Mali isolating itself

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An alleged coup attempt in Mali sheds light on the tensions facing Colonel Assimi Goita's interim government. Despite the sanctions, the population supports the military.

The military government in Mali does not have to worry about one thing at the moment: it has the broad support of the population. And she felt that – at a solidarity rally last week in the capital, Bamako. “These soldiers are our hope,” protester Mariam Simpara Diakité told the AFP news agency, and Bakabigny Keita emphasized: “Without security, nothing works. No farming, no trade, no animal husbandry.” The military is there to ensure security. “Showing our support is the least we can do.”

Internationally, the interim government of Colonel Assimi Goita, which secured power almost a year ago with a “coup within a coup,” is pursuing a course that is leading it ever further into isolation. In particular, the massive sanctions imposed by the West African economic bloc ECOWAS are driving up prices in the country. Because the interim government in Bamako and ECOWAS have different ideas about ways to democratization, the borders remain closed, trade is suspended except for some basic products and Mali is cut off from West African banks.

These demonstrators showed support for the military leadership and a pro-Russia course in mid-May

Now there are indications that not all putschists may support this course. On Tuesday it became known that Colonel Amadou Keita, previously classified as loyal to the junta, had been arrested last week – as one of several suspected participants in a thwarted coup attempt that the military leadership made public on Monday evening. Government spokesman Amadou Maiga called the events, which cannot be independently confirmed, an “unhealthy attempt to break the momentum of Mali's re-establishment”.

Withdrawal from regional alliance

Since the coup in May In 2021, the rhetoric of distancing and mutual recriminations between the new rulers and the international community has gathered momentum. Only on Sunday did the government announce its withdrawal from the regional security alliance G5-Sahel, allegedly because it had been denied the rotating chairmanship of the organization since the beginning of the year. 

“To date, the G5-Sahel has done everything to deny the Malian president his rights,” Fousseynou Ouattara from the National Transitional Council (CNT) told DW. “And that's because of the interference of a third country.” Ouattara is Vice President of the Defense Commission in the Transitional Council, which currently serves as Parliament. When asked who he was referring to, Ouattara named France – the former colonial power from which the military government repeatedly distanced itself with sharp tones.

A reaction from Europe to the withdrawal of the G5 Sahel followed promptly: the EU -Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that the EU training mission in Mali would remain on hold.

Mali no longer wants to participate in the regional security alliance G5-Sahel.

The withdrawal from the G5 alliance, which also includes Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, will not change much, said Fahiraman Rodrigue Kone from the think tank Institut de Sécurité de Bamako to DW: “The possibilities of the joint force were already there constrained by the government crises in three of the five member states.” Burkina Faso and Chad are also governed by a military leadership, and there is no prospect of a return to a civil constitution in either country.

According to various observers, however, Bamako's latest step is likely to harm itself above all. Former Niger Defense Minister Kalla Moutari pointed out that Mali has already withdrawn from active participation. With its exit, however, the country is no longer entitled to the wide range of financial and technical support from abroad, which is provided through cooperation with the G5 countries.

Mali, Russia and the West

Turning away from old allies is also a reorientation for Mali: “Mali has been trying to redefine its alliances for some time and is relying on Russia to do so,” says security expert Rodrigue Koné. In fact, Mali has received equipment for the anti-terrorist fight through its long relationship with Russia, Mali expert Olaf Bernau from the German civil society network Focus Sahel told DW war in the Ukraine was not without risk for the putschists. It is obvious that this is also evaluated differently internally.

Protest against ECOWAS and France's President, should keep African heads of state on a short leash – this is how this protester expresses his opinion

“The question arises as to whether one now sees enemies everywhere and whether criticism from the ranks of the military is too quick to be interpreted as an attempted coup,” says Bernau. In addition, the government is trying everything to unite the population behind it. “Both external and internal enemies are a tried and tested means of maintaining a mood in favor of the government.” At a time when critics are being arrested more frequently, it is difficult to make an assessment from the outside: “Is that an expression of real tensions within the government? An attempt to close ranks? Or a mixture of both?” p>

Mali's own way

The hardened fronts are increasingly causing headaches for observers. Olaf Bernau emphasizes that the Malian population is suffering massively from the harsh sanctions imposed by ECOWAS. “ECOWAS is making a very crucial mistake here,” said the expert. The population rejects the sanctions, the resentment is increasing and is driving Mali further into the arms of Russia.

Approval for the military coup should not be confused with a rejection of democratic structures, says Bernau. There is a positive relation among the population to the events from 1991: At that time, the government met civilian mass demonstrations with violence, whereupon a group led by the then lieutenant colonel and later President Amadou Toumani Touré putsch, but later handed over to a civilian government.

Further talks: Federal Foreign Minister Baerbock (centre left) visiting interim President Goita (right)

There were also such voices at the May 13 demonstration: “We are showing ECOWAS that we have chosen these military personnel for the transition,” Amina Touré told AFP. “The duration of the transition is not our problem at all. All we want is for our country to regain its stability and dignity.”

In the eyes of Mali expert Bernau, what is important is that democratic countries are not guided by a blanket rejection, but continue to allow moderate cooperation. 

Collaborators: Reliou Koubakin, Rémy Mallet