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Situation Update - Mali

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PRESIDENT KEÏTA’S OUSTING PLUNGES MALI INTO UNCERTAINTY

  • On 18 August, mutinying soldiers detained President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and other officials, subsequently forcing the president to resign and dissolve the Malian government and national assembly.

  • Coup leaders said they acted to prevent Mali from plunging further into chaos, pledging to restore stability and oversee elections within a “reasonable” time.

  • Keïta’s ousting has been preceded by weeks of civil unrest led by the M5-RPF opposition group, who have expressed support for the military takeover.

  • The new military junta ordered the closure of Mali’s air and land borders and imposed a nationwide curfew between 21:00 and 05:00 local time.

  • Members of the ECOWAS regional bloc, which is convening over the political crisis, agreed to close their borders with Mali and suspend financial flows into the country.

  • Premiums on Malian mining operations will increase as investors price in the risk of the present political uncertainty whilst border closures will pose significant complications for logistics.

  • Islamists in Mali’s north may use Keïta’s deposition as an opening to launch offensives, as the jihadists calculate that breakdowns in the chain of command could diminish the strength of the Malian army.

Mali cropped

Situation

Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has resigned following detention by the military, plunging Mali into stark uncertainty. The announcement came on 18 August in the form of a succinct address broadcasted through state television, which also coincided with Keïta stipulating the dissolution of Mali’s government and national assembly. The little-known Colonel Assimi Goita has since declared himself the chairman of the military junta that orchestrated Keïta’s displacement and is therefore the de-facto leader of Mali, with the mutineers referring to themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). Leaders of the CNSP appeared on state television shortly after the coup, with former air-force deputy chief Ismaël Wagué pledging that the CNSP intends to oversee general elections within a “reasonable” amount of time. According to Mali’s hospital union, four people died during the coup, though this has been denied by CNSP leaders.

Keïta’s deposition has been preceded by weeks of widespread civil unrest in Mali led by the main opposition group, the Movement of June 5 – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RPF), which was named in accordance with the date of the first protest. The dissent has been multifacetedly motivated with key aspects being the failure of the Malian state to prevent recurrent jihadist violence in the north, economic hardships deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic and corruption accusations made against Keïta’s government. Frustration also derives from March and April’s disputed parliamentary election, marred in allegations of vote buying against Keïta’s government in combination with accusations of orchestrating the intimidation and kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé. Critically, M5-RPF unified disparate segments of anti-government discontent through integrating civil society leaders, religious figures and ex-government workers into a coherent non-sectarian regime opposing force. Members of M5-RPF signalled strong support for the CNSP, with spokesman Nouhoum Togo stating that Keïta’s displacement was “not a military coup but a popular insurrection”. Bamako’s streets have been a party to excitement, with cheers and celebratory gunfire in the capital’s central square accompanying the news of Keïta’s ousting.

There has been a markedly contrary response internationally versus domestically, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional power bloc decrying that the move constitutes “the overthrow by putschist soldiers of the democratically elected government”, referring to Keïta’s victory in the 2018 presidential vote. ECOWAS has since barred Mali from all intergovernmental decision-making bodies in tandem with ordering the closure of all ECOWAS members’ borders with Mali and freezes of financial flows into the country. The bloc is now preparing to send a delegation of West African leaders to Mali to facilitate a return to democratic rule, having formerly stated that military takeovers in the region would not be tolerated. Previous attempts by ECOWAS to mediate dialogue have been futile, with a delegation sent to Mali in July failing to broker an agreement between Keïta and the M5-RPF, with the point of contention being the opposition’s ardent support for Keïta’s departure.

Implications

The CNSP has imposed a countrywide curfew from 21:00 to 05:00 and has also completely closed the country’s borders, halting international travel in and out of the country. A heightened security presence is expected throughout the state-controlled portions of Mali so that the CNSP can maintain its position, making security checkpoints much more likely, especially in and around Bamako. In the current circumstances, widespread civil unrest can materialise rapidly, with the M5-RPF movement likely to call for demonstrations at critical political moments. As ECOWAS has articulated support for the ousted Keïta government, junctures in negotiations between the planned delegation and the mutineers will likely be accompanied by protests.

The political crisis bears considerable implications for Mali’s gold mining sector which in 2019 was Africa’s fifth largest producer of the precious metal, with gold operations predominantly located in the country’s southern and western extremities. ECOWAS’s order for member states to shutter their borders with Mali poses a logistical block for exportation, in addition to creating a complication for procurement of supplies for gold extraction. Many gold mining companies that operate in Mali have issued reassurances to their stakeholders that in the immediate aftermath of Keïta’s ousting operations have continued as normal, though this has been accompanied by many such firms simultaneously experiencing a sharp decline in share prices. Mali’s gold mining industry was already considered to be laden with a high degree of political risk exposure prior to Keïta’s removal, with premiums on Malian mining operations sure to increase as investors quantify and price in the risk of the present political uncertainty.

Keïta’s ousting compounds Mali’s precarious security environment, which since 2012 has been defined by the government failing to push back on al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates that have taken control of the north. Mali’s inability to enact sovereignty over its own territory has been mirrored by the shortcomings of Burkina Faso and Niger, in turn conferring the jihadists with a consolidated regional position. The power vacuum created by Keïta’s deposition may now be used as an opening by the Islamists in Mali’s north to launch offensives against state forces, whereby the jihadists may calculate that breakdowns in the chain of command caused by the political crisis could greatly diminish the effectiveness of the Malian army. Resultantly, international actors fearing a renewed refugee crisis that would arise from an implosion of the Malian state are likely to extend military support, particularly France who has previously provided such assistance and currently has thousands of personnel stationed across the Sahel.