Mali: A New Slate of Judges for the Constitutional Court

A political crisis in Mali began with the legislative elections in March/April and escalated with the M5-RFP protest movement’s rallies in June and July – the M5-RFP being the June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces, a coalition of civil society and opposition groups. The protesters have focused their energies on multiple targets: President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), his son Karim, the National Assembly, and the Constitutional Court. The protesters’ complaints about all of these figures and institutions are interlinked; among other relationships at play, it was the Constitutional Court that overturned the results of 31 legislative races and in so doing created one of the main grievances fueling the protests.

On August 7, President Keïta named a brand new slate of nine members for the Constitutional Court, fulfilling a pledge he had made and conforming to a demand from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc that is the lead mediator between IBK and the M5-RFP. The new slate take their oaths of office today, August 10.

The old, departing slate included Manassa Danioko, a career judge and diplomat who had been appointed president of the Court in 2015. She became a symbol for the M5-RFP of the Court’s corruption, while she presented herself as a defender of the Constitution. The letter of protest that she and two colleagues wrote to IBK protesting their dismissal – calling it unconstitutional and illegal – is worth reading, not just because it captures her perspective but also because it raises thorny issues about judicial independence. Various sides within Malian politics and the international community are trading accusations about what is constitutional or unconstitutional, and as actors improvise I don’t think either IBK or the M5-RFP can claim to be consistent defenders of the constitution. That does not mean, though, that I sympathize with Danioko – her approach to public relations during the protest has been poorly conceived, to say the least.

The formula for picking out the new judges was a bit complicated – three chosen by the president, three by the President of the National Assembly, Moussa Timbiné, and three chosen by the High Council of the Magistrature. Here is the list:

  1. Amadou Ousmane Touré, magistrate – picked by IBK
  2. Aser Kamaté, magistrate – picked by IBK
  3. Doucoure Kadidia Traoré, lawyer – picked by IBK
  4. Malick Ibrahim, lawyer – picked by Timbiné
  5. Ba Haoua Toumagnon, magistrate – picked by Timbiné
  6. Beyla Ba, retired magistrate – picked by Timbiné
  7. Demba Tall, magistrate – picked by High Council
  8. Mohamed Abdourahamane Maiga, magistrate – picked by High Council
  9. Djènéba Karambenta, magistrate – picked by High Council

The new president of the Court is the above-listed Amadou Touré, a prosecutor and former auditor general and ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire. Most recently he has been chief of staff to Prime Minister Boubou Cissé (h/t Serge Daniel).

I do not think these appointments will depoliticize the Court, either in practice or in the eyes of the M5-RFP. This is not a question about the qualifications of the new appointees, who all appear to be accomplished legal professionals – rather, it has to do with the mechanisms by which they were selected and, at least in Touré’s case, with their professional itineraries. Selecting an executive branch staffer to head a judicial institution whose independence is in question from multiple directions is not really a good look. The Nord Sud Journal even reports that another appointee, Demba Tall, is PM Cissé’s cousin (h/t Baba Ahmed), which takes us back to the question of family networks in Mali’s top institutions.

Also, as Andrew Lebovich points out, there is a problem with Timbiné getting to pick one-third of the new slate:

To spell this out further, Timbiné – although President of the National Assembly – is himself one of the 31 “mal-elected” deputies whom ECOWAS and others want gone from the legislature, or at least compelled to do a re-run election. And, moreover, the M5-RFP refused to participate in naming the new judges. So this overhaul of the Court ticks a box vis-a-vis ECOWAS’ stipulations, but is unlikely to mollify the protesters. IBK may have to rely on cracks within the M5-RFP, rather than these institutional shakeups (which are, I’m trying to say, likely less impactful than they might first seem), to withstand the protests.

 

 

 

Four Reasons Why Mali in 2020 Is Not Burkina Faso in 2014

There was a lively commentary posted yesterday (August 4) at the Malian news aggregator site Maliweb, by Diagne Fodé Roland. I’ll translate the title as “Mali in 2020 Is on the Path of Burkina in 2014.” The twin reference is to the anti-incumbent protests that have been unfolding in Mali since June of this year, and to the 2014 popular uprising (and military coup) that overthrew Burkina Faso’s longtime ruler Blaise Compaoré in 2014.

