The Political Unrest in Mali and the European Union
12 October, 2020
In June 2020 the Malian population protested against their President, and irregularities in the elections. Two months later, on 18 August 2020 a coup d’état orchestrated by the military led to the arrest and resignation of the president. The political crisis will likely turn into a regional security issue. The international community criticized the coup d’état and took relevant action.
Recent actions and uprisings over the summer months led to the current political crisis in the West-African nation.
Several thousands of people demonstrated in Bamako, Mali’s capital, demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The popular unrest began on 5 June 2020 driven by opposition parties and local religious leaders. The demonstrators in Bamako denounced corruption, arbitrary arrests and the organization of the recent legislative elections held in April.
This situation perpetuated a state of political instability in Mali for the last decade. Since 2012, Mali has been in turmoil when a coup d’état led by the military overthrew the president. In this fragile and almost failed state, the consequent power vacuum created room for an Islamic insurgency, suppressed by French-led military intervention. The jihadists are still currently active in the Northern part of Mali. Their presence poses a constant to the local populations.
On 18 August 2020, members of the military led by Colonel Goïta and Colonel-Major Wagué from the Koulikoro Region organized a mutiny. President Keïta, and Prime Minister Cissé were arrested. In a statement following the turmoil, they announced their resignation, while also dissolving the government and parliament. According to their statement, President Keïta asked to avoid any bloodshed “to keep me in power”. There is still need for greater clarity concerning the number of soldiers who participated in the mutiny and who, among them, will undertake a leadership role.
Afterwards, Wagué announced the formation of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People. Following this statement, a curfew was implemented over the city of Bamako, all border crossings were banned and state’s borders closed. Coup commander chiefs promised new elections within a “reasonable timeline”, without proving further explanations or any clarification on the timing.
Within the continent, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Mali and demanded neighboring states to stop land and air crossings from and to Mali. Additionally, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) suspended Mali’s membership from their organization.
Under the German presidency, the European Union took strong action as well, and condemned the coup d’état in Mali. The EU also suspended its training missions in Mali since they were designed to support “the legitimate national authorities” one EU official said. In the West African state, the EU had two different military missions with a high displacement of forces and expertise. For example, the EU military mission (EUTM Mali) has more than 600 soldiers from the 28 EU Member and non-member States. In 2014, the EU agreed to an additional civilian mission (EUCAP Sahel Mali) sending experts to give advice and military training to the internal security forces in Mali, the police, gendarmerie and national guard.
In a statement, the EU stated that it would reject all unconstitutional changes and amendments in the country. Moreover, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the social and political crisis that has lasted for months in the country cannot be responded to by such a coup d’état and violent and undemocratic initiatives. Calling for dialogue over this critical situation, Borrell stated that the EU supports the mediation attempt of the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS). European Council President Charles Michel said that he is following developments in Mali with great attention and that “a coup is never the solution to a crisis”.
To date, France and other European Member States, as well as MINUSMA, have said they will continue their operations during the transitional period. On the other hand, together with the European Union, the United States have temporarily paused training activities in the light of the recent coup.
The desert areas in the northern part of Mali are hosting various militant groups, some of whom are linked to al-Qaeda. These groups have also spread into neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania. The rebels had taken advantage of a security vacuum following the Mali’s previous coup in 2012. The international community is worried that another round of instability in the country could further destabilize the region.
Up to date, the European Union condemned the coup d’état and suspended security operations in the fragile area. Its priority is to support the efforts of ECOWAS in order to look for a solution in accordance with the aspirations of the Malian people. Given the situation of such a key state in the Sahel’s area, the EU should undertake a stronger response coordinating with Member States responses. In particular, one of its most important Member State, France, is heavily invested in the security of the country with the deployment of more that 5 thousand military. Thus far, it has not suspended its military operations. In such fragile context, the EU and its Member States should coordinate their policy response and understand which priorities, either a political or security stability, should be followed. France’s strategy legitimizes the new political authorities by continuing military operations in the area in collaboration with them. The political stability priority set by the EU and its choice to suspend the security policies in Mali is in clear contrast with France’s actions.