Mali: A Second Round of Protests Against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta

On Friday, June 5, a mass demonstration in Mali’s capital Bamako called for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) to resign. To briefly recap what I wrote here, the organizers – a proto-political party called CMAS led by prominent cleric Mahmoud Dicko; a coalition of political parties called the FSD; and a civil society formation led by filmmaker Cheick Oumar Sissoko and called EMK – have clearly tapped into a formidable wave of dissatisfaction with IBK’s performance on security, education, corruption, and the recent, controversial legislative elections. The organizers, now calling themselves the Mouvement du 5 juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (June 5 Movement – Rally for Political Forces), held another massive rally on Friday, June 19.

See for yourself:

Two important developments occurred between June 5 and June 19:

  • Keïta, reacting to the June 5 rally, addressed the nation on June 14 and promised to appoint a “government of change,” retaining Prime Minister Boubou Cissé. By my count this is IBK’s sixth cabinet reshuffle since taking office in 2013.
  • The Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) got involved, sending a delegation to Bamako that included ECOWAS Commission President JeanClaude Kassi Brou and the Foreign Ministers of Niger, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire. Here are most of the senior members of the delegation meeting with Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, who currently holds ECOWAS’ rotating presidency, on June 18 as they prepared to head to Bamako:

The ECOWAS delegation, in Bamako from 18-20 June, met President IBK and Prime Minister Cissé as well as Dicko, other leaders of the 5 June Movement, and several other key groups and bodies. The delegation’s communique is here:

Most significantly, ECOWAS has called on Malian authorities to “reconsider the results” from legislative races whose outcomes were reversed by Mali’s Constitutional Court when it proclaimed, on April 30, the final results of the legislative elections. The Court’s final results contradicted the provisional results issued earlier by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, following the second round of the elections on April 19. The more I try to confirm the numbers the more muddied it seems to get, but IBK’s Rally for Mali (RPM) gained at least 8 seats in the revised results, including several seats in Bamako where it had initially appeared that the RPM suffered a serious rout. In its communiqué, the ECOWAS delegation writes that the Court’s decision “is at the base of the current socio-political tension.” It is not hard to see why – some citizens’ feeling that IBK is performing abysmally and selfishly, combined with those citizens’ feeling that elections do not offer a genuine vehicle for change and accountability, adds up to a sentiment of real frustration and anger.

Reuters interprets ECOWAS’ statement as a call to re-run the disputed elections; I am not sure that is what ECOWAS is saying, because “reconsider the results” could also mean “go back to the provisional results.” A lot is at stake either way – including the seat of the new President of National Assembly, Moussa Timbiné. I think the presidency would really have to feel that its back was against the wall before it gave up those additional seats and sacrificed major members of its team in the Assembly. And to compound the situation, I’m not sure the protesters would be satisfied with re-run elections. It’s one thing to note, perhaps correctly, that the Court’s decision was a spark for the current demonstrations; it’s another thing to argue that one could extinguish a fire by extinguishing the original spark.

Returning to the protests themselves, a dramatic moment occurred when three emissaries of the organizers, carrying a letter telling the president to resign, were denied entry to the presidential palace at Koulouba. Dicko then quite deliberately called on protesters to go home and avoid violence.

On 20 June, outlets began reporting that four of the eight members of the Constitutional Court had resigned, but as I was writing this post on the night of 21 June, the situation was still unclear to me.

All of this should underline how seriously the authorities, and peer governments, are taking things. The protests back in May were also serious, but this is on a different level. One wonders whether the authorities have an even stronger sense than journalists (and your humble blogger) do of how severe the political threat to IBK is.

What next? More clarity about the Court, the formation of the new government, a decision about the disputed legislative seats, further protests, increasing concern from other West African governments…but beyond that, who can say?

To close, here are two good pieces, in French, from some of Mali’s most insightful analysts:

  • Bokar Sangaré, “The Streamroller Mahmoud Dicko
  • An interview with the sociologist Bréma Ely Dicko: “It is the political class that has failed.” Dicko has some interesting comments about the organizers’ call for Keïta to resign, saying that some of them mean it literally while others are rather “pushing” IBK to “come out of his silence and come down into the arena.”