Mahmoud Dicko: “The dialogue with the jihadists must hold”

By Aïssatou Diallo

Posted on Tuesday, 24 March 2020 17:02
Mahmoud Dicko, the head of Mali's High Islamic Council (HCIM) speaks during a rally at the March 26 stadium in Bamako
Mahmoud Dicko, the head of Mali's High Islamic Council (HCIM) speaks during a rally at the March 26 stadium in Bamako, August 12, 2012. REUTERS/Adama Diarra

A leading proponent of dialogue with jihadists in Mali, the influential imam, denounced bad governance and responded to critics accusing him of entering the political arena.

In mid-February, Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta acknowledged for the first time that contact had been established with the two main leaders of Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen, the Groupe de Soutien à l’islam et aux Musulmans (the group for the support of Islam and Muslims – GSIM): Iyad Ag Ghali and Amadou Koufa.

This break with the official position in place since 2012 caused an outcry in Bamako.

The response to the outstretched hand of the Malian president came in a press release dated 8 March from the Jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda in which it said it was “ready to enter into negotiations with the Malian government” but it set preconditions for any discussion: the departure of Minusma and Barkhane.

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One of the key players advocating dialogue with the jihadists is the influential Imam in Bamako, Mahmoud Dicko, who advocates “talking with the sons of the country”.

A former president of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCIM) and founder of the Coordination of Movements, Associations and Sympathizers, Dicko has called for a truce.

Imam Dicko agreed to answer the questions at in his residence in Baco Djicoroni, located near the river in the ACI neighbourhood.

In addition to dialogue with the jihadists, the man whom some call a “hybrid actor” because he has one foot in the religious and the other in the political world, also talked about his vision of the management of the country and what he thought was necessary to get out of the current state of chronic insecurity.

You have long been one of the fervent supporters of dialogue with jihadist groups. Are you satisfied with the government’s announcement that it now wants to make contact with Amadou Koufa and Iyad Ag Ghaly?

Mahmoud Dicko: That was indeed my point of view. I believe in it, because I think that a country that is falling apart, like Mali, with all the problems we are experiencing, will not be able to withstand an endless war. We have to find a way to minimize the war and deal with other challenges.

For a long time, people did not see need to consider other approaches to get out of this war. For me, the battle is a multifaceted one. We have to get out of it in a safe way.

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Perhaps I had not been understood, but now that the principle of dialogue has been officially accepted, several questions arise. What approach for this dialogue? How are we going to proceed in order to understand each other? If we do not also broaden the contours of this dialogue, it may lead to failure. I do not wish this to happen.

The GSIM says it wants to accept the proposal for dialogue with the Malian authorities but makes the departure of Minusma and Barkhane a condition. Does this seem realistic to you?

There are always conditions on both sides that must be met in order to start a dialogue. But the most important thing is that the dialogue takes place.

Several Malian medias have made a direct link between your call for a truce and the fact that the jihadists have accepted the principle of dialogue. What was your role? What role do you want to play in the future in this process?

That is not for me to decide, but for the relevant authorities to decide. All I know is that I called for a truce. If there’s a truce, Hamdullah (thanks be to God)! This is my country. And if I can contribute to peace, I’ll do it gladly.

You were summoned by the Bamako prosecutor in early March after criticising the management of the country and the purchase of certain military equipment. What exactly did they accuse you of?

I don’t know the exact motive, because in the end I didn’t appear before the authorities to be told. (The prosecutor finally cancelled the hearing, while Imam Dicko’s supporters were mobilising outside the court).

Before the 2018 presidential election, as president of the HCIM, you had organised meetings to denounce corruption, bad governance, and the management of the security crisis. Have you seen any changes since then?

Since 2018, it’s been the status quo. There have been no major changes. The country is still living in a climate of insecurity, which momentarily calms down and then picks up again. We have the impression that the horizon is obscured. We are groping around, not knowing where to go.

READ MORE Jihadi Amadou Koufa’s fighters desert, join Islamic State

You participated in the inclusive national dialogue last December. What do you think of its conclusions?

I attended the opening and closing ceremonies, but not the debates, as such. For me, the most important thing is the implementation of the recommendations.

Resolutions can be listed, but they are useless if they are not implemented. One of the recommendations of the dialogue is to organise the legislative process.

The process is under way and the first round is scheduled for 29 March. We have to be patient and see how things develop before we comment on them.

Another recommendation of the dialogue is to proceed with the revision of the Constitution. There is no unanimity on this in Mali. You are there, yourself, rethinking…

Revising the Constitution is not a priority for the country, in my opinion. How can we revise a Constitution in this state of widespread insecurity? What are we going to revise? And for what reasons? Rushing to revise the Constitution in a state of unpreparedness would not produce any results.

We have governors who have been appointed for a year, paid, and enjoying all the benefits, but who do nothing because the conditions for their installation are not in place. That is bad governance.

We like to decree development. But development is not decreed, it is built. I have the impression that people think the country will be built by decree. That is not possible, because development is a process. In some parts of the country there are no schools, no health systems, no administration. How could the appointment of a governor change the situation in these areas?

What do you spend your time on since you are no longer head of the HCIM?

I’ve been devoting myself to my former activities. That is, officer in my mosque, getting people to pray. Besides that, I hold a few sessions for interpreting the Koran. I also read books and receive visitors every day.

You were often referred to as a “hybrid actor”, halfway between the religious and the political, when you were head of the HCIM. Do you now feel more free to express yourself?

I am a free man, whether I am in the Islamic High Council or not. I am a citizen who enjoys all his rights, and the Constitution guarantees me the right to express myself on all matters that concern the country. I do not need permission to give my opinion.

Those who thought I was a “hybrid actor” are also free to have an opinion about me and to say what they think. Just as I, too, have the right to have an opinion about them and about the way the country is going.

But the fact that I was the President of the High Council did indeed oblige me to keep a certain reserve, which I no longer have.

What special measures have you taken in relation to your followers following the outbreak of the new coronavirus?

I recommend that they listen to the advice of health professionals and respect the measures put in place by the medical authorities.

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