After issuing threats of sanctions against Mali unless Ibrahim B. Keita was re-instated, ECOWAS is now negotiating to get the former President a safe exit to seek medical assistance. The coup is now a fait accompli. It could have been avoided and Keita could have completed his term and ideally organize free and fair elections in 2023. The problems of Mali did not start with Keita but he exacerbated the difficulties rather than resolve them. When he was elected in 2013, the greatest national priority was security. Jihadists had occupied 1/3 of the country. Under his watch, jihadists and militias have made 2/3 of the national territory ungovernable.
The insecurity affected every sphere of life. Tens of thousands were displaced. Food security, education, health, all crumbled.
As if all this was not enough, endemic corruption became a way of life for political class totally disconnected from the realities. Billions were stolen by government officials, most of the family members of the President. A good example was the purchase of military hardware that could neither be driven not flown. “Cardboard tanks,” they call them. Presidential jets. Palaces.
When people started to demonstrate, rather than discuss the real issues, Keita ran to ECOWAS for salvation. While enlisting ECOWAS to appease demonstrators on one hand, he unleashed security forces on the demonstrators on the other. Ironically, the leader of the coup, Colonel Assimi Goita was brought from the war front against jihadists to suppress demonstrations in the capital.
Finally, what broke the camel’s back was the constitutional changes introduced by Keita, in the midst of the pandemic to strengthen his hold on power and prepare for 2023.
ECOWAS’ approach of appeasement did not work because it failed to appreciate the gravity of the problems that brought people in the streets of Bamako.
By focusing on salvaging the Keita regime, ECOWAS further emboldened the demonstrators. “Democratically elected” is not a guarantee to stay in power, when leaders fail to fulfill their part of the social contract.
As in Burkina Faso the streets pushed the military to take action against the government.
ECOWAS heads of state and citizens can draw many lessons from the issues that led to the fall of Ibrahim B. Keita.
Coups d’état are not the solution to the problems but they are a consequence of bad governance.
An important lesson to draw from Mali for ECOWAS is to pay attention to governance. ECOWAS’ has a clause in its statutes that calls for intervention when governments take actions that undermine peace and stability. This clause seems to never be put on the agenda.
One of the slogans of ECOWAS is that it seeks to be a community of people and not an association of heads of state. The first step in doing so is to listen to the people’s concerns and ensure that leaders don’t turn their countries into personal plantations.
Arriving in Bamako on Saturday, ECOWAS’s special envoy, former Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck said that he was there to listen. He also said it was his fourth trip. One must wonder, so he was not listening to the first three times he was there?