For more than half a century, the army has been omnipresent at the head of Mali. Lamine Savane and Fousseyni Touré * review the country's political history, up to the current transition.
With the coup d'etat of General Moussa Traoré on November 19, 1968, the army has invested the Malian political sphere not to leave it. Since then, Mali has experienced three other military coups (1991, 2012, 2020). The second, carried by Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), allowed the establishment of Malian democracy in 1992. The third putsch will drive out this same ATT in 2012. The last, carried by the National Council of Public Safety (CNSP), put an end to the mid-term of the power of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) on August 18, 2020.
Between coups d'etat, fratricidal struggles and affairism, military power and political power seem to merge in reality, and especially during the current military transition. After the formation of the new Malian government, predominantly praetorian, the appointment of the first vice-president of the CNSP (since dissolved), Colonel Malick Diaw, at the head of the National Council of the Transition (CNT), legislative body of this transition, has ended up convincing observers of the Malian political scene of the military's desire to monopolize all the levers of power.
How to explain this regular presence of the army on the Malian political scene for half a century, in particular in view of the theoretical studies on democratic relations between civilians and soldiers ? Can free and transparent elections be held in fourteen months as planned?
The army at the heart of political power since the first coup in 1968
The first coup in Mali marks the beginning of a long history of military dictatorship - 23 years - and politics in which the military occupy a preponderant place. From General Abdoulaye Soumaré, first Chief of Staff under Modibo Keita, to Diby Silas Diarra, Via Kissima Doukara et Tiekoro Bagayoko under Moussa Traoré, the army has always been heart of political power.
The various putsch that took place afterwards, until the most recent, only confirmed this trend. One would have thought that the democratic interval (1992-2012 and 2013-2020) would attenuate this military domination, but the massive presence of the military during this period - in the defense or civil security portfolios - on the contrary confirmed their preponderance. For fear of possible coups d'état or for political realism - democratic logic presupposing the subordination of military power to political power - several officers or high-ranking officers of the Malian army were appointed ambassadors in chanceries around the world.
Since the start of the current transition, the appointment of military personnel in the administration in key positions does not seem to know any respite. If observers of the Malian political scene are used to seeing soldiers at the head of the regions, their appointments to positions hitherto reserved for civilians raise questions. And all the more so as the “militarization of the regime” worries certain political actors, in particular the June 5 Movement - Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP) - whose mobilization resulted in the putsch against IBK - and the president of its strategic committee Choguel Koukala Maïga. With the crisis in Mali, which has consequences for all state institutions (deinstitutionalization of the army, fragility of political authorities, insecurity affecting more than 65% of the territory), military force is becoming a resource. Politics.
Under these conditions, the military retain a preponderant role and therefore a power which goes far beyond their initial area of expertise. Because, it must be emphasized again, the current president of the transition, Bah N'Daw, is a retired Malian army colonel. The vice-president (post created for the first time in the Malian political architecture) Assimi Goïta, former president of the CNSP - dissolved at the request of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) - is also a colonel.
In addition, the strategic portfolios are also occupied by CNSP members (Colonel Sadio Camara at the Ministry of Defense and Veterans; Lieutenant-Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga at the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization; Colonel Modibo Koné at the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection; and the Colonel Major Ismaël Wagué at the Ministry of National Reconciliation).
This militarization raises the question of the real will of the military, and therefore of the political strategy of this transition. Do they have the will to organize transparent elections with a view to returning political power to civilians as agreed with ECOWAS? The appointment as governors 13 soldiers out of 20 new governors appointed at the head of the regions - all close to the vice-president Assimi Goïta - illustrates this militarization of the transition, when we know the role that regional governors play in the organization of elections.
A change in political practices in Mali since the start of the transition?
Regimes succeed one another in Mali, but political practices remain similar. In Mali, perhaps a little more during this transition, there is a confusion of the political and military spheres. A military-civil and religious alliance was set up, with a mixture of genres between the three spheres. A priori, we are witnessing both a politicization of the army - which obviously did not begin with this transition - and, on the other hand, a militarization of the political, that is to say that the force has become a resource for political leaders, resulting in reciprocal patronage between civilians, military and religious.
The establishment of the members of the National transition committee confirmed this. Neopatrimonial practices who largely participated in discrediting the old regime, far from having disappeared, reproduce.
