Christian Klatt is the representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mali, based in Bamako.
After the coup d’état on August 18, 2020, Mali is once again at a turning point. How much time will it take for new beginnings, how much time will the putschists get to organize the transition and how can international involvement in the country be reconsidered?
The coup itself took less than 24 hours. Since then, however, the military junta has tried to organize the national committee for the salvation of the people (Comité national pour le salut du peuple – CSNP) around Assimi Goita for the transitional period. The soldiers are clearly less prepared for this.
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You also have to face international partners who are pushing for a quick return to democratic conditions and who have imposed sanctions on Mali, which is particularly affecting the population. The CNSP may claim moral authority for itself because President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government, known as IBK, has so clearly lost popular support, but it is on the ice.
No Violation of Applicable Laws
IBK was not re-elected until 2018, in elections considered largely fair. At the time of the coup, he was not seeking an unconstitutional third term, nor was he demonstrably in violation of any applicable laws.
Appropriate as the allegations of political inactivity, lack of a solution to the security crisis, corruption and cronyism were, this misconduct required a democratic or legal solution. Political incompetence is not a legitimate reason for a coup – in democracies, elections serve to replace governments with which citizens are no longer satisfied. The coup was rightly condemned internationally. And yet there are some indications that we should not insist on a rapid transition.
The way forward requires comprehensive reforms of the country’s constitution, institutions, electoral law and territorial structure, moving away from the French-style central state to a more decentralized system that can better reflect Mali’s diversity and size.
A transition period of 18 months is realistic
In the first meeting, the CNSP proposed transitional bodies and a tandem of chairman and vice-chairman for this purpose. The proposed 18 months seem realistic. Mali needs time for this process, which is now also recognized by the West African state community ECOWAS and seconded mediator Goodluck Jonathan, who continue to demand a civilian president.
Because as important as it is that the putschists pave the way for a democratically legitimized order, it is just as important that the transitional government has enough time for a real restart.
In 2012, the response to the then coup was business as usual, that is, a return to the status quo ante of the democratic order. But not only for Mali there is now the opportunity for a new start. European engagement in Mali and neighboring countries has been subject to the primacy of security policy and the fight against terrorism since 2012 at the latest. You can also see this reflected in the budget. Mali’s domestic political challenges were often not a priority, although there was no shortage of approaches or programs.
In the absence of political pressure on the Malian government to implement the planned security sector reform and territorial reforms in particular, important opportunities have been missed. The putschists have asked the international community to continue their engagement in Mali. Because for Mali there is no alternative to international cooperation. Discussions about a new Sahel policy have now arisen in Berlin and Paris.