October 6, 2020:
A new interim government has been installed, which will operate for 18 months to organize new elections. President
Keita, the previous president, was forced to resign, along with all his ministers, by the military on August 18th.
The many nations which imposed sanctions after the August coup have demanded that there be new elections within twelve months and a new elected government installed.
The August coup was the second one since 2012 and the third since Mali became independent in 1960. The 2020 coup got the same hostile reaction from the neighbors, international organizations and Western supporters as did the 2012 one. The prompt installation of the temporary government, with 21 of 25 ministries led by civilians, is an attempt to get local and international sanctions lifted. So far, no official response from the nations imposing sanctions but indications are that the new government is acceptable as long as it is temporary. The sanctions have disrupted trade and been a bonanza for smugglers. Islamic terrorist groups control a lot of the smuggling so as long as the sanctions remain in force the Islamic terrorists make more money.
The March 2012 coup was triggered by the lack of financial and political support for the troops stationed in the thinly populated north, which was being taken over by a Tuareg rebellion led by Islamic terrorist groups. Elections were held in 2013, after a French-led force advanced into the north in January and quickly defeated the Taureg rebels and their Islamic terrorist allies. Eight years later the Taureg tribes are still waiting for the government to deliver the economic aid promised when the Tauregs agreed to a peace deal. The Islamic terrorist groups are still up there and have spread to central Mali, partly to support their smuggling operations (drugs and people) that finance the terror groups. Eight years later and the corruption and mismanagement are still prominent and the target of growing popular anger. Despite all the peacekeepers and counterterror forces, there will be no peace until a competent and a lot less corrupt government is installed.
Since 2013 the Mali military has been rebuilt, a task carried out largely by French trainers and advisors. Currently the army has about 7,000 troops. Another 800 personnel serve in the air force and riverine navy. There are also nearly 5,000 paramilitary troops, including the 2,000-man Republican Guard stationed in the capital to protect government officials and facilities. Most of the paramilitary personnel act as national police and serve throughout the country. Overall, the rebuilt army is a more effective force than it was in 2012. But the Mali troops are still considered the least effective in the region. The 2020 army has a few units that are first-rate and often operate with the French counterterrorism forces. But these elite Mali troops account for less than ten percent of the army.
The 2020 coup was triggered by the inability of the government to agree to reforms and cooperate with the opposition parties. There had been over a month of fruitless negotiations with
president (since 2013) Keita, who seemed to believe he could wait it out. After all Keita had been reelected in 2018 amid accusations of voting fraud. The opposition produced many proposals but few Keita was willing to accept. Mediators from ECOWAS (Economic Community of 15 West African States) kept the negotiations going but Keita refused to consider resigning and the opposition saw curbing Keita’s power as essential if there was to be any hope of peace and prosperity. The army leaders, who were not formally part of the opposition, seemed to agree and carried out a coup that had more popular support than the 2012 one.
Demonstrations had been going on since June 5th and that led to an unexpected coalition, called the June 5Movement (J5M), containing political, economic and religious groups that rarely agree with or work with each other. The coalition held together to the present but past experience shows that such coalitions have a difficult time implementing sustained change. Faction leaders and Malians in general understand that without a much less corrupt government they will be stuck in a cycle of economic decline and inability to deal with tribal, religious and political rebels in central and northern Mali. Foreign aid donors are backing away because of the corruption and the waste of so much aid via theft and mismanagement.
The main leader o J5M is Moslem cleric Mahmoud Dicko. He has been the de-facto spokesman for J5M. Dicko is a popular senior imam (Moslem cleric) who studied Islam in Saudi Arabia and came to be chairman of Mali’s High Islamic Council. Despite (or because of) his education in Saudi religious schools (which stress the need for Islamic law) Dicko openly backs a secular government, but one run by honest (or a lot more honest than now) politicians and officials. Imams like Dicko are one reason Islamic terrorist beliefs have not spread to the majority of Malians, most (95 percent) of them Moslem. Many foreign students in Saudi religious schools note that for all its piety Saudi Arabia is very corrupt as are most other Arab oil states. There were some exceptions but without all that oil wealth many Arab governments would be undergoing the same political pain Mali is suffering.
Many Mali politicians and economic leaders don’t trust Dicko, feeling that he must be in touch with Islamic terror group leaders and actually willing to try a religious government. Dicko has never expressed support for that and more and more Malians are believing that.
Corruption has long been a major problem for Mali. Corruption and misuse of foreign aid are the main reasons for many other problems. International surveys of corruption put Mali in the bottom third of nations, but not at the bottom of the list like Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan. In contrast most of the least corrupt nations are the industrialized ones. The least corrupt are Finland, New Zealand and Denmark.
Keita and his associates were supposed to be the cure for the current mess, which began after France intervened in January 2013, leading a military operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. Aided by Chad and a growing number of other African peacekeeping contingents, this effort continues and is somewhat open ended. The French acted because in 2012 Tuareg tribal rebels (with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists) in northern Mali chased out government forces and declared a separate Tuareg state. The Mali army mutinied because of lack of support from the corrupt government down south and took control of the capital. The army soon backed off when neighboring nations threatened to intervene. The elected government was soon back in charge and more corrupt than ever.
