Several days of talks between the embattled president (since 2013) Keita and the opposition have produced proposals but no agreements or solutions. 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.
Demonstrations have been going on since June 5th and that led to an unexpected coalition, called the June 5 Movement (J5M), containing political, economic and religious groups that rarely agree with or work with each other. So far (five weeks) the coalition is holding together but past experience shows that such a coalition will 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.
Some faction leaders do not trust Keita to refrain from using violence to retain power. These faction leaders remain in hiding. As a result of that, the de-facto spokesman for J5M is Mahmoud Dicko, 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 stresses 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.
Corruption has long been a major problem for Mali. Corruption and misuse of foreign aid are the main reasons for many other problems. The international aspect of this can be seen in the worldwide surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2019 Mali ranked 130th out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 120th in 2018. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/13, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while the least corrupt (Finland, New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
Keita and his associates were supposed to be the cure for the current mess, which began when France took swift action in January 2013 by 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 a 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.
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, Arab while some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM groups in the area, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. 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.
In the last year there has been a lot more fighting between JNIM and ISGS in northern Mali. Some of this is about money and access to smuggling routes, but a lot of it is about ISIL insisting that they are the leading Islamic terror group and all other Islamic terrorists must obey ISIL. In practice that does not work very well for ISIL but, since ISIL members are generally more fanatical than those in other Islamic terror groups, ISIL members tend to keep at it until they get killed by one of their many enemies.
There are also a lot of tribal conflicts in central Mali but these have been active for decades and are made worse by corruption. The tribal war between Dogon and Fulani has been particularly bloody this year.
As long as Mali suffers from 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.
The counter-terror operations by France, the G5, UN peacekeepers and the Mali Army have been successful but 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.
July 16, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti) armed men (apparently Fulani) on motorbikes attacked a Dogon village and killed 13 unarmed civilians. Ten of the victims were out in the fields tending crops. So far this year about 500 have died in central Mali because of this fighting between Dogon and Fulani.
July 10, 2020:
In the south (the capital Bamako) another round of much larger and more sustained demonstrations against endemic corruption turned violent when embattled president Keita ordered troops of FORSAT in to deal with the “threat”. After three days of protests, Keita thought the well trained and equipped counter-terrorism force could easily break up the protests. FORSAT was told to open fire if necessary and they did. At least 11 people were killed, over 150 wounded and more than 200 were arrested. All those arrested were released pending trial, which will probably not happen. Keita said there will be an investigation of why things turned violent. Keita is already being blamed and this is seen as just another dumb, corrupt move by another corrupt Mali president.
July 2, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti) armed men (apparently Fulani) on motorbikes pickup trucks attacked four Dogon villages near the Burkina Faso border and killed 30 unarmed civilians. These attackers may have come from Burkina Faso because Fulani Islamic terrorist groups often establish camps across the border because Mali is more heavily patrolled by security and counter-terror forces.