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Mali: Rapid organisation of post-coup elections a grave error

Gilles Olakounlé Yabi
By Gilles Olakounlé Yabi

Economist and political analyst, Gilles Olakounlé Yabi is the founder of WATHI, a citizen's think tank for West Africa (www.wathi.org). @YabiGilles

Posted on Thursday, 3 September 2020 10:53

A screenshot shows a teleconference during the extraordinary Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority of Heads of State and Government on the Socio-Political Situation in Mali August 20, 2020. ECOWAS/Handout via REUTERS

The prospect of rapid elections is the surest way to show how each Malian political actors' interests are in conflict with the general interest.

The Mali of 2020 is not Sweden, Canada, Ghana, Botswana or Cabo Verde. It is a country in deep crisis since 2012. It is a country at war, facing various and diverse armed groups on at least two-thirds of its vast territory. It is a country whose armed forces have lost hundreds of men in recent years. It is a country where social cohesion and trust between communities has eroded in tandem with a rate of civilian massacres that was unimaginable only a few years ago.

The coup d’état of 18 August took place in that country.

READ MORE Mali coup: President and PM arrested by soldiers after mutiny

It was avoidable. It should have been avoided. It was not. This is regrettable. But lamenting about recurring coups d’état in Africa will not change anything in Mali’s past and future.

Avoiding new mistakes

This coup d’état must be analysed above all in the context of the crisis in Mali. And what is urgent today is not to make any mistakes in defining the terms of the transition that is opening up after the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK).

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is already clearly insisting on a return to constitutional order and the rapid organisation of elections – and thus to a transition that is as short as possible. This is a path that would be at best unproductive, at worst dangerous.

Organising elections as a way out of political crises, violent conflicts and periods of transition after a coup d’état is a recipe that many like. Most of the influential external partners agree to it or even prefer it so that they can have interlocutors who would be legitimate because they are democratically elected. It is then expected that miracles will happen, that political and economic governance will change after an election, regardless of who is elected president, regardless of the quality of the electoral process and regardless of the vacuity of the pre-election political debate.

READ MORE Mali Coup d’État : Military proposes three-year transition

IBK was overthrown in August 2020, as was Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) in March 2012. It is useful to recall that the criticisms of IBK’s management of power are very similar to those of ATT’s. Let’s call it as bad governance, despite the drawbacks of this catch-all term.

The departure of IBK before the end of his term thus opens the door to different scenarios: from the most optimistic, one that would see the beginning of a break with bad governance; to the most pessimistic, one that would see an even more massive and hard-to-reverse collapse of the Malian state.

Establishing acceptable transitional bodies

Today, the priority is to do everything possible to ensure that the worst-case scenario does not occur. Transitional bodies that are acceptable to all Malian actors must be put in place quickly. This should only be done in the framework of broad consultations between political actors, civil society representatives and the military, with benevolent and informed support from ECOWAS, which is quite different from what the heads of state – the ultimate decision-makers in the community – gave before and just after the fall of IBK.

READ MORE Mali: ‘Ecowas should have santioned IBK,’ says Choguel Maïga

A transitional roadmap must then be defined, one which provides for in-depth work on possible adjustments and means of accelerating the implementation of the peace agreement resulting from the Algiers process, on securing the country’s entire territory and on the institutional reforms to be incorporated into a new constitution.

There is always a strong temptation to postpone everything that seems difficult and crucial until after the presidential and legislative elections. In the context of today’s Mali, this would be – at best – an irresponsible rush forward.

The third requirement, which follows logically from the previous one, is the need to use the realistic timetable for implementation of this roadmap as a basis for determining the duration of the transition. And not the other way around, which would consist in decreeing a transition of one year, for example, and then asking the question of what could be achieved within that timeframe.

It is well known that such a choice would have the consequence of focusing all the attention of the transitional bodies and all the political actors, and even the military, on preparing elections, and incidentally on the billions of CFA francs that will be poured into them.

Finally, the transition must be a moment for the restoration of personal integrity as a fundamental criterion in the choice of the people in charge of the highest public functions, whether they are political or administrative. We cannot continue to hide the fact that one of the root causes of the political, security, economic, social and educational disintegration of the Malian state is the trivialisation of all forms of illicit enrichment.

A new efficient and benevolent state

There is certainly no recipe for a fast-track clean-up of political life during a transitional period. But one can aim to send a signal of rupture to society by setting up a mechanism for selecting the leaders of the transitional bodies, which would make it possible to scrutinise their individual backgrounds and eliminate all those suspected of illicit enrichment.

For those who have held positions in the defence and security apparatus, the ‘screening’ must also serve to exclude all those who may have been associated, in one way or another, with the numerous episodes of violence against civilian populations in the north and centre under the guise of the fight against terrorism.

READ MORE Mali: Coup leader Assimi Goïta is from an elite fighting unit

The transition period must mark the beginning of a credible fight against the culture of impunity. Going as quickly as possible to elections is the surest and quickest way to show how each of Mali’s political actors’ interests are in conflict the general interest.

Mali in crisis needs to build – with what it has today in terms of human resources that can be mobilised – a new, efficient and caring state and a new democratic political system. If a transition focused on the rapid organisation of elections that were able to set in motion a credible and sustainable process in these two directions, we would have heard about it already.

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