The Malian protests are led by a coalition of groups known as the June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (French acronym M5-RFP). Their main demand (now perhaps not shared by all parts of the movement) has been the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK).

I was not previously familiar with the writing of Diagne (I believe this to be his surname), but given how widely he has been published in the Senegalese press, he may be Senegalese rather than Malian. He quotes heavily from another thinker, Issa N’Diaye, whose work is also new to me – Diagne quotes from N’Diaye’s provocatively titled book Silence, on démocratise !démocratie et fractures sociales au Mali (Silence, We’re Democratizing! Democracy and Social Fractures in Mali). The argument Diagne picks up on from Ndiaye is that after the popular uprising (and military coup) that overthrew Mali’s longtime military dictator Moussa Traoré in 1991, the new system of multiparty democracy was in reality a neocolonial “festival of bandits” where members of the old ruling party (UDPM) took over the new ruling party (ADEMA) and marginalized the original movers in the revolution. In this view, part of the Malian left was disempowered and the remainder was incorporated into a “neocolonial bourgeoisie in vassalage to the liberal plans of structural adjustment dictated by the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.” In Diagne’s view, that history of what he sees as kleptocracy for elites and immiseration for ordinary Malians sets the stage for the current crisis.

Diagne’s points here are worth taking seriously, and his analysis is shared by not a few Malians. At the very least, the phrase “political class” has recurred throughout the crisis, and there is a palpable sense of fatigue and disgust with that class. The next part of Diagne’s historical narrative pertains to the northern rebellion of 2012 and the French intervention, which Diagne sees as a neo-imperialist maneuver. Diagne describes the insecurity in the country in highly conspiratorial terms, an analysis I do not share but which many Malians do seem to share. But to pursue that discussion would take us off track – I want to get back to the headline of Diagne’s piece.

Diagne does not develop, at all, the comparison between Mali and Burkina Faso – in fact, I wonder whether an editor slapped that headline on the piece. But the comparison is worth exploring, for at least two reasons:

  1. Burkina Faso’s transition is the most recent instance of a popular revolution in the Sahel, and
  2. The involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in attempting to mediate Mali’s crisis invites a regional reading of the Malian situation. I have even seen the argument (I wish I had saved the link/post) that the real audience for ECOWAS’ missions to Mali is the domestic constituencies of those same ECOWAS heads of state, and that ECOWAS leaders are above all concerned that anti-incumbent protests not spread to their own countries. That’s a discussion worth pursuing in another post, I think.

I also won’t discuss the revolution in Burkina Faso exhaustively here – for that, I recommend Ernest Harsch’s Burkina Faso: A History of Power, Protest and Revolution. Instead, I want to highlight four reasons why I think Mali 2020 and Burkina Faso 2014 are quite different from one another.

1. IBK is not Compaoré

Simply by virtue of math, I think one has to say that IBK in 2020 and Compaoré in 2014 belong to different categories. IBK is an embattled leader, a career member of the Malian “political class,” and now the symbol of that class, especially in the eyes of his opponents – yet he is also a term-limited incumbent in his second term, who came to power by the ballot box, and who has been in power for well under a decade (he took office in 2013). The elections IBK won in 2013 and 2018 were flawed (low turnout, and almost certainly some rigging), but they were not, in my view, the stage-managed elections of a “competitive authoritarian” dictatorship. All of this is a far cry from the career of Compaoré, who came to power in a bloody 1987 coup, was elected and re-elected president in grossly undemocratic elections in 1991 and 1998, skirted term limits on a technicality in 2005, and was preparing to flout term limits again in the lead-up to the 2015 election. IBK has not been president long enough to instill the kind of resentment that developed under Compaoré – no one protesting in the streets now in Bamako was born while IBK was president (I assume/hope), but plenty of protesters in Burkina Faso in 2014 had lived all their lives under Compaoré’s rule.

