Mali Politics: Walking the tight rope between chaos and democracy

Ever since 1960 when France’s former colonies in North Western Africa gained independence, Mali has been at the epicenter of five decades of ‘France-Afrique’ a political term coined by former French President Charles De Gaulle that attempted to keep France’s former colonies dependent on their former political masters.  After Algeria gained a bloody independence from France in 1962, Paris lost its major oil importer and looked to its other former colonies (including Mali) for the exploitation of untapped oil, gold and other natural minerals found in the region.  France’s interference and influence in Mali (and its surrounding neighbors) is well known and documented.  In an effort to unravel the political complexities of Mali I have been interviewing key political figures in Mali in order to include their insights in this article.

I recently interviewed the former Secretary General of the Malian Parliament Dr. Madou Diallo a highly distinguished academic and political scientist who holds numerous university degrees including a Master's Degree in International Law and International Relations from Lyon University and a Doctorate in Public Law from Descartes University Paris.  Dr. Diallo, at only 41 years of age, is a fine analyst of the Algiers peace agreement and an expert in the complexities of Mali’s northern separatist movements. He is also one of the few African experts trained in the United Nations Disarmament Program.

The main political opposition party in Mali the URD also had to be investigated. After much effort I was given the privilege of interviewing Ibrahima N’Diaye the party’s 2nd Vice-President and top advisor to the URD’s leader Soumaïla Cissé.  A stalwart critic of the government Mr. N’Diaye is one of its most blunt political opponents.

In order to obtain a female perspective on Mali’s unstable political situation I also interviewed Madame Minister Kadiatou

Sy Sow the first woman to hold the positions of a Governor (Bamako District 1993-1994), Minister of Foreign Affairs (1994) and Minister of Urban Planning and Housing (1994-2000).  A fervent supporter of women empowerment she is currently head of the ‘Community Development Support Project’. An independent NGO.

To have a greater understanding of the political instability of Northern Mali I researched the numerous minority tribes of the north including the Tuarrg and Arab Tribes that reside in the region. One year after a French and African Union military intervention expelled AQIM (‘Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’) from their bases in northern Mali in early 2013, then Prime Minister Moussa Mara sparked ethnic tensions by taking an  ill-advised visit to the Kidal region (a stronghold of separatist Tuareg rebels) in mid-May 2014. The Malian Army then undertook a rapid withdrawal from the region due to angered Tuareg insurgents in Kidal and many other sites of strategic importance in the north.

As a result of the army’s rapid evacuation the majority of the Tuareg and Arab populations of the north (that have no interest in separatism or the formation of an Islamic state) were immediately disenfranchised and put at risk from politically-motivated violence. These communities responded by transforming their pro-government Tuareg militia into a more inclusive pro-government self-defense organization, the GroupeAutodéfenseTouaregImghad et Alliés (GATIA), led by the only Tuareg member of Mali’s general staff, General Hajj ag Gamou. With an estimated 1,000 fighters drawn from Tuareg and Arab communities, the movement announced its formation on August 14, 2014. Since then the group has emerged as a powerful obstacle to the ambitions of those militant groups in northern Mali seeking greater autonomy or the establishment of an independent state to be known as “Azawad.”

On June 20 2015 the ‘CMA’ (Coordination of the Azawad Movements) signed the peace accords with the Malian government under the auspices’ of the Algerian led peace negotiations. At the time it was supported by most of the armed groups in the north including the Azawad National Liberation Movement (‘MNLA’), the Azawad Arab Movement (‘MAA’) and the High Council for the 'Azawad Unit (‘HCUA’).

In an effort to gain clarity in this highly complex political scenario I asked Dr. Diallo his opinion on the current state of affairs in Northern Mali and th of the CMA.

“Northern Mali is more than twice the size of France. As long as this territory is beyond the control of the central state (and) the army it will serve as a nest for jihadists of the entire Sahel-Saharan zone.”- Dr. Madou Diallo Former Secretary General of the Malian Parliament on the status of MINUSMA’s deployment in Mali


According to Dr. Diallo “It must be recognized that the MNLA movement (the main component of the CMA) is mainly consisting of lfoghasTuaregs (autonomists), who are opposed (to the) the lmghadTuaregs (who are) responsible for GATIA.” He further stated that “the clashes or tension between the troops of these two (groups) and their divergence over the management of Kidal are sources of divergences and hardly allow for the (nurturing) of their alliance.” Dr. Diallo then concluded that “This means that GATIA and the CMA are both opposed and allied.”

