ECOWAS and Mali: Numbers Matter, But Also Pride

On June 4, heads of state from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) convened for an extraordinary summit to consider options for handling the recalcitrant military juntas in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, all of which refuse to obey ECOWAS’ dictates on timetables for returning to civilian rule. Tensions are most severe between ECOWAS and the Malian junta, the first of the three military regimes to come to power (Mali, August 2020; Guinea, September 2021; Burkina Faso, January 2022). The negotiations between ECOWAS and Mali hit a low point in December 2021/January 2022, when the junta finally and blatantly scrapped the initial 18-month transition timetable (which would have ended in February 2022) and floated alternative timelines ranging up to five additional years. ECOWAS imposed severe sanctions in response. ECOWAS’ summit on June 4 of this year yielded no major result except a decision to maintain the sanctions and defer further decisions until ECOWAS’ next ordinary summit on July 3.

On June 6, the Malian junta issued a decree announcing a two-year extension of the transition, dating from March 26, 2022:

The announcement appears to have been unilateral, and ECOWAS rejected the new timeline proposal:

What does ECOWAS want? Two basic things, I think: a relatively short timeline, and to save some face. So while ECOWAS might consider a two-year timeline, reportedly the optics of Mali’s junta simply decreeing that timeline rubbed ECOWAS the wrong way. Two years is also, at least by my vague sense, the upper bound of what ECOWAS could accept, and they might not even be able to stomach two years on top of an already-lapsed eighteen months. Twelve months, fourteen months, sixteen months…all of those lengths seem to be acceptable in ECOWAS’ eyes. The numbers are really not that different at this point, then, but to seal a deal it seems ECOWAS and the junta would have to find a way to keep pride on both sides. And to be fair, I don’t think that’s just ego on ECOWAS’ side – they are also obviously very concerned about what messages the Guinean and Burkinabè juntas will take from this whole saga between ECOWAS and Mali.

Mali and Burkina Faso: ECOWAS Kicks the Can to July

On June 4, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an extraordinary summit in Accra, Ghana, to discuss the situations – i.e., the military juntas – in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Tension between ECOWAS and Mali’s junta are particularly severe, and ECOWAS imposed country-level, sweeping economic sanctions in January 2022 in an effort to pressure the Malian junta to set a rapid timetable for holding elections and handing over power to civilians.

In its communiqué from the summit, ECOWAS had a few qualified words of praise for the Burkinabè junta, but took no major decisions, electing to maintain the sanctions on Mali and revisit the situations in all three countries at the next ordinary summit scheduled for July 3.

There’s a fair amount being reported about intra-ECOWAS divisions on how to proceed, especially with Mali. RFI calls Niger, Ghana, Gambia, and to some extent Nigeria the hardliners, in other words the really pro-sanctions crowd. Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire are, or at least as of early May reportedly were, also in the pro-sanctions camp. There is also a lot online about the role of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who is now formally mediating between Mali and ECOWAS; I’m having trouble cutting through the speculation to find what’s reliable, but there is a lot of speculation that Togo is open to a much softer line on Mali. For whatever it’s worth, his tweet about the summit spoke of “stability and peace” rather than, say, “democracy.”

Piece for Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft: France Should Try Taking a Break from/with Mali

I have a piece at the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft blog:

France’s best option, in the current environment, is to take a strategic pause in its efforts to shape Malian politics and the politics of the wider Sahel region. Such a pause would entail reacting indifferently to any further diplomatic provocations from Mali. The pause would also entail encouraging West African regional authorities to ease sanctions on the Malian economy and defer the question of when the junta will hold elections — essentially, France and its West African allies might consider ignoring Mali for the rest of 2022 and shrugging at whatever else the junta comes up with. Such a policy would, admittedly, amount to rewarding the junta for its stubborn refusal to yield power to civilians. Yet punishing and arguing with the junta has not worked, and a diplomatic breather might allow for an opening within a few months — and might also avoid pushing Mali further into the arms of Russia.

A French-Malian pause and then reset would also be in the interest of the United States, especially because Mali is a key piece of an increasingly delicate regional puzzle that involves growing threats to democracy and security in the overwhelming majority of West Africa’s fifteen states. There is little to gain in supporting failing French and regional West African policies, even if those policies theoretically serve U.S. goals such as promoting democracy, countering Russian influence, and containing insurgents. The United States, less resented than France in the Sahel, might try a phase of quiet and exploratory diplomacy aimed at discerning what could bring Mali’s junta to hand power back to civilians. This moment calls for creativity, especially as juntas in Mali’s neighbors Guinea and Burkina Faso take cues from the Malian junta’s defiance of regional and Western powers. There is a middle ground between coddling dictators and turning Mali into a pariah.

