In West Africa, among the states born from the Berlin Conference of 1884, which created nations with rulers without any respect for the secular history of local ethnic groups and causing endless bloody conflicts, Mali is among the poorest and most unstable. On the contrary: it is the very symbol of the total failure of that model of colonialism solution, because the ruler of Berlin has created an immense, very poor nation, in which people of completely different ethnic groups and religions have been forced to coexist who slaughter each other for what little that the Sahara can offer.
Once a great and thriving empire, today Mali consists of 65% of landlocked desert and is, with its 1,240,192 km2, one of the largest states in Africa. With 20 million inhabitants, double by 2035, Mali has one of the highest growth and death rates on the continent. According to the latest data from the World Bank, 42.7% of Malians live in conditions of absolute misery.
The reason is a particularly unstable economy, heavily dependent on the agricultural sector (which generates 40% of GDP and employs 62% of the workforce), and on exports, which 80% consist of gold and cotton, and whose goods whose proceeds are at the mercy of market fluctuations. Human rights are constantly being trampled on through abuses by Islamic armed groups, ethnic militias and government security forces – all horrors made possible by the growing political vacuum. Only at the beginning of the 90s, after the ousting of the despot Moussa Traoré, Mali experienced a period of development, peace and democracy, so much so that, both in 2011 and in 2012, the Freedom House indicates Mali among the top five African democracies, both in terms of civil rights and in terms of freedom of the press.
But the eternal dispute between civil and military power unfortunately reserves bitter and now taken for granted surprises: that time ended in 2012 with a coup d’état, which will be followed by two others, each more violent than the previous one. Since then, Mali has returned to navigating between puppet governments, interim governments and apparently democratic governments deposed with arms.
The blood-stained hands of the post-colonialists
Moussa Traorè, the bloodthirsty dictator of Mali along 22 years
After independence from France in 1960, Modibo Keita will be the first president and transform Mali into a socialist state. The recipe fails and, in 1968, Keita is overthrown by the military. Lieutenant Moussa Traoré rises to power, imprisoning Keita and 40 other leaders of the US-RDA (Sudanese Union – African Democratic Rally). Traoré resists power for 22 years: despotic and violent, he commits atrocities against every ethnic group, every political faction, even among his own allies; when the people protest, he orders the demonstrators to be shot – under his criminal leadership thousands have died, but the precise count will never be made possible.
On March 26, 1991, relying on the turmoil squares, Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré convinces the army to overthrow the regime and promises a transition to a multi-party democracy. Traoré was tried and sentenced to death, but was then pardoned in 2002 by Alpha Oumar Konaré, democratically elected on June 8, 1992. Konaré governs for two terms and with him we finally have constant economic growth, the first steps towards respect for civil liberties and political rights and the first real reforms. He is also responsible for a fruitful foreign policy: on 11 May 1997 he obtained re-election with 95.5% of the votes, and the Malian people finally have concrete hope for the future. The law prevents him from re-running, so in May 2002 Konaré is replaced by his friend, Amadou Toumani Touré, who wins with 65% of the votes.
The years of democracy and progress make Islamic fundamentalists and army leaders suffer. In 2012 a group of mostly unknown young soldiers, who declare themselves as the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE), led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, plunges Mali into chaos. The military raids the presidential palace in Bamako and closes the game in a few minutes with a statement on TV: Sanogo commands a curfew, the suspension of the Constitution and the dissolution of Parliament. He doesn’t care, of course, about the condemnation of the international community.
Sanogo has the Tuareg community and its growing anger behind it. This ethnic group, descended from the Berbers, has been distributed for centuries in a very vast territory (Mali, Niger, Libya, Burkina Faso and Algeria), and is everywhere only a minority. They live in northern Mali, love isolation, have a strict caste system – and are hated because they have practiced the slave trade for hundreds of years. They had maintained independence by annihilating the French expedition led by Paul Flatters in 1881, but the Foreign Legion eventually forced them to sign peace treaties in Mali in 1905 and Niger in 1917: treaties condemning nomadism and free circulation in the Sahel – two fundamental conditions for the survival of the culture and economy of the Tuareg.
The Tuareg, called “the blue people”, from the indigo pigment of traditional garments and turbans that stains their skin
As the French left, the hatred against the Tuareg remained. During the years of the Keita presidency, they refused to participate in the collectivization of agriculture and pastoralism, and the Bamako government began to drive them out and fight them systematically. The first revolt of the Tuareg took place between 1962 and 1964: known as Alfellaga, the revolt was launched from the Kidal region and violently repressed, exterminating the cattle and poisoning the wells. The Tuareg reacted by fleeing to Mauritania, Algeria and Libya. The climatic conditions, the persecutions, the hunger, force them to mix with other ethnic groups, which, paradoxically, increases their anger and the Tuareg will to have their own independent nation.
Muammar Gaddafi gives them a home, an education and a military framework, respect as a community. In return, the Tuareg fight for Gaddafi in the wars of conquest in Chad and, soon after, turn their gaze to Bamako. The government of Alpha Oumar Konaré grants them regional self-government, but it is not enough. In 1994 the Tuareg, supported by the Libyans, attack the city of Gao provoking a violent response from the Malian army and a paramilitary faction – that of Songhai, the Ganda Koy, a special troop of fanatics, accused of having committed terrible atrocities against the Tuareg civilians. The Konaré government reacts by punishing the soldiers guilty of gratuitous violence (obtaining the hatred of Songhai) and signs two peace treaties with the Tuareg (1995 and 1996), launching a program of disarmament, demobilization and insertion of the rebels into its army.
After a decade of peace, only one spark is enough: in May 2006, a former rebel, soldier Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, deserted and created the Democratic Alliance for Change (ADC), with which he attacked the garrisons in Kidal and Ménaka. After the revolt, the Malian government and the Tuareg rebels sign a peace agreement that solves nothing, until 2009, when Mali and the ADC reach a new agreement on the reabsorption of fighters into Kidal’s army. Ibrahim Ag Bahanga rejects the agreements and organizes a new revolt with hundreds of Tuareg armed mercenaries from Libya. In August 2011, he marched on Bamako, but was killed in unclear circumstances, perhaps due to a quarrel between arms traffickers.
The surviving rebels, led by Iyad ag Ghali, lieutenant of Bahanga, founded the MNLA (Azawad National Liberation Movement) and, in January 2012, set fire to the Azawad region, assisted by Salafist groups linked to al-Qaeda. The Malian army, poorly trained, poorly equipped, suffers terrible losses. For the government, considered corrupt and inadequate, the situation becomes dramatic: it is accused of mismanagement of the crisis and of being the sole architect of the disintegration of the country, which prepares the coup d’état of March 21, hatched and directed by the leader of the General Staff of the Army and by several officers.
The endless civil war
Amadou Haya Sanogo at the head of the 2012 coup
In March 2012 Mali is split in two: half of the territory is under the control of the jihad, the other half is led by a military junta linked to the MNLA which, on April 6, unilaterally declares independence. ECOWAS rejects the declaration, but reaches an agreement with the military junta for the return of constitutional order in Mali. Dioncouda Traoré, president of the National Assembly, becomes interim president of Mali. Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra forms a military-dominated national unity government, five of which are close to coup leader Amadou Sanogo. Diarra resists a few months, is arrested in December. In August 2013, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will win the new elections.
The power vacuum left by the coup is precious fuel for the MNLA, which continues the civil war, gaining control of Gao and Timbuktu, destroying sanctuaries, forcefully imposing Islamism and starting to push south. At the request of Bamako, the French army intervenes by deploying 3,000 troops of ground troops and launching an air campaign to repel the militants that is holding back the advance south, but not the jihadist insurrection in northern Mali.
Now there is fighting everywhere, the Sahel is a real hell. In February 2017, France and the G5 of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) announced the creation of the G5 Sahel Force, a force of 5,000 men across the Sahel. The US military is also increasing its presence, deploying 1,500 troops and building a drone base in Niger that will cost $ 110 million and will have a maintenance cost of $ 15 million a year.
In the chaos, smuggling becomes the only economic activity that still works, and that strengthens the various rebel warlords. In April 2017, Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga was appointed prime minister, and in the following July, President Keita won the elections again. But outside Bamako this doesn’t count for anything: the separatist fury shows no sign of stopping. So, on August 18, 2020, a new coup is the answer to the riots. The Keita government is at the center of the controversy: an economy in disarray, high levels of unemployment, non-existent reforms, inefficient services, crumbling infrastructure, very serious corruption in the halls of power. People are starving, then exhausted by years passed amid fierce repression, inter-ethnic clashes, bloody jihadist violence that have produced an incalculable number of deaths, injuries and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons.
After an eighteen-month postponement, the elections, originally scheduled for October 2018, are held on March 29 and April 19, 2020, preceded by some dramatic events such as the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé and the destruction of several polling stations: elections take place in a very tense climate. Keita wins again, getting only 43 seats out of 147; he earns another 10 after an appeal to the Constitutional Court. The decision of the Constitutional Court inflames the streets even more.
The success of the protests resulted in the birth of the M5-RFP (Mouvement du 5 Juin Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques), a movement that aims to organize and channel the rebellion against the government. It is led by Imam Mahmoud Dicko, former president of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCIM), which brings together numerous activists from civil society, opposition leaders but also government leaders, trade unionists and former soldiers. The primary objective is obviously the request for the resignation of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
On August 18, a group of soldiers, led by Colonel Malick Diaw, entered the capital with tanks and arrested President Keïta and Prime Minister Boubou Cissé, who publicly announced their resignation. The base of the revolt is the barracks of Kati: the soldiers, after having taken control of it, begin their march towards Bamako making entry acclaimed by the crowd. Very little is known about Diaw – for example, he has just returned from a training period in Russia; another soldier involved is Colonel Sadio Camara, commander of the Military Academy of Kati, also trained in Russia; the third figure involved is General Cheick Fantamady Dembele, the eldest of the group, a graduate of the Military Academy of Saint-Cyr in France, a degree in history from the Sorbonne, a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of the German army in Munich.
The coup receives unanimous condemnation from the international community: the EU blocks the training programs of the Malian army and police, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (UEOMA) suspend Mali’s participation , closing borders, blocking subsidies and threatening sanctions; even the OIF, the Francophone International Organization, suspends the accession of Mali, while the UN demands the immediate release of all arrested government officials and the restoration of constitutional order.
In the chaos appears for the first time publicly the one who led the coup, and now leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People: Colonel Assimi Goïta.
Assimi Goïta, strange leader of a strange revolt
Assimi Goita, leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, with Malick Diaw, left, at a meeting with an ECOWAS delegation
Assimi Goïta (1983), married, three children, son of a military officer, is trained at the Kati Military Prytaneum (PMK) military school and is assigned to the 134th Gao Reconnaissance Squadron. He obtained the Diploma at the French School of Train and Operational Logistics, then followed the course as a captain in Germany, and then took command of a battalion that works against terrorism and drug trafficking and enters (2014) the special forces, for which follows special training schools in the United States. He becomes commander of the Autonomous Battalion of Special Forces and War Centers (BAFS-CA), created in May 2018 and based in Mopti, in the center of the country, and earns the rank of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army.
Goïta’s active participation in the coup d’état therefore unnerves the Americans, because it makes the revolt look like something orchestrated by Washington, just as American troops are in the Sahel to fight the Islamic jihad with the operation called MINUSMA, which costs 1.2. billions of dollars a year and which aims to “guarantee the security, stabilization and protection of civilians; support national political dialogue and reconciliation and assistance in the restoration of state authority, the reconstruction of the security sector and the promotion and protection of human rights in Mali”.
Goïta is completely different from the image of the brutal soldier overthrowing a government. Andy Duhon, a former US officer employed in the embassy in Bamako, who worked with Goïta, describes him as a man “very humble, very pious, not a braggart, but witty, intelligent and a good family man. I’ve never seen him as a money-hungry or power-hungry guy, eager to be in power”. In his speeches about him Goïta goes out of his way to repeat that he is not interested in power.
The thing is different for his colleagues in the coup: Malick Diaw and Sadio Camara, returned to Mali from the Moscow Higher Military College just a few days before the coup. Although there is no official evidence of actual Kremlin involvement, and despite Duma member Oleg Morozov denying the allegations on August 22, stating: “Any talk about Russia’s involvement in any way in the August coup seems ridiculous“, it does not go unnoticed that on 21 August, three days after the coup, the Russian ambassador to Mali and Niger Igor Gromyko took care to meet the leaders of the new government.
Russia is the largest exporter of war material to Africa, accounting for 39% of arms transfers to the region between 2013 and 2017. According to an ISW (Institute for the Study of War) analysis, the Russian military and private military contractors linked to the Kremlin have progressively expanded their military presence on the continent, signing military cooperation agreements with 28 African governments. Some 400 Russian mercenaries operating in the Central African Republic are estimated to have recently supplied military equipment for counter-insurgency operations in northern Mozambique. Irina Filatova, research professor at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, explains Russia’s focus on these areas as follows: “One of the reasons Russia is so interested in Africa is to compete with the West. The more influence it has in Africa, the more control there is over the West“.
Despite the establishment of the joint forces of the Sahel states and the presence of over 14,000 UN peacekeepers together with French troops, in 2019 there was a serious escalation of violence perpetrated by jihadist groups in Mali and in other countries in the region, including Niger and Burkina Faso. From here it is a short step to consider military cooperation as a failure, and it is easy to foster hope among citizens in the Russian alternative, especially given the role played by Moscow in the Syrian crisis.
It is a widespread opinion among Malians – fueled by a Russian disinformation campaign in social networks and already found on other occasions such as in Madagascar and Libya – that the French anti-terrorist initiatives, through the Serval and then the Barkhane operations in the Sahel, are a pretext to prepare for a new colonial invasion: Russia, using propaganda, tries to gain support against this apparent strategy.
List of nations supplying arms to Mali (2019)
The new junta comes under severe pressure from leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which threatens to increase economic sanctions and impose a total embargo on Mali, hoping for a swift replacement of the current military junta with a civil. The answer comes on September 13 through the approval of a “transition charter“, a political agreement that will lead to the appointment of retired colonel and former Defense Minister Bah N’Daw as interim president on September 21 – which he should. thus satisfy the presence of a non-military – while the leader of the coup, Assimi Goïta, will assume the post of vice president.
The agreement also provides for free elections within the next 18 months, but the M5-RFP (the 5 June Opposition Movement) reacts with strong criticism, because the plan, according to its leaders, “does not reflect the opinions and decisions of the Malian people” but above all it does not prevent a military man from leading the country behind the scenes. Yet the agreement, coupled with the release of the arrested leaders, on 6 October will be enough to convince ECOWAS to reject the sanctions. On 9 October the lifting of the sanctions will also come from the African Union.
And here the shadows reappear … on 5 December the provisional legislative assembly, with 111 votes in favor and seven abstentions, elects Colonel Malick Diaw – one of the main players in the previous coup – to lead the National Transitional Council. To reassure the population, Lieutenant Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, Minister of the Territorial Administration, announces that the elections will be held in February and March 2022, confirming the promises made.
The M5-RFP is furious at the growing role of the military, and is calling for the dissolution of the government. Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane decides to resign on May 14, 2021, but is immediately recalled and reconfirmed to oversee a government reshuffle that will take place on May 24 with the promise of an “expansion of the bases“. The reshuffle takes place in a context of strong tensions, between vehement protests by the June 5 Movement and strikes organized by the UNTM, the workers’ union, which risk paralyzing the country’s economy.
Two coup leaders are ousted, former Defense Minister Sadio Camara and former Security Minister Colonel Modibo Kone, which infuriates Assimi Goïta: a few hours later President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and the minister of the Souleymane Doucouré Defense, are arrested at the hands of Assimi Goïta himself, and transferred to the military camp of Soundiata Keïta in Kati.
Retired Defense Minister Col. Maj. Bah N’Daw, right, and Col. Assimi Goita, left, junta chief, as they take the oath
The next day, in a statement, Goïta justified the intervention with the fact that the Prime Minister and the President had formed the new government “without consulting with the vice president“, or himself. He confirms that he wants to respect the “Transition Charter”. But it is a pity that the Charter itself states that no one can replace the transitional president. The Constitutional Court appoints Assimi Goïta as interim president. Choguel Kokalla Maiga, proposed by the M5-RFP Movement, has the task of forming a government to guide the country in the delicate phase of transition: 25 ministers, including two representatives of the Union for the Republic and Democracy, the main political force of the June 5 Movement. The military still maintains the Ministry of Defense, Security, Territory Administration and National Reconciliation.
The condemnation of the international community is not long in coming, but the loudest voice is raised by Emmanuel Macron, expressing strong condemnation for the coup and for the arrest of the transitional president, his prime minister and their collaborators, threatening the withdrawal of its troops if the country, due to the coup d’état, goes in the direction of radical Islamism. In a joint statement, the UN (Minusma), ECOWAS, the African Union, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union condemn the military intervention, and the UN formally calls for release of President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane – due on 25 May.
What the hell is going on?
Armed Tuaregs control the entry routes to Bamako
The course of events is not yet clear, the story is in full swing. Yet another coup in Mali once again throws the whole continent into despair. The years pass but the scenarios remain the same. Precisely where peoples are most committed, blind violence continues to prevail. The reason is clear: in intrinsically weaker states (with less sense of belonging and national cohesion, greater poverty and almost non-existent administrative structure) a few hundred jihadists armed to the teeth are enough to try their luck and try to conquer an entire nation. admitted to the United Nations and, with it, a podium in the global debate and a position of strength in the game of blackmail with the military and economic world powers, but also towards neighboring and peaceful countries.
Hundreds of fugitives from the defeat of the Caliphate in the Middle East, of those who escaped political persecutions in Arab countries ruled by monarchies or dictatorial regimes, of ex-mercenaries who lost their customers, of mercenaries in the pay of Russian, Chinese, American multinationals or fixers, Europeans, Tuareg or other peoples without a homeland, meet and fight in Mali, where for a permanent conflict there are the best possible environmental conditions – in spite of the military forces of the UN and Western powers.
For this reason, Mali today is a metaphor for global disaster. It is the manifesto of what could happen anywhere if, in the near future, the perception of individuals of their participation and co-responsibility in the realization of well-being, climate stabilization, tolerance, non-violence and legality were to further decrease. A warning that applies to everyone, not just the distant and forgotten Sahel desert.
 Andrea Menegatti, “Islam in West Africa, sufismo e fondamentalismo nelle giovani democrazie africane“, Edizioni Ananke, Torino 2014
 https://www.foi.se/rest-api/report/FOI%20MEMO%205099 “Explaining the 2012 Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Lack Thereof in Niger” – Adriana Lins de Albuquerque – FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency- 2014-11-12
 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mali-election-idUSKBN1L2205 ; https://www.voaafrique.com/a/l%C3%A9gislatives-au-mali-manifestations-apr%C3%A8s-une-r%C3%A9vision-des-r%C3%A9sultats-favorable-au-pouvoir/5404911.html
 https://www.marshallcenter.org/en https://www.theafricareport.com/39260/mali-coup-leader-assimi-goita-is-from-an-elite-fighting-unit/ https://www.theafricareport.com/39260/mali-coup-leader-assimi-goita-is-from-an-elite-fighting-unit/
 https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/fssipri_at2017_0.pdf “Trends in international arms transfers, 2017” – SIPRI Fact Sheet – page 7
 http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20-%20The%20Kremlin%20Campaign%20in%20Africa%20-%20August%202019.pdf ; https://jamestown.org/program/terrorist-threat-as-a-pre-text-russia-strengthens-ties-with-g5-sahel/ ; https://www.defenceweb.co.za/featured/russia-and-mali-sign-military-cooperation-agreement/ , https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/russia-building-military-bases-in-africa-report-/1931550