In April 2020 parliamentary elections were conducted after nearly two years of delays. These were the first such elections since the military coup in 2013. Fewer than 15 percent of eligible voters participated. Most of the 19 million people in Mali don’t have to deal with the Islamic or tribal terrorism found mainly in thinly populated central and northern Mali. Everyone knows about this problem and how it has spread from the north to central Mali in the last five years. The main reason for the spread of this violence is corruption. It has been a problem ever since Mali became independent after the French left in 1960. It is a problem common throughout Africa and many other parts of the world. Voters are discouraged because it seems that whoever they elect, they just get another bunch of corrupt and incompetent leaders.
Lots of corruption often produces rebels and in Moslem majority nations that often means Islamic terrorism. There are several of these groups in Mali and largest of them is JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). This is an al Qaeda coalition formed in early 2017 to consolidate the many separate Islamic terror groups in Mali. In part this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members like AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM and several other smaller groups. Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources, especially information and practical advice, and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the region. This reduces friction and destructive feuding.
Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The FLM is Fulani (the largest local tribal contribution) while the other groups are largely Tuareg or Arab and some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not incorporate all the AQIM groups in the area, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. The income from the drug trade keeps a lot of these factions in business and the Islamic terrorists know that business and religious fanaticism do not mix and keep it that way. Those groups that did not went broke and withered to nothing.
Meanwhile the Islamic terror groups evolved with more radical JNIM members joining more radical groups like ISIL, which is universally hated by other Islamic terrorists and Moslems in general. By 2018 there were
two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa when the smaller one, ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara), showed up. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other, slightly older and larger, ISIL province was ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). ISWAP was actually a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamic terrorists who had been around since 2004. ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.
There are also a lot of tribal conflicts in central Mali but these have been active for decades and are made worse by the corruption. The tribal war between Dogon and Fulani has been particularly bloody since 2019.
As long as Mali suffers from the high levels of government corruption and mismanagement, there will be Islamic terrorism and the threat of separatism succeeding, as it did in 2012-13. France won’t always be willing to move in the deal with the problem. Many in France are questioning the wisdom of remaining in Mali and the Sahel. What keeps the French forces there is past experience. When Islamic terrorists are left free to expand the terror groups will do just that. Nearly all the mayhem will be local but some of it will show up in the West, triggering demands that “something be done.” At the moment the French, aided by the Americans and a coalition of Sahel states, are doing something and it forces the Islamic terrorists restrict their activities and spend a lot of time avoiding detection and attack (on the ground or via airstrike).
The War On Terrorists
The counter-terror operations by France, the G5 Sahel states, UN peacekeepers and the Mali Army has been successful but it has only suppressed Islamic terrorist and tribal violence, not eliminated it. There are fewer large-scale terror attacks or tribal raids. But there is still lots of low-level activity that does not kill, but rather intimidates and extorts financial and other support for the armed groups. As long as there is so much corruption and mismanagement in the government there will always be willing new recruits for Islamic terror groups or tribal militias. This is why the there is so much pressure by neighbors and donor states for Mali to reform itself. That is possible but it isn’t easy and does not happen quickly. For decades Mali and it leaders have put off making the changes needed. Now it is clear that life will only get more dangerous, chaotic and unpredictable the longer the culture of corruption is allowed to persist.
There is not a crippling amount of Islamic terrorist and tribal militia violence throughout the country. Where there is such violence it indicates Islamic terror groups are seeking to intimidate local security forces into neutrality or getting locals to actively work with the Islamic terrorists in their economic (mostly smuggling), or political/ideological (attacking schools and local government facilities) activities. The tribal violence is mainly about economic issues, usually involving land and resource disputes. A key government objective should be to eliminate Islamic terrorist revenue sources and make it easier for legitimate enterprises to flourish.
October 4, 2020: The government released nearly two hundred imprisoned Islamic terrorists in order to get a prominent politician and a foreign aid worker released. The politician,
Soumaila Cisse, was taken on March 25 2020 while i
n the north (outside Timbuktu).
Cisse was campaigning for upcoming the parliamentary elections when he was taken by unidentified gunmen. There was no ransom demanded and later it was revealed that JNIM, the local al Qaeda affiliate, was negotiating with the government to trade Cisse, and a foreign aid worker kidnapped in 2016, for over a hundred imprisoned Islamic terrorists. The prisoners have been moved to locations in central and northern Mali in preparation for the exchange. No date on when the exchange will take place.
September 30, 2020:
In central Mali (Mopti province), outside the town of Boni, a dozen or so Islamic terrorists ambushed an army convoy, killing two soldiers and wounding six. This area has been the scene of frequent Islamic terrorist violence since 2015.
September 25, 2020: In the capital Bah N’Daw, a retired army officer, was sworn in as the interim president. The army officers who had taken control of the government after removing the Keita government on August 18th, are turning over power to an interim government. N’Daw now has to select suitable people to run the 25 ministries. That led to 21 of those ministers being civilians.
September 12, 2020:
In the southeast (Sikasso) a roadside bomb was used against an ambulance, killing six civilians and wounding one. This took place about 500 kilometers east of the Mali capital and near the main road into Burkina Faso, a major base area for local Islamic terror groups.
September 11, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti) Islamic terrorists on motorbikes attacked a village, killing eight villagers and wounding at least three others. The attackers fled when soldiers arrived in the area.
September 5, 2020: In the north (outside Kidal) a French army vehicle was hit with a roadside bomb, killing two French soldiers and wounding another. Since 2013 French troops have been operating in Mali and adjacent countries. So far 45 French soldiers have died.
September 3, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti) Islamic terrorists ambushed an army supply convoy, killed at least ten soldiers and looted the convoy until army reinforcements closed in.