World Politics Review Article on Mali, One Year After the May 2021 Coup

At World Politics Review (subscription required), I look at where Mali stands one year after the May 2021 coup that consolidated the power of the current ruling junta. An excerpt:

In May 2021, Mali suffered its second coup in the space of a year, both of which were perpetrated by the same group of colonels. While the first coup, in August 2020, followed a recognizable script of quickly standing up a civilian-led transitional government with the task of guiding the country to democratic elections, the second has upended that “business-as-usual” approach to post-coup transitions. As such, for Mali and for West African democracy in general, it represents a real turning point, revealing the coup-makers’ combination of shrewdness and ambition—a combination that is already being replicated by military juntas that have similarly seized power in Guinea and Burkina Faso.

The G5 Sahel Joint Force – More Important Politically Than Militarily

The junta in Mali, determined to antagonize France on every possible diplomatic front, is threatening to withdraw from the G5 Sahel, a regional organization created in 2014 by Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. Mali’s withdrawal would in turn affect the viability of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (French acronym FC-G5S). The Joint Force is a five-nation enterprise set up in 2017 with French backing. It draws troops from the G5 Sahel countries and had an initial target of 5,000 troops. Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum has said the Malian withdrawal leaves the organization “dead.”

The FC-G5S is, as this post’s title indicates, more important in my view as a political symbol than as a military reality. So-called “regional forces” are appealing to Western powers for various reasons, especially when those forces offer the promise that “African solutions to African problems” (a phrase that Western policymakers deploy selectively and, in my view, sometimes disingenuously) will either allow Western forces an exit strategy, or obviate the need for large Western military deployments in the first place. Some regional forces “work,” at least in the limited sense of partly beating back insurgencies and preserving some gains afterwards; the most successful in this sense is the African Union Mission in Somalia. Other regional forces may have some impact but their presence arguably muddies the waters, even distracting attention away from the propensity of member states to act unilaterally or on ad hoc basis – witness the widely hailed Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin, but also witness the tendency of Nigeria, Chad, and other MNJTF contributors to do their own thing when the chips are down. The G5 Sahel Joint Force never even achieved the kind of aura the MNJTF developed – chased out of its own headquarters in 2018, the FC-G5S has no major military accomplishments to its credit.

Mali’s withdrawal or potential withdrawal (apparently this is a legal grey area) is a rebuke to France and Niger in particular. Mali’s junta, which has been cultivating near-pariah status in West Africa and with Western powers, was denied the rotating presidency of the G5 Sahel in February; the presidency has remained with Chad’s President Mahamat Deby, who came to power in a coup that was much more palatable to Paris and Washington than the coups (two) that Mali’s junta perpetrated. Chadian-Malian relations are not so bad currently and Deby is urging Mali to stay in the G5 Sahel, but Malian-Nigerien relations are not so great, especially given successive Nigerien presidents’ critiques of the Malian junta. Niger and France are also drawing even closer together as France reacts to its frayed relations with the colonels in Bamako.

The collapse of the G5 Sahel would remove yet another piece of the largely Western-designed framework – unsuccessful, it should be noted – aimed at guiding Mali and the Sahel back to security and stability. Again, I think the G5 Sahel Joint Force was never going to achieve what its backers hoped. I think it would have been better if the FC-G5S could have been more thoughtfully dismantled and debated, but one could be harsh and say that the “death” of the G5 Sahel could productively force a reconsideration of the underlying policy assumptions (fantasies??) about how this all ends – including the recurring hope that the solution is something like an African Union force (a re-hatted G5 Sahel?) with a United Nations Chapter VII (enforcement) mandate and dedicated funding. Here I would note that even that plan is not really fleshed out from what I have seen – is the idea that security will be restored through an open-ended deployment of African forces, all while the region’s politics get worse and worse?

To sum up, then:

  • Mali’s junta is reckless and is spending more time antagonizing France than improving anything in Mali
  • Some of the things the Malian junta is taking aim at weren’t doing much good anyways
  • Western powers don’t have a real plan

Mali: A Foiled Coup Attempt Against the Junta?

