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Mali: Deposed President dies, future hangs in balance

BY: Alhaji Irbard Ibrahim
The late Ibrahim Boubacar Keita — Former President of Mali
The late Ibrahim Boubacar Keita — Former President of Mali

Brahim Boubacar Keita, the deposed president of Mali, has died at the age of 76.

Mr Keita died last Sunday in the Malian capital Bamako. The cause of his death has not been stated.

Mr Keita led Mali from 2013 until he was ousted in a coup in 2020.

Profile, legacy

The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production.

He was educated at Lycee Askia-Mohamed in Bamako and Paris’s Sorbonne University, and held degrees in history, political science and international relations.

After completing his studies, Keita worked as a researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research (known in French as Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique – CNRS), a public organisation under the responsibility of the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

Keita returned to Mali in 1986 and worked as a technical consultant for the European Development Fund, launching the first small-scale development programme for the European Union’s aid activities in Mali.

Political activities

A founding member of the ADEMA party, historically Mali’s largest, Keita befriended Alpha Oumar Konare, who was elected president after Mali’s former president, Moussa Traore, was toppled in a 1991 military coup.

Konare then promoted him steadily from Ambassador to Ivory Coast, to Foreign Minister and ultimately Prime Minister.

As a socialist Prime Minister between 1994 and 2000, Keita quelled a series of crippling strikes which earned him the reputation of a strong politician.

Keita quit ADEMA to found his own party, finishing third in the 2002 presidential election won by Amadou Toumani Toure, the President, who was toppled a decade later in a military coup.

He withdrew his RPM party from a coalition opposed to the military government in May 2012, saying that the handling of the Mali crisis had infringed upon national sovereignty.

A nationalist with a popular touch, Keita avoided strongly criticising the leaders of the March 2012 coup which overthrew Toure amid widespread frustration at his government’s corruption and failure to tackle poverty.

In 2013, Keita pledged to restore Mali’s honour as a model for democracy in West Africa as he campaigned as a unifying figure in his fractured country, pledging “zero tolerance” for corruption – echoing the words of coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo.

He went on to win a landslide election, defeating Cisse and finally ascending to the presidency after losing runs in 2002 and 2007.

Turbulent second term

In 2018, Keita was re-elected to serve a second five-year term after beating Cisse again in a runoff vote despite opposition claims of voting irregularities.

Cisse, who was kidnapped in late March by unidentified gunmen while campaigning in the country’s volatile north and has not been heard from since, criticised Keita for not addressing Mali’s rising insecurity.

Mali has struggled to regain stability since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned armed groups seized the northern two-thirds of the country, leading former colonial power France to intervene to temporarily beat them back.

Ethnic killings and armed forces’ abuses have become a defining feature of Keita’s presidency, despite thousands of French and international troops being deployed to contain the armed groups.

Ouster from presidency, resignation

Keita announced his resignation with immediate effect after being detained by military officers in a dramatic escalation of the country’s months-long political crisis.

Opposition supporters had been protesting in the streets of Bamako since early June, calling for Keita to resign following disputed parliamentary elections in which the president’s party came out as the largest bloc.

In his address on state television, Keita said the government and Mali’s national assembly would be dissolved.

“I would like at this precise moment, while thanking the Malian people for their support throughout these long years and the warmth of their affection, to tell you of my decision to relinquish my duties,” Keita said, before adding he had no choice but to resign.

“If it pleased certain elements of our military to decide this should end with their intervention, do I really have a choice?” he said of the day’s events.

“[I must] submit to it because I don’t want any bloodshed.”

In a televised statement later, the soldiers behind the coup that drew widespread international condemnation pledged to restore stability and oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” period.

There was no word, however, on the future of Keita. The continent woke to the news of his departure from the world, sending Mali’s future hanging in a balance.

Uncertain future

Mali is a landlocked nation in West Africa, located southwest of Algeria, extending south-west from the southern Sahara Desert through the Sahel to the Sudanian savanna zone. Mali's size is 1,240,192 square kilometres.

The so-called ‘Malian crisis’ has now become a regionally multidimensional crisis. Economic, social, political and human dimensions are fed by structural and continuing dissatisfaction of marginalised and vulnerable populations.

The fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya (2011) and the subsequent destabilisation of Mali (2012) have had protracted consequences throughout the Sahel region, which was already affected by structural factors of fragility such as climatic, economic and development challenges.

States in the Sahel rank at the bottom of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2019 Human Development Index - respectively, ranking 161st (Mauritania), 182nd (Burkina Faso), 184th (Mali), 187th (Chad) and 189th (Niger) out of 189 countries.

According to the World Bank, the poverty rates of these states vary between 30 and 40 per cent while their growth rates are around three per cent in Chad and Mauritania and more than four per cent in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Conclusion

Violence has spread from northern Mali to the regions of Ségou and Mopti and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
These hostilities are mainly directed towards civilian populations and national security forces and affect local communities in peripheral regions and fuel pre-existing inter-communal tensions.

While geographical proximity is one main factor for the violence, other domestic causes have facilitated attacks from non-state actors and the establishment of armed groups.

As the militancy spreads from Mali to Burkina Faso, nations such as Ghana should be concerned about the future and take the necessary precautions to shield themselves from the impact of an uncertain future in the region.

The writer is an International Relations and Security Analyst