Despite the presence within this transitional legislative body of personalities enjoying democratic legitimacy (Mamadou Gassama, elected four times deputy; Badjan Ag Hamatou, elected seven times, etc.), the proximity to the CNSP was an important factor in the choice of members of the National Transitional Council, especially since the CVs should be sent to the vice-president of the transition, Colonel Assimi Goïta. Where IBK appears to have failed in its attempt to implode M5-RFP, CNSP has apparently succeeded. The arrival of several members of this motley movement in the CNT is akin to “war prizes” - a practice which has shown its limits under the outgoing regime.
A transition similar to that of 2012?
The analogy with the 2012 transition could not be more difficult, as the two military putschs seem so distant. If in 2012, it is a mutiny in the Kati camp which will turn into a coup d'etat, the 2020 putsch is the crowning of three months of popular protest spearheaded by the M5-RFP.
Unlike 2012, where there was a National Assembly (fourth legislature) - of which President Diouncounda Traoré will assume the post of interim president of the transition - the members of the Council do not enjoy any legitimacy since they have been appointed. Consequently, this Council cannot carry out important reforms such as the implementation of theAlgiers Agreement, whose full implementation requires a constitutional review.
However, the outgoing power was already confronted with a vast popular movement, "Antè A Bana" (a formula which means in Bambara one refuses). Antè A Bana had stood up against the constitutional revision which would have allowed the application of this agreement. Just as many people suspected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of having concocted a tailor-made National Assembly that would have allowed him this constitutional revision. For the moment, all attempts at constitutional revision seem to have failed.
An attempt to force the military through for a constitutional review would risk creating a sort of "coalition of political parties" which will unite against the transitional authorities. The parties will see an opportunity to get back on the ground, they who are the "unloved" of this transition. The risk of getting bogged down is great, especially since the results on the security plan are not fully there.
What about ECOWAS and France?
ECOWAS, a central player in negotiations with the CNSP, could find itself trapped if it gets stuck. This is the reason why she worried with the authorities of the transition of the arrest of personalities outside any legal framework and the non-dissolution of the CNSP.
France is also a major player in the Malian crisis, due to the presence of its largest military contingent outside the metropolis. The invitation of the president of the transition Bah N'Daw to the Elysee, a meeting from which little information has filtered, could be interpreted as an attempt at recovery on the part of Paris.
However, Malian public opinion does not seem to understand the eagerness of France - and of Minusma - to apply the Algiers Accord, even though security conditions have deteriorated.
Among the movements calling for the departure of French troops - which could turn into disaster due to the probable arrival of jihadists in Bamako - there are African far left groups which have “anti-colonialism” as their main political resource. More, Malian public opinion finds it hard to understand why those who allied themselves with the jihadist movements in 2012, and who are at the base of this whole crisis (the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad now the Coordination of Azawad Movements) became today frequentable.
The misunderstanding is all the more profound as the Malian army was banned from entering Kidal by the French army in 2013. This ambiguity of French policy, far from attenuating the liabilities of the former colonial power, contributes to fueling all the theories (conspiratorial or not) which would like France to be behind the independence movements and / or jihadists, for to take hold of the riches which would abound in the subsoil of northern Mali.
The militarization of this transition, far from resolving this crisis in the Sahel - which is above all political - risks further aggravating the political divide in Mali. The priorities that should be those of the transition (justice, end of impunity, revision of the electoral roll, preparation for credible elections, sweeping of areas occupied by jihadists, etc.) seem to be relegated to the background.
On the contrary, we are witnessing an increased presence of the army on the Malian political scene. But the Cameroonian political scientist Jean ‑ Emmanuel Pondi warned us a few years ago that military-based hope is a mirage. This is true with regard to the political history of Africa since independence. It is now very likely that the eighteen months initially planned for the transition will be exceeded.
It is also obvious that the military will seek to influence future elections. The international community, by wanting to entrust this transition with reforms requiring a constitutional revision, risks strengthening this position of the military. However, all the experts are unanimous on the fact that the crisis in the Sahel is above all a socio-political crisis before being a military one. Is this transition legitimate for carrying out reforms?
* Lamine Savannah, PhD political science, ATER, CEPEL (UMR 5112) CNRS, Montpellier, Post doctoral student PAPA, University of Ségou et Fousseyni Toure, PhD student in Anthropology, Higher Institute of Training and Applied Research (ISFRA), Bamako University of Legal and Political Sciences