In a May 16 statement, Mali’s transitional military-dominated government described what it calls a coup attempt that allegedly occurred on the night of May 11-12:

The language of the statement is charged, condemning the actions of a “small group of anti-progressive Malian officers and non-commissioned officers” and accusing an unnamed “Western state” of supporting the alleged plotters. In the context of severe diplomatic tensions between the Malian junta and France, the transitional authorities appear to be leaving the impression that there was a French-backed plot against them. Claiming the mantle of progress, too, is a vague effort to attach a kind of politics to what has become an open-ended and rather policy-devoid transition.

Is the narrative plausible? Sure. The junta, which took power in August 2020 and then took on a more blatantly military and authoritarian character in a May 2021 follow-on coup, has been deliberately isolating itself from France, the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and most other partners. The junta’s refusal to set a clear and fast timetable for transitioning back to civilian rule elicited a tough sanctions package from ECOWAS in January. Meanwhile, the transitional authorities have been vindictive against even major critics in the capital Bamako, all while beginning to lash out at communities and alleged jihadists in the conflict-torn central regions of Mali. All of that could certainly provoke a reaction from within segments of the Malian Armed Forces; plenty of officers and ordinary soldiers would have ample cause to worry over the grim trajectory of the country, which looks set to become grimmer in the months to come. (None of this, by the way, is my way of defending the pre-August 2020 status quo, which was obviously bad enough to provoke the original coup – one can argue both that the pre-August 2020 trendline was bad and unsustainable, and that the current junta is not solving Mali’s old or new problems.)

As some coverage has pointed out, too, there was already one prior assassination attempt against military leader Colonel Assimi Goita, when a knife-wielding man tried to attack him in a Bamako mosque in July 2021.

On the other hand, some commentators are appropriately skeptical about the story of a foiled coup plot.

After all, a major component of the diplomatic war between France and Mali is the information war – and as demonstrated by the swirling narratives around the mass graves at Gossi, the accusations at play in this information war can be quite dramatic. Would the Malian junta gain politically by generating a fake story of a foiled coup? Absolutely, if they are hoping to drive up the kind of “rally round the flag” effect that is part of their current appeal – perhaps even their main domestic political narrative at this point. One could also speculate that the junta is sending a message to actual would-be coup plotters within the ranks, conveying something along the lines of “we are on alert, we recognize this is a possibility, and we will deal harshly with any attempts.” Ultimately, I think a coup is the greatest medium-term threat to the junta at this point. They have shown a great deal of stubbornness in the face of sanctions, even amid escalating defaults on debts; they do not seem to fear a mass civilian protest movement, and one does not seem to be in the cards in the near term; there is little possibility in my view of an external military intervention in the short term; the major politicians in Bamako are being coopted, intimidated, or kept complacent through the promise of eventual elections; etc. That leaves an internal coup as the biggest or most unpredictable threat – and it is not clear to me how unified the armed forces were behind the junta in the first place. And if there was no major schism in the ranks in August 2020 or May 2021 that does not mean that everyone is on “team junta,” so to speak.

To be a bit wishy-washy by way of conclusion, it’s very hard for me to adjudicate these competing possibilities about whether the latest alleged coup is real, fake, or perhaps some minor incident that the junta is deliberately exaggerating. In any case, even announcing a fake coup attempt could be read as a sign of some nervousness at the top.

Comparing the Prime Ministers of the Sahel

Who are the current prime ministers of the five core Sahelian countries, and what do their careers and approaches tell us about Sahelian politics? A few basic patterns emerge. In education, a combination of domestic government schoolings, STEM specializations, and some overseas training helped to fast-track their careers. In the first phases of their careers, employment within the civil service and particularly within state-owned enterprises was the means of ascent; often simultaneously, these men (they’re all men) either built parallel political careers within political parties, or at least (from within the civil service) weathered major shakeups in the political scene around them. The pivotal decade, in all cases, appears to have been the 1990s – in their 30s and 40s, they solidified positions as insiders that they have maintained ever since.

In the current political environment, the default model is that of a military head of state with a career politician or civil servant as prime minister; Niger is the only fully civilian-civilian lineup, in the sense that the head of state there is neither a current nor retired soldier. Two additional takeaways: (1) military heads of state have deep benches of technocrats and career civilian politicians to draw on when forming governments, even in some of the world’s poorest countries; (2) military heads of state in the region prefer civilian to military prime ministers, even if soldiers sometimes take up other key ministries in governments; and (3) in some cases, there are political rewards for the ability to strategically tack back and forth between the ruling party and the opposition, just as there are rewards for repeatedly seeking the presidency even if one doesn’t win it. None of those patterns are particularly unique to the Sahel, of course. One other interesting detail is that all three of the prime ministers in the core conflict zone of the Sahel – Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso – hail from the conflict zones themselves. Such origins, however, don’t necessarily give these men any particular advantage in attempting to manage or resolve those conflicts.

Here are the biographical sketches:

Mauritania – Mohamed Ould Bilal Messoud (b. 1963, Rosso): Ould Bilal Messoud is a technocrat and engineer with a background in hydraulics and business administration; parts of his education were in Algeria, Senegal, and possibly Europe. Since 1991, he has risen through the ranks of the state bureaucracy. Political turbulence in Mauritania between 2005 and 2009 clearly did not hurt his career, which continued to advance after the coup of 2005 against longtime ruler Maaouya Sid’Ahmed Ould Taya; he then moved into his first ministerial position (as Minister of Facilities, Urban Planning, and Housing) under the short-lived civilian administration of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi; he then headed up several state-run enterprises after the coup of 2008 and the coming to power of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (military head of state 2008-2009, civilian head of state 2009-2019). In 2020, Ould Bilal Messoud became prime minister after allegations of corruption brought down his predecessor, Ismail Bedde Ould Cheikh Sidiyya. From what I observe, Ould Bilal Messoud does not have a particularly big profile, perhaps by choice.

Mali – Choguel Kokalla Maïga (b. 1958, Tabango): Maïga is another engineer, in this case with a specialty in telecommunications; he graduated with a doctorate from the Moscow Telecommunications Institute in 1987/1988. Politically active as a supporter of Mali’s then-military ruler Moussa Traoré, Maïga built a career from 1990-2002 at the Mali Telecommunications Firm (Société des Télécommunications du Mali), rising through the ranks there even as Traoré fell in 1991. Meanwhile, Maïga became the leader of the Patriotic Movement for Renewal (MPR), a successor party to Traoré’s party the Democratic Union of the Malian People; under the MPR banner, Maïga ran for president in the open elections of 2002, placing seventh with under 3% of the vote. He again placed seventh in the open elections of 2013 and then scored eighth in the 2018 elections, each time receiving a slightly lower percentage of the vote. Maïga was appointed transitional prime minister by Mali’s current junta in June 2021, after the junta perpetrated its second coup (the first was in August 2020, the second was in May 2021).

Burkina Faso – Albert Ouedraogo (b. 1969, Dori): Ouedraogo has a background in management sciences, having received a doctorate in that subject in 1999 from Caen-Normandy University in France. From 1996-2002, he taught at the University of Ouagadougou, and then fashioned a long and apparently extremely successful career in the private sector (including at Deloitte) and then as a government consultant on a wide array of technical projects. His previous overt political experience was limited to some student activism, but when the Burkinabè junta (came to power January 2022) was seeking a transitional prime minister, Ouedraogo may have appealed to military ruler Paul-Henri Damiba not just because of Ouedraogo’s technocratic credentials, but also because he is close to Damiba’s uncle Pierre Claver Damiba, the first president of the West African Development Bank.

Niger – Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou (b. 1954, Amaloul Nomade): Mahamadou has a background in economics and public administration, having studied in Togo, France, and the United States. A career civil servant from 1979 to 1991, he was also a founding member of the Nigerien Party of Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) in 1990; the PNDS is the party of Niger’s immediate past President Mahamadou Issoufou and the current President Mohamed Bazoum. During the 1990s and 2000s, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou was in and out of the Nigerien government while also taking up major posts at the regional and international levels. He served twice as minister (Mines, Energy, Industry, and Crafts from 1991-1993, and Finance from 2011-2012), once as chief of staff (to Issoufou, 2015-2020), was elected twice as deputy from his home Tahoua Region (2011 and 2020), with stints at the Economic Community of West African States, the African Development Foundation, and other such organizations along the way. He was appointed in 2021 as Bazoum’s first prime minister, replacing Issoufou’s longtime prime minister, Brigi Raffini.

Chad – Albert Pahimi Padacké (b. 1966, Gouin; more biographical details here): At least in my research so far, I have not found details of Padacké’s biography between his birth and 1990, when he entered government. Since 1990, under the rule of Presidents Idriss Deby (1990-2021) and Mahamat Deby (2021-present), Padacké has been a major civilian figure associated with the regime, holding ministerial posts on and off: Finance, Commerce, Mines, Agriculture, Justice, Communication, etc., before being appointed Prime Minister in 2016. The post of prime minister was abolished in 2018, but then was resuscitated under the transitional military regime of Mahamat Deby, who appointed Padacké as his first and so far only PM. During the 2000s and up through the 2021 election (won by Idriss Deby just days before his death), Padacké was a frequent candidate for president (2006, 2011, 2021). In 2011 and 2021 he was a distant runner-up, scoring 6% to Deby’s 89% in 2011, and scoring 10% to Deby’s 79% in 2021. If one feels cynical (I do), one could say that Padacké was not a convincing opposition figure, given how many times he served in Deby’s governments – including, by some accounts, serving during the 2006 elections. Mahamat Deby would not have made him PM, it seems to me, if Padacké was not an insider through and through.

Mali: Snapshots of the Economy Under Sanctions, and a Bit on UEMOA Politics

Mali has been under draconian sanctions since January of this year. The sanctions were imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in an attempt at pressuring Mali’s military-dominated transitional government (took power in an August 2020 coup, and reconsolidated power in a May 2021 follow-on coup) to accelerate its timeline for transitioning back to civilian rule. The sanctions include border closures and tight restrictions on financial transfers, exports, etc. Mali’s government had already defaulted on $180 million in debt servicing by March, which is beginning to have some domino effects through the suspension of some World Bank projects and other fallouts.

RFI (May 8) looks at the impact of sanctions, centering interesting comments by the Senegalese economist Pape Demba Thiam. He argues that the Malian economy will reorient rather than collapse. Thiam sees gold, the “war economy,” and the internal economy broadly as factors that are allowing (and will allow) the Malian junta to keep pressing ahead, despite early predictions that the sanctions would lead to collapse within weeks.

Speaking of the World Bank, in April 2022 they released a new “Macro Poverty Outlook” for Mali. I don’t know much about the Bank but bizarrely for a note released in April 2022, the document includes the line that “this projection assumes that the sanctions will expire by the end of March 2022.” In any case, here’s a useful excerpt (p. 2):

The extreme poverty rate is projected to stagnate at around 17.5 percent in 2022, due to the high projected population growth rate of 2.9 percent over 2021-2023. Protracted sanctions may reduce employment and incomes for the urban poor engaged in construction, transport, commerce and hospitality. Internally displaced persons and refugees will increasingly flock into Bamako when the government is ill-equipped to mitigate humanitarian crises and support the vulnerable.

The outlook is subject to multiple downside risks, the most important being regional sanctions extending beyond March, but also from intensified insecurity, further climatic shocks, food insecurity and new COVID outbreaks. It is likely that at least some of these risks will materialize and
concurrent shocks are possible. The Russia-Ukraine war presents additional risks through higher food and energy prices. The projections reflect recent sharp increases in commodity prices since January 2022, though with a high degree of uncertainty. Higher gold prices could help offset the negative impact of surging oil prices.

Jeune Afrique, meanwhile, looks at the West African Monetary and Economic Union (French acronym UEMOA) and its internal divisions regarding the sanctions regime for Mali. The UEMOA’s eight members (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo) are all members of ECOWAS as well (also right now some members are suspended). Dynamics involving the UEMOA and Mali are now quite complex – in March (here I’m quoting Reuters), a UEMOA court “ordered suspension of the eight-nation body’s sanctions against Mali, imposed in January after the junta delayed elections…[but] it was not immediately clear whether UEMOA would follow the court decision.” Going back to the Jeune Afrique article, UEMOA leaders met yesterday (May 9) in Cote d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan on the margins of the COP15 summit there. Jeune Afrique describes two camps. One camp favors the lifting of sanctions; so far, this camp appears to consist of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé (recently asked by Mali’s government to act as a mediator). The other camp favors continued sanctions; key players are Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, Cote d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara, and Senegal’s Macky Sall. Burkina Faso, itself under military rule, is not in good standing, nor is Mali, obviously; the article says that Benin’s President Patrice Talon has not yet taken a clear stance, and the article doesn’t mention Guinea-Bissau’s position.

