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Mutiny in Mali: Dangerous signals from the Sahel

Strong institutions and vigorous voters are antidotes to coups

We are extremely concerned by developments in Mali. The stability of Mali and the West African region is at stake. Strict observance of the rule of law and democratic principles and the fight against terrorism should be of great priority for African leaders.

While Mali has long been held up as the epitome of a vibrant African democracy, the country has often made headlines for the wrong reasons, including terrorism.

On 18 August 2020, Ibrahim Boubacar, the former President of Mali Keita and Boubou Cisse, the former Prime Minister, were arrested and detained at gunpoint by soldiers and forced to resign shortly after. The mutiny was the outcome of months of simmering political crisis following Keita’s re-election in 2018. An election the opposition said was marred by irregularities.

Two days later, a new military junta named, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, was installed, promising new elections and to rebuild confidence among the people.

The implications of mutiny and ouster of a seating government have severe consequences for the stability of the whole Sahel region. It also presents security concerns for the international community because it could cause a power vacuum which Islamic extremist groups with a strong foothold in Mali will seek to exploit.

Ironically, several Malians were happy with the ouster of Keita. Although most were indifferent – Mali witnessed so much corruption and lack of leadership under Keita. At best, the country was on autopilot; public officials acted with impunity. But usurping a democratic process, for whatever reason, does not inspire confidence, no matter how frequently it is done. In less than a decade, Mali has had two coup d’états, the first was in 2012. These political interruptions have adverse effects on the country’s economic growth, affecting the real GDP per capita.

Available statistics show that in more democratic countries, a successful coup decreased annual growth in income per capita by as much as one to 1.3 percent over a decade. On the average, a coup slows down economic growth by 2.1 percentage points the year it happens, by 1.3 percent the following year, and 0.2 percent two years after.

After the coup in 2012, Mali the economy shrunk, reducing its real GDP in the first quarter of 2013.

The suspension of Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) from its meetings and trading embargo is putting more strain on an already ailing economy. This is the second embargo in less than a decade. For an import dependent economy it spells doom, not just for the military junta, but the people.

The embargo also isolates Mali financially. International transactions and financing are barred, especially within the West African CFA Franc zone. ATM machines for those with Visa cards are blocked. All of which creates difficulties for the country. The coup will scare foreign investors.

But why are coups rampant in Africa? Why do ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) find it hard to contain military insurrection and forceful takeover of power in the continent?

To discourage further coups in the continent, there is a need to strengthen government institutions. Elections should be conducted in a fair and transparent manner and candidates must accept the will of the electorate.

Those elected to rule must rule with the fear of God, respect rule of law and be open and transparent in their activities. The idea of tenure extension by whatever means must be resisted as that could lead to crisis, as witnessed in many African countries.

Independent institutions and a critical mass of savvy voters are necessary to put an end to the idea that an African leader is a big man with unlimited powers. The power of citizens is a better deterrent than coups. Political leaders will be cautious knowing the power the citizens wield and therefore will act right to avoid being ousted. All eyes are Mali to see what direction it takes.

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