2. There are no Malian equivalents to the symbolism/martyrdom of Thomas Sankara or Norbert Zongo (yet)

The Burkinabè revolution was multi-causal and complex, but it’s worth mentioning two key figures who became symbols for the protesters there, and whom the protesters (and much of the wider society, it seems to me) consider martyrs of the Compaoré regime. The first is Compaoré’s immediate predecessor, the revolutionary dictator Thomas Sankara (in power 1983-1987), who is widely admired not just in Burkina Faso but across Africa and around the world (including by me, for what it’s worth) for his efforts to transform Burkina Faso’s society and economy and to make the country egalitarian and truly independent. Sankara’s murder during Compaoré’s 1987 coup is, for many Burkinabè citizens, a wound that refuses to heal, and during and after the protests there has been a powerful call for the country to reckon with that tragic history. The second figure is Norbert Zongo, a journalist murdered in 1998, likely at the hands of Compaoré’s regime and in connection with his investigation into the murder of a driver employed by Compaoré’s brother François, a story with wider implications for understanding corruption and impunity within the regime. These figures are not the only victims of the Compaoré regime, but their memories loomed large in the 2014 uprising.

I do not see any Malian equivalents to those figures, not at the same level of symbolism and resonance. This is not to say that there are not Malians dying in tragic and preventable ways; the insecurity in the center and the north of the country claims victims on a daily basis. There have even been deaths associated with the Malian security forces’ response to the M5-RFP’s protests. But I do not see a parallel to Sankara and Zongo in Mali in the sense of prominent, widely respected and even beloved figures whose deaths can be laid directly at the incumbent’s doorstep in some deeply personal way. Deep as the anger toward IBK may be among the M5-RFP’s supporters, I am not sure it matches the depth of the Burkinabè protesters’ anger and disgust toward Compaoré in 2014.

The most dangerous moment so far in the Malian government’s response to the M5-RFP, I would say, came over the weekend of July 10-12 when the security forces were detaining M5-RFP leaders and cracking down on protesters with excessive force. If the security forces inadvertently produce martyrs amid this crisis, the dynamic could shift substantially.

Another, related point is that there were dress rehearsals, of sorts, for the Burkinabè uprising of 2014 – notably, there were waves of protests in 2008 and 2011. One could argue that various episodes in Mali’s history (the 1991 revolution, or perhaps the 2009 protests against a controversial Family Code, or perhaps something else) were precedents for the current moment, but 1991 was a long time ago and previous mobilizations by clerics were issue-specific, or focused on figures below the level of the president. Mali in 2020 does not appear to be at the peak of a long-building wave.

3. The M5-RFP has little visible support outside Bamako

Another crucial difference between Burkina Faso in 2014 and Mali in 2020 is that the Burkinabè revolution had a broader geographical ambit. Certainly the M5-RFP is not completely lacking in support outside the capital, and certainly Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou was the heart of the 2014 revolution there – but numerous commentators have pointed out that the M5-RFP has not mobilized substantial protests in cities other than Bamako. Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso in 2014 (and in the earlier protest waves in 2008 and 2011), there was substantial mobilization in the economic hub Bobo-Dioulasso and elsewhere. If IBK outlasts the M5-RFP, as he is still fairly likely to do, a significant reason will be that the protests are not truly national in scope.

4. The Burkinabè revolution was relatively leaderless, whereas the M5-RFP is elite-led and therefore vulnerable

The whole idea of “leaderless movements” is partly a myth, of course, and there were organized groups that played substantial roles in the 2014 revolution in Burkina Faso – the most famous of them being Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom), founded by musicians in 2013. And the ground for the uprising was partly prepared through intra-elite splits, including the departure of several major figures from Compaoré’s camp in 2012 (among them current President Roch Kaboré). Yet amid the 2014 revolution in Burkina Faso, it was not so easy as it is in Mali in 2020 to pick out the handful of people who appear to be in charge. The M5-RFP is a formal coalition of three groups, which gives you a relatively small group of key leaders, such as Imam Mahmoud Dicko, his close associate Issa Kaou Djim, and the former ministers Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Mountaga Tall, and Choguel Maïga. It is not that these leaders merely snap their fingers and tens of thousands of people come out – obviously there must be a give-and-take between leaders and protesters as the leaders attempt to read the mood of their supporters. Yet the relatively small, elite character of the leadership leaves them vulnerable to divide-and-rule tactics by IBK’s team, and to infighting and strategic disagreements. With the M5-RFP’s most prominent leader, Dicko, now suggesting that IBK does not need to resign, after all, it appears more likely that the M5-RFP will split than that the M5-RFP will succeed in forcing IBK out of power. In Burkina Faso, in contrast, events moved so quickly in October 2014, and the protesters proved so difficult to placate or divide, that Compaoré was being forced out before he could devise a serious counter-strategy. The increasingly protracted negotiations in Mali have, in a way, favored the M5-RFP so long as they don’t budge; but it has also given IBK time to experiment, lean on his peers and supporters outside Mali, and wait for the M5-RFP to crack.

