The French-backed president of Mali, West Africa, resigned on Tuesday after soldiers seized him from his home. The demise of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known as IBK, follows months of mass protests against corruption and lack of democracy.
The news of his removal was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators on Wednesday morning.
Military leaders said they would bring about a political transition and stage elections within a “reasonable time”.
Thousands have joined anti-Keita protests in Mali, a country of 20 million people, since June.
After a pause, they started up again recently. Security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters who camped out at a square in the capital Bamako last Wednesday.
The opposition declared it would hold daily protests this week culminating in a mass rally on Friday.
But before that could happen soldiers mutinied at a key base and seized Keita.
Mali has been in a political crisis since the end of April. The constitutional court overturned long-delayed election results in dozens of seats and handed more of them to Keita's party.
Keita was first elected in 2013 but has become unpopular. He has increasingly relied on France, the former colonial power. The stolen elections added to grievances over corruption, widespread poverty, lack of action over coronavirus and the government’s role in sectarian killings by security forces.
Largely headed by Islamist leader Mahmoud Dicko, thousands of people demonstrated in Bamako on 5 June. A month later protesters blocked key bridges in the capital, stormed the premises of the state broadcaster, and attacked the parliament.
They carried signs such as “IBK resign,” “The dictator will not stay,” as well as banners calling for the release of political prisoners. “More money for education,” and, “An end to the coronavirus” were also among their demands.
Three days of fighting between protesters and security forces followed, leaving 11 dead and 158 injured, according to an official tally.
The opposition coalition, called “June 5 Movement—Rally of Patriotic Forces”, includes many former supporters of Keita. Its leaders’ demands do not go much further than a reshuffle of the ruling elites.
Its success has come from seeming to represent the feeling from below.
Two main dangers are now clear.
Mali is occupied by thousands of foreign troops who claim to be opposing terrorist groups.
France sent thousands of troops in January 2013 to fight Islamist forces who came from Libya in the aftermath of Nato’s war in that country. It now has 5,100 soldiers in Mali linked to an international coalition that includes the US, Germany, Canada and the “G5 force” from Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence in June said, “Personnel from RAF Odiham have been deployed in non-combat roles in Mali since 2018 with the aircraft contributing a unique logistical capability to the French-led operation.
“The Chinooks and aircrew allow French troops to cover a much larger field of operations.
“Currently, the Chinooks are being flown by aircrew from 18(B) Squadron and are supported by personnel drawn from across the RAF and British Army.”
The British, the French and others supported Keita—and regret his downfall.
Britain’s minister for Africa, James Duddridge, tweeted, “UK opposes any attempt to unseat the government by force.”
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he “condemns in the strongest terms this grave event”.
John Peter Pham, the US envoy to the Sahel region, said on Twitter the US was “opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government”. Although presumably not in Bolivia, Venezuela, Libya and Iraq to mention just a few recent examples.
Such forces will seek to bend any new government to their will.
In addition the military won’t act in the interests of workers and the poor. They will look after their own interests.
In Sudan in February 2019 the military removed president Bashir following massive protests. But they have clung on to vast areas of power since.
Independent working class action is possible.
The government ordered the reopening of schools on 2 June, despite coronavirus. But thousands of teachers refused to come to work.
They demanded measures to protect students and teachers from the pandemic and wage increases that had been formally announced by the government four years ago but never paid. Teachers were an important part of the demonstrations that broke Keita.
Such resistance gives hope for the future