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.