Mali is sliding down a slope with an uncertain ending. The increasingly weakened president of the country, Ibrahim Bubacar Keita (IBK), announced on Tuesday the formation of a Government of national unity to try to face the multiple crises that beset him: the opposition leader Sumaila Cissé has been kidnapped for three months; the center and north of the country suffer constant terrorist attacks – the last of which killed 24 soldiers on Sunday – and a protest movement is growing in the streets demanding their resignation.
At the forefront of the demonstrations that run through Bamako and that reached their climax on June 5 with a massive concentration is the powerful and influential Imam Mahmud Dicko, a Wahhabi-trained cleric who since he left his post as president of the High Islamic Council the Last year 2019 it has launched a challenge to the Government for which it has tens of thousands of faithful followers and a critical discourse that aligns with the frustration of Malians.
The reasons for the discomfort are obvious. The government barely controls a third of the country while in vast expanses of the center and north different jihadist groups operate with impunity. This Sunday, an Army patrol was ambushed about 25 kilometers from Diabaly, in the Segú region, and 24 soldiers were killed. The weakness of the state has also led to the creation of community self-defense groups that carry out massacres against civilians, especially in the Mopti area.
The kidnapping of Sumaila Cissé is the latest example of the insecurity that reigns in the country. Abducted on March 25 while campaigning near his hometown in the Timbuktu region, his family and his political party, the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) have expressed concern that there has been no advances. Various organizations on the continent, led by the African Parliament, have asked the Malian Government to make a greater effort to secure his release.
The opposition coalition, now renamed the June 5 Movement, led by the aforementioned Imam Dicko and also made up of the Front for the Preservation of Democracy, which brings together multiple parties, and the Esperanza Mali Koura movement, has expressed its fed up with all this insecurity and foreign military intervention, especially French and United Nations. It also denounces the corruption and bad government of President Keita, who was re-elected for a second term in 2018 and has a sufficient majority in Parliament.
"The rise of Imam Dicko is the symbol of the failure of the Malian political elite," says researcher Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute. “He has managed to capitalize on all the frustrations due to the deterioration of the situation in Mali and at the same time to Islamize that protest. In his current speech there are no religious references, but his Wahhabi background is there ”. In Sambe's opinion, "it is an anti-system, it may have ambitions but no management capacity or concrete solutions for the country."
"I have heard the message," Keita said on Sunday, but the protest movement demanding his resignation does not seem to back down and rejected the president's offer of dialogue. This Tuesday, in a new attempt to stop the demonstrations, IBK launched a new proposal: "I have decided to initiate consultations for the formation of a Government of national union," he said during a public appearance in which he also promised to raise the salaries of teachers to try to stop a strike.
In this context, the Constitutional Court issued a warning to those who are disseminating "insurrectional, subversive and seditious statements calling for the resignation" of the president, which, said this body, despises "constitutional provisions." At the same time, the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Abdulaye Culibaly, called on the soldiers to refrain from participating in the demonstrations and to maintain "extreme vigilance".
The conservative imam who defies power
In 2009, Imam Mahmud Dicko, then president of the High Islamic Council, was able to mobilize tens of thousands of followers and stop the approval of the Family Code, a law passed by Parliament that was intended to update the rights of the woman. "It does not respond to Malian values," he said then. The government gave in to pressure. It was his first big victory. This religious of conservative morals also opposed in 2018 the publication of a school manual because it spoke of homosexuality. Although it rejects violent jihadism or the strict application of the sharia, has been one of the great promoters of the dialogue with two of the most wanted terrorists in the country, Iyad Ag Ghali and Amadú Koufa.