I then posed the simple question to Dr. Diallo if the 2015 Peace Accords were working and his answer should send a chill through the backbones of most Western Governments. “The implementation of the Inter-Malian agreement in Algiers still seems to be hampered by obstacles which the actors cannot overcome, creating a climate of suspicion” and that “The general situation of the country is much more degraded than it has ever been.” He went on to say that “implementation of the agreement is stalling. Each party accuses the other to be responsible for the delay…terrorist groups are (conducting) more and more attacks in the center and the south of the country, more than in the North..(and there are) attacks against the Malian armed forces and international (forces)” and that
“The risks of inter-community warfare are increasing every day”.

Dr. Diallo believes that regional (State) and local (municipal) authorities in the north will fall into conflict under the 2015 Peace Agreement’s  model of decentralized government and that this will pose a great threat to the Central Malian government’s authority and that “the country's current fragility (could)  lead to deconstruction of the Malian State. Fortunately, the law revising the Constitution did not retain the proposals of the original draft on this subject.’’ However, he did not share the relevance of the new text as a whole.

Dr. Diallo concluded his summation of the 2015 Peace Accords by opinionating that “Above all, it is necessary to place people at the center of the system and not (the) armed movements which are really (the) minority in the Tuaregs themselves, (which is) roughly 10% of the northern populations.”

I also asked Dr. Diallo his opinion of the international community’s perception that Mali is a territory controlled by terrorists and Jihadists.  He responded that “Northern Mali is more than twice the size of France. As long as this territory is beyond the control of the central state (and) the army it will serve as a nest for jihadists of the entire Sahel-Saharan zone.”  I then asked him how the armed separatist and terrorist groups can be removed from Mali and he answered “  “To conclude with the presence of the jihadists, several measures are necessary: Strengthen the capacities of the Malian army to intervene (against) Jihadist groups; Improve basic social services and the presence of the State; Improve infrastructure (and) development projects; cutting the links between certain Malian armed groups and the
(disenfranchised segments) of the population and to make local communities viable and operational.”

While the detailed responses of Dr. Diallo sound reasonable the political viability of his proposed solutions to the crises in Mali face major challenges. To overcome these impediments Dr. Diallo thinks that in order to bring stability back to Mali “the parties (must) Identify blocking points and agree on corrective measures. But above all, the containment, disarmament and reintegration of (the) Combatants (and) the return of the army and the state's representatives to all (of) these Localities”. It also seems that Dr. Diallo has identified GATIA as part of the solution when he stated to me that “GATIA works with the Malian government for the stability of the country and is today a key player in the peace process.”

In regards to MUNISA I asked Dr. Diallo about the impact that Canada’s upcoming contribution of 600 troops would have on Mali.  His answer will strike a nerve with the wives and children of our brave soldiers who will be deployed to Mali. “Canada's deployment of 600 troops will certainly help strengthen (the) capabilities of MINUSMA. But it will certainly not make a big difference in the field in terms of improving safety.”  This answer confused me as the whole point of Canada’s upcoming mission to Mali was indeed to improve security in the country.  Dr. Diallo elaborated further “it must be stressed that MINUSMA contributed to the stabilization of the intervention of the French troops in 2013. But today it cannot even ensure its own safety. Its terms of reference no longer correspond to the reality in the field. What Mali needs is the presence of a mobile force,
Operational and capable of confronting jihadist groups at all times.”

With the above thoughts and comments of Dr. Diallo in mind, I believe it is imperative that the Canadian government relook at the rules of engagement that our troops will have whilst deployed to Mali.  Canada must send additional teams to Mali prior to the full deployment of our troops and meet with experts in the field such as Dr. Diallo.  Failure to do so will not only be a major disservice to the Canadian taxpayer but it will also put our troops in the field at extremely high risk.   Canada has been contributing to UN Peacekeeping forces for over 50 years and it’s about time that our government  do its home work on Mali and listen to experts like Dr. Diallo before we even put one Canadian soldier in harm’s way in Africa. For him, the recent initiative of the Heads of State of the subregion to create a joint force of the G5 Sahel is a good project that deserves to be encouraged and supported.

