June 12, 2024

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Mali: Insecurity Erodes Chances of Return to Civilian Rule in Niger and Mali

4 min read

Attacks by jihadists are on the rise in both Niger and Mali, where juntas are keen to hold on to power. The volatile situation in the Sahel region is casting a long shadow over future elections and the return to civilian rule, which now look increasingly distant.

“All parties now acknowledge that the challenges in the region are even higher than expected,” says Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, a political analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja, Nigeria.

Earlier this year, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso all declared their intention to leave the West Africa regional bloc Ecowas and form a new entity, the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

But “AES has limited resources to organise any better response to the security issues”, Adekaiyaoja told RFI.

“And the level of violence, after the departure of Western troops, has surprised even the juntas, especially in Niger.”

Multiplying armed groups

The increase in violence is due to the multiplication of armed groups, which go beyond jihadists and include militants hostile to the juntas, he explained.

And they are now able to travel more freely within the Sahel region, including in Burkina Faso and Chad.

Despite the danger, Niger has ordered US troops to leave, while Mali signed a deal with Russian forces.

Amid such insecurity, experts say it’s hard to see how a political transition could actually take place.

Political deadlock

In Mali, a roadmap leading to elections was supposed to be put in place in February, paving the way for the junta to leave power on 26 March – but its military rulers have already missed the deadline.

“They are using the meltdown within Ecowas to free themselves from any democratic obligation,” Seidik Abba, a Nigerien writer and Sahel expert, told RFI.

Groups representing legal professionals filed a petition with the Malian Constitutional Court on 28 March, demanding elections and the return to constitutional order.

The following Sunday, more than 80 civil society organisations and political parties voiced the same demand.

But their case seems to have little chance of success. Mali’s military authorities have not communicated about the official end of their supposedly temporary leadership, and do not seem in any way ready to give up power.

Regional leadership

“A key change could come from Ecowas when the next leader takes charge, after Nigeria,” according to Adekaiyaoja.

“The region needs a much more neutral approach. Senegal would make a much better negotiator, especially after the recent election.”

Senegal’s president-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who ran on a platform of pan-Africanism, has said that he wants to bring Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso back to Ecowas.

Adekaiyaoja fears, however, that none of the three countries’ juntas will leave power for at least another year, if not more.

He added: “We have to monitor the other elections in the region, up until Ghana’s in December, to see how Ecowas will be able to implement a new, and hopefully more efficient, foreign policy.”

Worsening terror

In Mali, the junta has been in power since May 2021, after the country’s second coup in ten months.

Niger has been ruled by military leaders since they took over in a July 2023 coup, citing a worsening security situation as justification for the power grab.

Since then jihadist violence, which had already plagued the Sahel region for most of a decade, has continued and even worsened.

Last week 23 Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush in western Niger during an offensive near the border with Burkina Faso, the defence ministry said.

The soldiers were were killed during a “complex ambush”, the ministry said, adding that “about 30 terrorists had been neutralised”.

Limits of power

Groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have operated in Niger’s Tillaberi region – which borders Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin – since 2017, despite a massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.

In Mali, armed forces and foreign fighters from Russia’s Wagner Group have “unlawfully killed and summarily executed several dozen civilians in counterinsurgency operations since December 2023”, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch.

The insecurity exposes the limits of military power.

“They have not brought back even the safety they claimed to be able to bring back,” Abba pointed out.

“The military succeeded in keeping France, the United States and the European Union away and as a result, no one on the outside says anything to them and that’s worrying,” he said.

“It is therefore now necessary, in addition to internal mobilisation to bring back democracy, to call for external pressure. Otherwise, the juntas will think they can stay in power as long as they want.”

By  RFI website.

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