Even though the UEMOA meeting was yesterday, I haven’t seen any news yet about any decisions taken there – so I assume no game-changing moves have been made yet.

A Threatening Letter from Malian Labor to Prime Minister Maiga

The National Union of Malian Workers (French acronym UNTM) is a formidable organization. Transitional Prime Minister Choguel Maiga (in office since June 2021) is a controversial figure at home and abroad, and has antagonized the UNTM among many others.

On May 6, the UNTM sent a threatening letter to Maiga. Taking as a point of departure Maiga’s April 21 address to the transitional legislature (CNT), the letter deals with a wide range of issues, including the right to strike, the negotiation of salaries, the functioning of various government boards, and a host of political issues. There are deep memories at stake here – the date 1991 comes up twice in the letter, referring to the popular revolution and coup that brought down longtime military ruler Moussa Traore. There is, it seems, bad blood between Maiga and the UNTM over the 1991 revolution – Maiga was a pro-Traore youth leader in the 1980s.

In any case, the UNTM says, in the letter, “Trade-unionism can enter the national political game. All the conventions and resolutions sanctions it. So watch out!” The UNTM stresses its support for head of state Assimi Goita, but warns, “The red line is the attempt at the proliferation of negationism of the democratic revolution of March 26, 1991 and its results, without which today would not be.” I take this as not just a reference to the past but also as a condemnation of the transitional government’s authoritarianism, a portion of which seems to emanate from Maiga personally.

The full letter can be found here, along with some brief but useful commentary by Malian writer Mamadou Togola here.

Mali: Some Glimpses Behind the Scenes in Bamako (?)

A few press reports over the last month or so offer a look at some alleged, very grim events.

Cyril Bensimon, “Au Mali, « la mort programmée » de Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga” (Le Monde, 11 April). The upshot: the death of former Prime Minister Soumeylou Maïga on March 21, after seven months in detention, raises a lot of questions. Maïga’s imprisonment was part of a larger crackdown by Malian transitional authorities on prominent politicians and critics, and Maïga would have been a front-runner in any eventual presidential election in Mali. Maïga’s family is essentially accusing Mali’s authorities of allowing Maïga to die by refusing him basic medical care until the end.

Benjamin Roger and Fatoumata Diallo, “Moussa Diawara, le « mauvais génie » de Bamako” (Jeune Afrique, May 2). Roger and Diallo chart the rise of Diawara from National Guardsman to Director-General of State Security. The article goes through multiple convoluted incidents, including a lavish 2019 birthday party that caused scandal; Diawara’s alleged ties to northern narcotraffickers; Diawara’s possible betrayal of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita during the August 2020 coup; his role as adviser to transitional President Bah Ndaw (in power September 2020-May 2021); and, finally, his present whereabouts in a “five-star jail” at the Gendarmerie School.

Jason Burke and Emmanuel Akinwotu, “Russian mercenaries linked to civilian massacres in Mali” (The Guardian, May 4). What is new here is not the substance of the allegations but the nature of the evidence – leaked Malian army documents.

Internal Malian army documents seen by the Guardian reveal the presence of Wagner members – referred to as “Russian instructors” – on “mixed missions” with Malian soldiers and gendarmes during operations in which many civilians have been killed.

[…]

Another internal memo described a clash on 23 April between militants and “a joint patrol of FAMA and Russian instructors” between the villages of Mondoro and Boni. “Provisional losses” amounted to “two dead – one FAMA and one Russian – and 10 wounded – six FAMA and four Russians”, said the memo, sent some hours after the incident. Details of “enemy losses” were “unavailable for the moment”.

As has becoming clearer in the past few weeks, the Russians are taking some casualties themselves.

These three pieces all reinforce the picture of a really grim scene in Bamako – intrigue, mistrust, authoritarianism, and a regime that is attempting to project power beyond the capital with the help of Wagner, but which (if these snippets of reports are any indication) doesn’t necessarily have that much visibility on what is going on in many parts of the country. If Maïga was effectively allowed to die, moreover, it makes me wonder what consequences the junta will reap for changing the “rules of the game” in Bamako – in Malian politics as in many other countries’ politics, the key players seem to expect they will always be allowed a chance to make a comeback. Take that chance away and intra-elite relations could get very tense indeed.