emphasised improvisation and strengthening national security, good governance and bringing institutional reforms. 

The country has always been surrounded by or faced violent extremists and insurgencies. These coups have only added to the current instability in the region.

These political fluctuations leave the country’s administration in a dire state. The military’s interference is easily visible in the multiple aspects of domestic politics and the perilous political framework. Due to the vulnerability, the region has become home to numerous illegal and criminal activities on various grounds, such as narcotics, arms, and illegal migrants. 

The Security Crisis dates back to 2012. The influx intensified the crimes which were already taking place in the area. The situation further deteriorated when an external terrorist group such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) ‘s Sahel Branch merged with the local affiliates to develop unions to support Muslims and Islam. There were frequent on the citizens, and displacements of people took place. These groups were not even confined to the Central and Northern regions of Mali but expanded and grabbed a foothold in South Mali.

In 2015, a peace deal, ‘Algiers Accord’ was signed between the Mali Government and two northern armed coalitions assuring state authority’s reinstatement in the north. However, the implementation has not come into effect till now, and this stalling has perplexed the whole scenario related to security.  

The Coordination of Azawad Movements’ representative attending the Algiers Accord signing at Bakamo, Mali in 2015.
Image courtesy- The Guardian

Mali in International Sphere

In lieu of the unsettling turmoil in the country, the international community deployed numerous troops to strengthen the security forces of Mali. On the other hand, as mentioned above, Mali also had to face liabilities due to the imposition of heavy sanctions and membership suspension, and frozen assets. 

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 

ECOWAS is a crucial negotiator for insisting on democratic transition in Mali. The community imposed sanctions after the August 2020 coup, followed by suspending Mali’s membership after the May 2021 coup. From banning travel to freezing the financial assets, it also warned Mali not to miss the deadline for elections. 

This act was condemned strongly by the Mali leaders, and it closed all the borders with the concerned states. The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and ECOWAS announced in the January 2022 meeting that all the financial institutions should suspend Mali’s access to the region’s financial markets with immediate effect. The sanctions imposed due to delayed elections have led to thousands of people protesting and rallying against ECOWAS in the state as the illegal sanctions will rupture the security threats.

ECOWAS leaders at an emergency meeting in January 2022.
An immediate transition of the government in Mali was the union’s key demand. Image courtesy- Aljazeera

Additionally, it must ensure that ordinary citizens are not affected by the imposed sanctions on Mali. A diplomatic round of talks could act as an ice breaker between the Mali Government, ECOWAS, and the third party, such as the UN or EU, who will act as a guide in creating a levelled field between the two. 

France and the Operation Barkhane

Like the United States, France deployed its troops in Afghanistan for peace and stability. The French Government had its troops in Mali for over nine years. In August 2014, France introduced Operation Barkhane. It is also known as the most extensive deployment operation of France abroad. The objective revolved around fighting against the terrorist groups, G5 Sahel, Former French colonies, namely Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Niger, co-led this anti-surgent operation.

The military assistance, along with external help, supported the country by attacking the existing terrorist bases, getting old territories back, and cutting off logistics flows to these extremist groups. However, in 2021, Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of some French forces troops in the country in a phased manner in 2022. The international missions will accumulate the rest. However, Mali’s Prime Minister stated that the French government had abandoned Mali.

French soldiers in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane, France’s largest overseas operation.

ECOWAS joined France’s Operation Serval. It was known as ECOWAS-led-African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) which the United Nations Security Council approved. The mission was successful, so the United Nations expanded the mission and replaced it in 2013 with The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The functions of the operation range from civilian protection to supporting political processes.

The mission has been successful until now and gets renewed every year. In 2021, the mandate demanded a special progress report every three months to check and balance the areas and monitor the situation carefully. While the attacks on UN Peacekeepers are not looked after correctly by the Malian government, the attacks on the peacekeeping forces are intolerable. The laid-back response of the government in terms of accountability will further affect the morale of the peacekeeping forces.

Way Forward 

The country, at present, has been facing a jolt and is in jeopardy due to the unstable government. In this scenario, the European Union can play an essential role in being the key security partner of West African countries.

If both EU and ECOWAS could reach a stable solution, Mali could not get plagued by the militant groups associated with Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The situation must not be brushed aside or neglected by the international communities. The hold of the terrorist groups could get more firm, further leading to attacks on the peacekeepers and ordinary citizens. The aftermath could be more fatal than expected in the international arena if the situation is not timely controlled.

The Great Mosque at Djenné in Mali at sunrise.
Mali was once known in the medieval ages for its richness, culture, and as a center of Islamic knowledge.

The foremost objective of the organisations or communities looking after Mali’s situation is to ensure democracy and the rule of law in the country to achieve long-term stability with a lesser threat to the lives of the citizens. The transition from insurgency to democracy is going to be a gradual process. Once implemented correctly, it could bring prosperity to the country and improve its internal and external relations. Once completing the transitional phase, the country can experience a boost in the economy by foreign investments in Business, trades, agricultural opportunities vital for the region.   

Read about Sudan, another African nation strangled by coups and protests here!  


About the Author

AAKRITI VERMA

Aakriti Verma is a fun-loving person, Apart from being a budding reader and a content writer, she has an extreme interest in Socialising. An Extrovert who has literally adopted introverts around her. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Relations.

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