Government vs religion

Mali: Imam Dicko pays price of challenging Goïta, his constitution

By Flore Monteau

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Posted on June 27, 2023 07:47

jad20230622-ass-mali-mahmouddicko-1256×628-1687430873 Mahmoud Dicko, Imam, during an interview at the new centre that also bears his name, on 10 June 2021 in Bamako © Nicolas Réméné for TAR
Mahmoud Dicko, Imam, during an interview at the new centre that also bears his name, on 10 June 2021 in Bamako © Nicolas Réméné for TAR

Mali’s highly influential religious leader Imam Mahmoud Dicko had his diplomatic passport taken away from him last week at Bamako airport, just days after a referendum on a new constitution proposed by the junta.

Dicko is a fierce opponent to the new constitution, which electoral authorities announced last Friday had passed by a wide margin – 97% of votes cast were in favour.

The junta has shown its displeasure against the religious figure. Members of Dicko’s entourage said that the special passport had been taken off him as he returned from a conference in Mauritania.

His rhetoric has increased its intensity against Assimi Goïta’s junta. On 16 June, Imam Mahmoud Dicko, dressed in white, his head covered in an immaculate chèche, gathered his supporters at the Palais de la Culture in Bamako to call on them to vote “no” to the draft new constitution, put to a referendum just two days later.

“I will never collaborate with people who have confiscated the people’s revolution, and who are in the process of gagging those same people…Yes or no, this is a headlong rush. [The military’s reign] is already over…I’d rather die than live as a traitor,” said the influential Imam of Badalabougou.

Judicial rejection

Like many other religious leaders, the former president of the Haut conseil islamique du Mali (HCIM) opposed the draft new fundamental law, which enshrines the principle of the secular nature of the State. More broadly, he is now one of the transitional authorities’ fiercest critics.

“What kind of rule of law [are we talking about] in a country where the justice system is used by the military to imprison people?” he said on 16 June. Earlier in the day, the same court had rejected the appeals lodged on behalf of the Coordination des mouvements, associations et sympathisants de l’imam Mahmoud Dicko (CMAS) to prevent the constitutional referendum from being held.

The two petitions, lodged with the Supreme and Constitutional courts at the beginning of June – by, among others, magistrate Mohamed Cherif Koné, Issa Kaou N’Djim, president of the Appel citoyen pour la réussite de la transition (ACRT) party and Youssouf Diawara, coordinator of the CMAS – were aimed at three decrees in the constitution drafting commissions and the convening of the electoral college.

“Legally, the transitional authorities, including the President, have neither the capacity nor the competence to launch this draft constitution,” explained Diawara. But while the petitions were based on the constitution, the courts “based themselves on the electoral law” to rule against them, he continued.

Imam Dicko, who has kept a low profile since his motorcade was tear-gassed by the security forces in January, had been back in the political spotlight in recent weeks, calling on his compatriots to “form a united front to block the road to the draft constitution.”

United front against the referendum

On 14 June, he took part in the creation of the Front uni contre le referendum (United Front), a coalition made up of “political parties, political groupings, civil society organisations, and independent personalities committed to defending the rights of the Malian people.”

In addition to CMAS, the front includes Parena, Tiébilé Dramé’s party, Daba Diawara, president of the Rassemblement démocratique africain-Mali (RIM-Mali), Housseini Amion Guindo, president of the Convergence démocratique pour le Mali (Codem), Badara Alou Sacko, president of the Forum de la société civile, Aboubacar Soumaré, president of the Mouvement Mali debout, and the Convention nationale pour une Afrique solidaire (CNAS).

In a press briefing held on 20 June at the headquarters of the 20 February Appeal, the United Front denounced the Constitutional Court’s decision and “the many irregularities that marred the referendum [in question],” also contesting the 38% turnout figure announced by the Independent Electoral Management Authority (Aige), which it described as “incompetent.” It also called on the international community, human rights organisations, and “all people who love justice and freedom to condemn this illegal and illegitimate referendum.”

For Diawara, the fight against the draft constitution has only just begun. “When the results are official, the United Front will use all the legal means at its disposal to have them annulled,” he asserted, adding that the members are due to meet at the end of the week “to decide what to do next and, if necessary, organise demonstrations to make themselves heard.”

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