Mali’s Temporary Skeleton Cabinet

Yesterday, Monday, July 27, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) held an extraordinary summit by videoconference. The summit addressed the political contestation in Mali between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) and a protest collective called the June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP). In the conflict between IBK and M5-RFP, ECOWAS has been the formal external mediator, with the support of France and other foreign powers. ECOWAS sent two mediation missions to Mali’s capital Bamako in June and July, and most recently sent five West African heads of state to Bamako on July 23.

ECOWAS’ recommendations have become stipulations, and the July 27 summit reiterated a deadline of July 31 for implementing the following measures: the formation of a national unity government, the recomposition of the Constitutional Court, the removal of 31 parliamentary deputies whose elections were contested.

Here I just want to focus on the national unity government – a formation that the M5-RFP has not (yet) agreed to join. Yet the Malian presidency, which has also been promising to form some kind of unity government since June, is moving ahead. Also yesterday, the presidency announced a kind of interim, skeleton government with just six essential ministers under Prime Minister Boubou Cissé; this is in keeping with ECOWAS’ framework, which authorized the appointment of core ministers before the full slate was determined.

Here are the appointees:

  1. Defense and Veterans: General Ibrahima Dahirou Dembelé
  2. Territorial Administration and Decentralization: Boubacar Alpha Bah
  3. Security and Civil Protection: General M’Bemba Moussa Keïta
  4. Justice and Human Rights: Kassoum Tapo
  5. Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation: Tiébilé Dramé
  6. Economy and Finance: Abdoulaye Daffé

A few relatively banal observations:

  1. There is a lot of continuity here. I’ve lost track of all the different cabinet reshuffles in Mali (more on that below), but if we look at the government formed in May 2019, after Cissé became Prime Minister we see Dembelé, Bah, and Dramé in their current posts.
  2. Both the newcomers and those continuing on are familiar faces. Tapo, for example, is an ex-minister who was close to former President Amadou Toumani Touré.
  3. The one real political newcomer might be Daffé – from my brief searches, it does not appear that he has held a ministerial post or a parliamentary seat before. But he comes out of a top job in the banking sector; he was the longtime Director of the National Development Bank of Mali. His name was even recently floated as a replacement for Cissé as prime minister. He is reportedly close to the Chérif of Nioro du Sahel, a major Muslim cleric who is somewhat aligned with the M5-RFP but who is also a key interlocutor for the presidency and for Cissé. So he should not be pegged as an apolitical technocrat.
  4. The cabinet reshuffles and games of musical chairs are exactly what the M5-RFP, or at least part of it, is trying to short-circuit. From the perspective of IBK’s opponents, the president has used repeated cabinet reshuffles to shield himself from political consequences. It also seems that most of the M5-RFP’s supporters are tired of politics as usual, and seeing the same faces cycle in and out of government and/or other top jobs is a complaint of the protesters rather than a solution to their complaints. It could reinforce protesters’ cynicism and anger to see previously fired officials (such as General Keïta, who was fired as Chief of Army Staff after the March 2019 massacre at Ogassagou in central Mali) return to powerful positions . Dembelé’s initial nomination in May 2019 was controversial too, given his active role in the 2012 military coup.

At the same time, there are questions about how long the M5-RFP can hold together, particularly when it comes to their core demand for IBK to resign. I’ve said before that I think repeatedly reiterating that demand has given the M5-RFP a lot of bargaining power, but Malian experts such as Bréma Ely Dicko are now predicting that the influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, the foremost leader of the protesters, will break with the others and drop the demand for IBK’s resignation. We will see.

I leave the French-speakers with this thread, which goes through the new cabinet picks in some detail:

ECOWAS Leaves Bamako Empty-Handed; M5-RFP in the Driver’s Seat By Holding Firm

The June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), a collective calling for the resignation of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), has upended politics in the capital Bamako through a series of three protests on June 5, June 19, and July 10 (see previous coverage, in chronological order from earliest to most recent, here, hereherehere, and here).