While Dr. Diallo looks to the regional and international actors to find a solution to the terrorist activities in Northern Mali, Minister KadiatouSy sees a key role for women and the disenfranchised to play in the development of Mali’s democracy.  As a woman who has not only faced challenges in her career in this Muslim African conservative country where women are generally disqualified from key positions in the private and public sectors,  she see the answer to Mali’s problems in the proper management of urbanization and in supporting micro-capacity building projects for women in Mali’s Northern region.  She says that “It is true that there is still resistance from certain conservative circles to the advancement of women and in particular women's access to decision-making positions, but what seems to me to be decisive is the political will to move the lines.”  Commenting on Mali’s newly legislated ‘Equal Opportunity’ quota laws Minister Sy stated that “In Mali a gender policy has been adopted and a quota law exists but the problem is that their application is not effective either in the composition of the government or in the public and related services of the State and communities.”  In short Minister Sy is not accepting political lip service to women rights in Mali. She is demanding concrete action.

Minister Sy points out that women (who are the majority in Mali) must be appointed to local Governorship positions and highlights the “crucial role of women in the advent of democracy”. She also discoursed on definative action that must be taken by stating “As far as measures are concerned, I would place a lot of emphasis on increasing girls' and women's access to education and training (keeping girls in school, especially in rural areas, remains a challenge). Among the conditions for empowerment, women have access to financing (microfinance, but also banking), access to means of production (land, equipment and equipment) and processing and transport of products.”MisniterSy also recommended to “Strengthen the organizational and management capacities of women's associations and NGOs dedicated to the defense and promotion of women's human rights.” In a country where spousal abuse, forced marriages and human trafficking is rife Minister Sy seems to have hit the nail right on the head. (Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland a self-proclaimed champion of women and human rights should take note of Minister Sy’s words!)

“It seems to me that the MINUSMA does not really carry out its mandate by helping the Malian State to ensure the security of persons and their property throughout the territory. – Former Foreign Minister and Minister of Urban Planning and Housing of Mali, Kadiatou Sy.

In regards to Mali’s deteriorating situation in the north Minister Sy had harsh words for MINUSMA“It seems to me that the MINUSMA does not really carry out its mandate by helping the Malian State to ensure the security of persons and their property throughout the territory. The Malian Armed Forces and Security Forces remain "confined to base" while the armed groups move freely with their arms and their regular fratricidal confrontations resulting in civilian and military victims that result in little or no effective response from MINUSMA.” Minister Sy went on to say that “Since 2009 I am the president of the association ‘Alliance for Democracy in Mali’. We have been very concerned about the terms of the Agreement and the majority of Malians about the difficulties of its implementation”.

MisniterSy also highly criticized the European ’20 Measures’ program, a 280 Million Euro fund established in 2015 to help stabilize the Sahel region of which 19 million Euros has been allocated to Mali under a ‘Two Measures’ policy which is namely (1) Security and Development in northern Mali and (2) Project to support the Malian diaspora's investments in regions of origin. Minster Sy did not mince words when she pointedly stated that “We have often denounced the policy of the "2 measures" of the International Community which is intransigent towards the Malian authorities and rather complacent with the armed groups.”

Minister Sy also raised accusatory questions regarding the 2015 Algerian backed peace agreement, its lack of progress and the extreme hardships that Mali’s Northern population suffers with on a daily basis “Who is responsible for delays in the implementation of the agreement? How do we secure the people and our investments (schools, health, water roads, etc.) of the Malian State and its partners in areas where

no public force is present?” She went on to surmise that even now the center of the country not just its northern territory is at risk “Concerning the center (of the country) the situation is all the more dramatic as people feel abandoned by everyone, their State and the international community. It is not surprising that self - defense groups are forming and clashing.”   Minister Sy believes that most Malians think that their country “is under occupation” by terrorist groups and criminal gangs. The answer she says is the “disarmament of groups and the strengthening of the capacities of the Armed Forces and security forces to carry out their missions.”

Minister Sy rebuked the international community claiming that “it must honor its commitment to support the Malian state in its efforts.” In reference to the final endgame Minister Sy chided the International community by rhetorically asking “Finally, for any exit strategy, is it necessary to recall that the communities undergoing this crisis must be at the heart of all processes of consultation and implementation of agreed solutions? Unfortunately, many groups claiming to act on their behalf (but actually defending individual interests and clans) participate in consultations and make decisions on their behalf, without any mandate. This explains most of the failures in the implementation of agreements or agreements.”

After listening to Minister Sy’s opinions and assessments about the current state of affairs in Mali I think it’s safe to say that  Canada’s  foreign policy must do a ‘reality check’ of the actual situation on the ground in Mali.   Foreign Minister Chrystia Freelandmust come up with new and effective programs that will support the efforts and organizations referred to by Minister Sy who by the way happens to be a former Foreign Minister herself.

The Malian Opposition: Organized and Vocal

“The record of the last four years of (government) management is simply catastrophic, the dream of a virtuous Mali promised by the candidate IBK has turned into disillusionment” - URD VP Ibrahima N’Diaye on the performance of the Malian government elected to power in 2013

The main political opposition party in Mali is the URD (Union for the Republic and Democracy). The Vice-President of the URD and top advisor to the party’s leader SoumaïlaCissé is 68 year old IbrahimaN’Diaye, a fierce orator and highly respected member of Mali’s political opposition elite. A former government Minister of Employment and Education Mr. N’Diyae holds post graduate degrees in education and sociology from the University of Boudreaux in France. I interviewed him extensively on the political situation in Mali and his strong crtitisim of the Government of Mali.

Mali’s Northern and central regions have been under constant terror attacks recently with another two MINUSMA Peacekeeping Soldiers killed yesterday. It’s no wonder that the Canadian Government is still squirming over whether to send over 700 Canadian troops to bolster the embattled UN Peacekeeping force which at the moment numbers over 12,000 troops.  One cannot but cringe at the official name of the UN Peacekeeping force in Mali, ‘United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’.  Cleary the UN has not been able to ‘integrate’ any ‘stabilization’ in the country and Mr. N’Diaye agrees. He says that the Peace Agreement signed in 2015 “has never worked, it has been dead since its signature in 2015”. Given the facts on the ground it is difficult to disagree with him.

When asked to identify the exact failings of Ibrahim BoubacarKeïta’s government over the past 4 years Mr. N’Diaye got staright to the point when he stated “Let us take just a few areas: school, health, security, youth employment, improving the living conditions of workers and fighting corruption.” He went on further by asking rhetorically “Can we really say that only one of these areas has responded to the expectations it has generated in 2013? The answer is no.”  Mr. N’Diaye also surmised that only the offspring of the rich and powerful have employment in Mali and that insecurity is prevalent throughout the country “As for employment, it becomes a rare commodity, reserved for the restricted circle of children of the privileged. As for insecurity, it is general throughout the whole territory from north to south, from east to west. To this long list is added corruption in the open with its corollary of impunity. There is today a real problem of leadership and governance in Mali”.

Mr. N’Diaye made several compelling arguments against the government of President Ibrahim BoubacarKeïta (IBK), its lack of leadership and its failure to stabilize Mali. “how.. in just three and a half years the regime just appointed its fourth prime minister and its second ministerial reshuffle. It is ultimately IBK himself who is the problem.”Pointing to rudderless institutions Mr. N’Diaye alleged that “The country is managed on a day-to-day basis, actions over time have not recorded any results.”

In regards to freedom of the media and human rights in Mali Mr. N’Diaye voiced major concerns “For the respect of human rights, I prefer to leave the assessment to the specialists in this matter, but as regards freedom of press and expression there is a sharp decline..the public media became the propaganda tools of the regime and the images of the opposition are either systematically censored or chopped up by journalists in the pay of power. The private press is reduced to its simple expression with the annihilation of the budget allocated to it. The issue of the disappearance of (Journalist) BiramaTouré remains unanswered and his family is still waiting in vain.” (Note: The case of the missing journalist BiramaTouré is mentioned in the last article I wrote on press freedom in Mali –JC)

When asked for his comment about Transparency International ranking of  Mali as number 116 out of 178 on the list of the most corrupt countries in the world Mr. N’Diaye had scathing words for the current government of Mali- “This ranking does not surprise us very much when we know that the year 2014 which was declared the year of fight against corruption, was the year of the most unimaginable scandals: the purchase of the presidential plane, adulterated fertilizer , Overcharged tractors and the military equipment market for FAMA; All these markets have been tainted with notorious corruption and the problem is that the alleged perpetrators of wrongdoing have never been held accountable for their  actions. They have even been promoted to other positions of responsibility. Measures to be taken include, among other things, exemplarity among key political and administrative leaders and a culture of excellence by putting the right person in the right place and having independent justice; To fight against impunity without forgetting the improvement of the living and working conditions of the working masses of the country.”  With Mali on the verge of a meltdown and with new Presidential elections not being held until 2018, the Canadian