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.




Family Networks and Mali’s Key Governing Institutions

This post caught my eye the other day. It says, “Issiaka Sidibé, father-in-law of President IBK [Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta], named president of the High Court of Justice.”

Here is a response from another Malian observer, reading, “He was elected in the electoral district of Koulikoro, elected by his colleagues as president of the High Court of Justice of Mali, hence the word nomination is misleading. ‘Father-in-law of IBK,’ this connection is an invention coming from you.”

So there’s a lot to sort through here, with consequences for how to understand the workings of Mali’s institutions at the highest levels.

Issiaka Sidibé served as president of Mali’s National Assembly from 2014 to 2020, stepping down after the recent legislative elections in March/April of this year. He is the father-in-law not of President Keïta but of Keïta’s son Karim, who also serves as a deputy in parliament – in 2013, several months after his father was elected president, Karim won a legislative seat representing the capital Bamako’s Commune II). The younger Keïta was re-elected in this year’s vote. Within the National Assembly, he also holds a prominent post as President of the Defense, Security, and Civilian Protection Commission.

Karim Keïta (see one biography of him here, and a discussion of his inner circle here, both in French) reportedly has substantial influence over his father’s picks for top personnel – although this question takes us back to the debate between the two Malian commentators cited above. One could have the same debate about the new president of the National Assembly, Moussa Timbiné (who represents Bamako’s Commune V) – but various accounts say confidently that the two Keïtas, and especially Karim, had a strong hand in Timbiné’s selection. Sidibé, Karim Keïta, and Timbiné all belong to President Keïta’s Rally for Mali (French acronym RPM) party.

Turning to the High Court of Justice (French), this body is composed of nine members of the National Assembly, and is the body which judges the President of the Republic and cabinet ministers if they face charges of treason or other crimes. The High Court has nine members elected from among the National Assembly’s deputies, and its slate changes with each new Assembly. The nine new members (French) for the Sixth Assembly, and their party affiliations, are:

  1. Sina Oumar Traoré, MPM-UDD
  2. Kadidia Sangaré, MRD
  3. Soungalo Togola, Adema
  4. Mamadou Salif Diallo, Adema
  5. Abdoul Kadri Ibrahim Diallo, VRD
  6. Issiaka Sidibé, RPM
  7. Cheickna Coulibaly, RPM
  8. Mohamed Ould Mataly, RPM (note: he is under sanctions from the United Nations Security Council)
  9. Maïmouna Ouloguem, BENSO

As president of the Court, Sidibé replaces Abdrahamane Niang, another reported (French) close associate of President Keïta.

What does all this mean? On the one hand, it is not unusual around the world to see multiple members of a family enter politics and win high office – certainly the United States has no shortage of examples of that. But I have to say, I’m less than enthusiastic about political dynasties in my own country. And it makes sense that the Keïtas would want an ally of theirs as president of the National Assembly – what is the point, after all, of having a political party if not to try to control the executive and legislative branches simultaneously? But at what point does the influence of a single parliamentary deputy, based on family connections, become anti-democratic? At what point does a political network cross the line from being a clique of powerful individuals (which will invariably operate in any presidential administration) to being a clique that bends the key institutions of the state to its own interests? Moreover, having the president’s son’s father-in-law presiding over the body that would judge the president were he to be accused of a crime does, to say the least, set up a clear and worrying conflict of interest.

Mali: On Moussa Timbiné, the New President of the National Assembly, and a Bit of Context

On May 11, following legislative elections held in two rounds on March 29 and April 19, Mali’s 6th National Assembly selected Moussa Timbiné the body’s new president. Timbiné replaces Issaka Sidibé, who served in the position from 2014-2020.

Timbiné, 47, belongs to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s Rassemblement pour le Mali (Rally for Mali, RPM). He was a founding member of the party in 2001, coming from a background in student union activism and then working his way up the ranks of the party as a youth leader and then an elected official, rising to become second Vice President of the Assembly in its last iteration. He is ethnically Dogon and Songhaï, hailing from the Bandiagara administrative district of the Mopti Region, central Mali. In parliament, however, he represents the capital Bamako’s Commune V. A longer biography of Timbiné can be found here (French).

Timbiné is seen as a close ally not just of Keïta the father but also the president’s influential son Karim. (Notably, outgoing National Assembly President Sidibé is Karim Keïta’s father-in-law.) Observers see the Keïta family’s strong hand in putting forth Timbiné, whose candidacy as speaker was a bit of a surprise; until a day before the vote, the RPM’s designee had been another deputy, Mamadou Diarrassouba, who represents Dioïla in the southern Koulikoro Region.

Ironically, moreover, Timbiné had recently nearly lost his own seat. After the second round of voting, provisional results gave the barest of victories, 50.4% to 49.6%, to an opposition  candidate, Boubou Diallo. Diallo belongs to the Union pour la République et la Démocratie (Union for the Republic and Democracy, URD), the country’s foremost opposition party, whose leader Soumaïla Cissé was kidnapped on March 25 and is still in captivity. Indeed, the overall results from Bamako at first appeared to be a bloodbath for Keïta’s RPM there, with the party losing all but one seat (Karim Keïta’s) of the nine it held going into the elections. On April 30, however, Mali’s Constitutional Court reversed the results from various constituencies; by the revised figures, RPM gained ten seats, including four in Bamako, of which one was Commune V. RPM came out with 51 seats total, giving it the largest bloc in the National Assembly but falling well short of a majority. In any case, for those who regard the election results as compromised, Timbiné’s installation as president of the assembly is symbolic and symptomatic.

The scope of Timbiné’s victory within the assembly also raises questions about how much of an opposition there really is in Mali. Timbiné received 134 votes out of the body’s 147 members, against 8 votes for former Prime Minister Moussa Mara. Reportedly, some or even all of the URD members even voted to support him (or were given instructions to cast blank ballots, depending on which account you read). The URD deputies’ behavior angered many of the party’s supporters, prompting party leadership to issue what reads like an apology. In any event, the RPM’s losses in the election and its minority share within the new assembly do not necessarily mean that President Keïta and his allies have lost their grip on the chamber.