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By Peter SAKWE MASUMBE, PhD (Download pdf version)

Mali and the Challenges of Democratic Rule: Implications for Continental Democracy and Human Security

Development-oriented public policies and governances within African countries are at extensive peril as African soldiers become zealots and threats to political power. As Klatt (2021) asserts, “…two hundred and eighty days appear to be the time a banana’s flowering stalk needs to produce fruits”. Paradoxically, it is the time it took Malians to live within a first coup d’état from August 2020 to a second one in May 2021. Consequently, the AU, ECOWAS, SADC must take definite actions to avert military and undemocratic incursions into political power. This is the position of this policy brief.

Exasperated policy pundits had crafted parlances for what happened on May 25, 2021, in Bamako, when former coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita re-took Mali’s destiny into his own hands again by overthrowing the Transition President and Prime Minister. Is he a power zealot, a nationalist, or a sheer adventurer? Irrespective of the exigencies and necessities, democracy is at peril in that country, and by extension, the continent.

Ostensibly, the developments in that Sahel country, with its poverty index and human insecurity, sounding astronomically frightful (Kelechi 2021), Ugoh 2021), present a great leeway for soldiers in other countries to interrupt the growth of democracy. No matter the benevolence of military rule, a lame civilian regime incarnates some degree of democracy; consequently, Mali is at its undemocratic intersections, with a doubtful democratic certainty.

Colonel Assimi Goita Again!

It appeared simmering as the transitional body CNSP (Comité national pour le salut du peuple) kicked off and met with goodwill, hope, and local enthusiasm, including the usually conceited international community. Of course, the military got involved in the transition, hoping it would relinquish power voluntarily to a democratic civil rule. As the transitional government emerged with high ambitions with support from international donors, this initial passion made way for sobering approaches, incarnated by the unhappiness with the transitional government; epitomized by an envisaged general strike by Mali’s biggest trade union federation UNTM (Union nationael de travailleurs de Mali). Subsequently, the transition government of Moctar Ouane was dissolved, although Ouane was later reinstated to create a new unity government with the specified goal of being more open and inclusive than the previous one.

While the newly proposed government had more participation from established political actors, even with a similar number of military personnel placed in key positions, nothing appeased the military. Thus, a new government was announced on May 24, the transition team –  Ouane and N’Daw – were overthrown and detained in Kati, a city controlled by the military only a few kilometers outside the capital – Bamako. The arrest was instructed by the transition Vice President and self-proclaimed leader of the not-far August 2020 coup, Colonel Assimi Goita. For Goita, who alleged insufficiency in consulting him in the formation of a new government, it was a direct violation of Mali’s Transitional Charter; thus, to him, Malian democracy was threatened. But what an ironic posture for a disrupter of democratic civil rule, no matter how lame!

Challenges of More Coups in the Continent

Within months, the Sahel region saw four coup attempts: Two in Mali, one failed in Niger, and one successful in Chad. To say the least, these coups increase is democratically worrisome. It is not hard imagining that the responses to these coups played crucial roles in encouraging actions continentally, as each coup was met with a quick, implicit acceptance by regional organizations – African Union, Economic Community of West African States, and the self-righteous international community.

In fact, the lack of any strongly decisive democratic reactions from continental bodies prods continental coups, with false signals to military actors, throughout the continent that coups rather than ballot boxes are acceptable solutions to political crises. Consequently, it is democratically disheartening noting how upholding business as usual negates democratic cultures in the continent, as Mali’s second coup within a year will likely inspire more coup plotters.

Ineffective International Reactions

International partners seem less perturbed given their usual engagements with unconstitutional governments, like Myanmar, Mali, Chad, and so on. For instance, the European Training Mission has not stopped their Malian programs, even as Emmanuel Macron said, “France could pull its troops out of its former colony if certain things will not change therein.” Regrettably, to date, no concrete decision has seen daylight.


With the quiet acceptance of Goita’s coups, it seems the transition is back on track, although it might be difficult ascertaining the real democratic intentions. The initial junta’s promise to rule Mali within 18 months and entrench a democratic future currently seems hopeless. Goita and his supporters lavish in proclaiming continuity with the transition as previously planned by creating a fake aura of normalcy. But whether they leave or hang onto political power depends on Malians’ sovereignty, as including international partners’ support, notwithstanding any benevolent military rule, as politics is not a military vocation.

Definitely, should Mali’s partners, continental or non-continental, who most pundits accuse of lopsidedness in talking about democracy in Africa, really want to contribute to entrenching democracy in the continent, then, just reproaching Goita’s actions verbally is not enough to deter other ambitious soldiers within the continent. Examples abound concerning the character of lessons anti-democratic forces have offered, given the reactions toward previous coups. To break this spiteful sequence of de facto ‘coup-prodding,’ the international community must hit hard, with strong concrete demands for civil rule, with very close political actions support in Mali and the rest of the continent. Putting pressure on the military juntas must be sine qua non for the AU, ECOWAS, and SADC, and so on.

Ostensibly, it is sumptuously clear that continuing with business as usual is no viable political stance because Mali’s second coup within a year will likely spur military power zealots, perhaps even before the next bananas are ripe for consumption.