Mali eventually confronted the whole world, except Russia and China
We have all watched together as the anti-French sentiment, which recurred after the military coup in Mali in the summer of 2020, turned into a general anti-Western sentiment within two years. French soldiers, who saved the country from partition in 2013, had to leave Mali last year when they were targeted for failing to stop jihadist attacks over the years. Immediately afterwards, the European Union’s joint task force TAKUBA also had to leave the country as a result of increasing pressure. The next target of the military administration in Mali was the United Nations Peacekeeping Force MINUSMA, which has been the guarantor of the cities against the attacks of jihadist and separatist armed groups since 2013. The UN mission, consisting of around 16,000 personnel, including two thousand civilian personnel in addition to 14,000 soldiers, is certain to leave Mali by the end of 2023. During the UN Security Council meeting in New York in early July, it was not possible this time to extend the mandate of the security and stabilisation mission, which consists of troops from countries such as Chad, Egypt, Senegal, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire and Bangladesh; this critical decision was taken after the host Mali’s Foreign Minister objected. With the departure of MINUSMA, there will be no more foreign military forces in the country except Russia (Wagner). There will be no more foreign organisations criticising the humanitarian balance sheet of the operations carried out by the Malian army hand in hand with Wagner. Considering that the military administration in Mali withdrew from the G-5 Sahel Organisation (whose 5,000-strong joint army became operational in 2018), which was formed in 2014 on the joint initiative of the five countries of the Sahel belt (Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad), in May last year, we see that this West African country, which was seeking security and stability after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, will completely “sit” in Russia’s lap in the near future.
France blamed for failure to end terrorist attacks
For nearly 15 years, while following Africa to the extent possible, I have not neglected to closely follow the political/military problems and various crises in Mali. The country has been in trouble since 2012. In the northern regions, the separatist Tuaregs on the one hand and Al-Qaeda and Da’esh-linked jihadist organisations on the other continue to challenge the central government. In 2015, the peace agreement signed between the Malian government and the separatist Tuareg groups under the leadership of Algeria provided some relief to the Bamako administration, but the attacks by jihadist groups could not be stopped. The 4500-strong French intervention force Barkhane, together with the European Union task force TAKUBA, failed to change the balance of power in the central and northern regions in favour of the Malian army. The soldiers who seized power in a coup d’état in the summer of 2020, promising an end to corruption, the integrity of the country and the cessation of jihadist attacks, have two years later been wary of blaming France for the failed security balance sheet. The people of Mali, whose troubles continue, in line with the guidance and explanations of the military leadership, have come to the conclusion that the French military has failed to provide the much-awaited peace and stability, and have turned to the search for a new ally/saviour. Putin’s Russia, which had been placing West Africa on its radar for some time, took advantage of the opportunity and jumped from the Central African Republic (CAR), where it had been settled for 6 years, to Mali.
Wagner’s departure would lead to deep political/military chaos in the CAR and a relapse of jihadist terrorism in Mali.
The uprising of the Wagner forces against Putin and their advance towards Moscow last June has alarmed and unsettled not only the Putin administration, but also the governments in MAC and Mali. What future awaits the Wagner elements, who are firmly entrenched in these two countries (especially MAC), in the aftermath of the Prigojine uprising has been the most debated issue of the past weeks. The authorities in Bangui and Bamako breathed a sigh of relief when Sergei Lavrov assured them that Russia’s presence in both countries would continue. Without going into details, let us make the following observation. If Wagner’s elements withdraw from the MAC, the hibernating opposition armed forces would move towards Bangui without delay, a development that would lead to deep chaos and in one way or another spell the end of the Touadéra regime. Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who was seeking to change the constitution in order to be elected for a third term, was forced to flee abroad in desperation, as his predecessor François Bozizé had done. The limited number of Rwandan troops available in the country is unlikely to prevent this chaotic scenario and maintain stability.
The repercussions of Wagner’s withdrawal scenario in Mali are unlikely to be negative at the MAC level, but they are likely to cause considerable difficulties for the military government. It is more realistic that the garrisons in the centre and north, where Wagner’s elements are based, will be taken over by jihadist groups after the withdrawal, before the Malian army can seize them. To summarise, Wagner’s sudden and unplanned withdrawal is a nightmare scenario for the MAC and a further deterioration of the security situation in Mali.
Mali reintegrated into the region three years after the coup
Against the above background, although the three-year balance sheet and the future of the military administration led by Assimi Goita in Mali are not dazzling with successful actions, it is understood that the junta will lead the country to elections without bursting the tyre until the promised dates (February 2024) after the new constitution comes into force. Although Mali’s relations with the western world have become strained over the last two years, it has managed to mend fences with regional countries and regional organisations. The decision of the powerful regional organisation ECOWAS to lift the sanctions imposed on Mali in July 2022, and the decision of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to normalise relations with Mali in recent weeks have raised the junta’s report card grade. If Assimi Goita is able to mend strained relations with its eastern neighbour Niger and with Côte d’Ivoire, which is considered the engine of UEMOA, Mali’s reintegration into the West African region, from which it was completely isolated three years ago, will be considered complete.
Results of the February 2024 elections in Mali: Asimi Goita civilian president
Considering that the Malian electorate welcomed the military overthrow of the Ibrahim Boubacar Keita administration in the summer of 2020, that the people were pleased with the junta’s expulsion of French troops, and that the majority supported the deepening of military cooperation with Russia, it is not difficult to predict that Asimi Goita will be the strongest candidate in the March 2024 elections and will maintain his leadership. It is observed that the junta government’s opposition to the extension of MINUSMA’s mandate for the last time and its confrontation with all Western countries, although not a reasonable decision, is a preference that is beneficial in terms of domestic politics. Despite the promises made, it is clear that the failure of the military administration to bring the country to security salvation will not have a deep political cost. The high number of civilian casualties recorded by the Malian Army in the fight against terrorism, supported by around 1,500 Wagner troops, only attracts the attention of foreign powers. In the current circumstances, we can foresee that, barring dramatic developments in the coming months, the future of the country will be entrusted to a civilian president of military origin after the February 2024 elections. Unfortunately, military-origin putschist civilian heads of state continue to be the unchanging political fate of Africa.