Regional and international governments are alarmed and are working to prevent a scenario where Keïta resigns. The face of that effort has been the regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has undertaken two mediation missions to Bamako. The latter mission, a delegation headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (in office 2010-2015), was in Bamako from July 15-19. Their mission failed in that they did not convince the M5-RFP to drop its demand for IBK to step down.

By my count, the M5-RFP has only really wavered on that core demand once, with its July 1 announcement proposing various institutional arrangements that would have made IBK a figurehead but would have kept him in office. On the whole, though, the M5-RFP has been quite consistent in calling again and again for Keïta’s departure. Meanwhile, both IBK and ECOWAS have proposed concession after concession. IBK has granted several concessions or would-be concessions already:

  • the ongoing effort to form a new government;
  • the pledge to appoint a new slate of judges to the Constitutional Court (perhaps the M5-RFP’s second-most important political target after IBK himself);
  • the various proposals IBK has made regarding 31 politicians whose apparent victories in the legislative elections of March/April were stripped away by revised results the Constitutional Court issued on April 30; and
  • the resignation of IBK’s son Karim (another prominent target of the M5-RFP) from a powerful parliamentary committee.

ECOWAS, in a July 19 memorandum, essentially recycled those first three proposals but with a bit more complexity/specificity in the mechanisms by which they are to be accomplished; for example, ECOWAS wants the “government of national unity” to include 50% members from the ruling coalition, 30% members from the opposition, and 20% members from civil society. And there is a complicated formula for choosing the new members of the Constitutional Court. ECOWAS noted, without any irony, that everyone it met welcomed those proposals except for the Strategy Committee of the M5-RFP.

The overall dynamic of one side attempting to conciliate and the other side not budging has steadily increased the M5-RFP’s bargaining power. If I were better read, I could probably point to some theoretical literature on this topic but the basic point is easy to grasp: if I just keep saying I want X and you keep throwing out offer after offer, eventually you start to look desperate. You start moving, inadvertently, closer and closer to my position. You said, “X is off the table,” but now you’ve offered so many Ys and Zs that it starts to look like you are chipping away at X itself, beginning to offer me small pieces of it. And meanwhile many of the ramparts that defended X are now down, they’ve been breached, and you’re starting to run out of meaningful Ys and Zs to offer. We’re still negotiating over X, but now your position is weaker than when we began, I haven’t given up anything, and you’ve acknowledged that you’re scared of me. This is where IBK and ECOWAS find themselves now vis-a-vis the M5-RFP.

Does this mean IBK will resign? The chances are certainly ticking upwards. The strategy from IBK’s team may be to just play for time, try to let the M5-RFP’s momentum drain away, experiment with combinations of conciliation and repression until they find the one that works. A further problem for IBK’s side, though, is that they did not hit on that combination the weekend of July 10-12, after the third protest. Had they refrained from arresting M5-RFP leaders, had they not deployed the FORSAT anti-terrorism unit against protesters, had they not been so quick with the teargas and the live ammunition, the authorities and particularly the presidency might have been able to claim the moral high ground and dismiss the protesters as mere troublemakers. There are valid, even devastating criticisms to be made of the M5-RFP – they have little support outside Bamako, their leadership includes plenty of opportunists, they have not articulated detailed plans for resolving Mali’s crises beyond the departure of IBK, etc. – but the presidency undercut its ability to make those criticisms resonate, domestically and even internationally, by overreacting to the July 10 demonstration.

And does IBK have the time to outlast the M5-RFP? At the conclusion of ECOWAS’ second mission, the M5-RFP called for renewed “civil disobedience” beginning Monday, July 20 (today). The M5-RFP’s momentum is growing, not dissipating. The M5-RFP has done quite well, I think, at managing the media spectacle surrounding the protests; as a multi-headed movement, there is plenty of opportunities for press conferences, statements, media profiles, etc. And IBK and ECOWAS inadvertently feed the media spectacle even as they try to resolve the crisis, with each press conference or speech that they hold serving to keep the M5-RFP in the news.

If three protests have caused this much of a crisis for IBK, how will two or three more protests play out?

I leave you with a few noteworthy analyses from elsewhere: