Dr Adeoye O Akinola is head of research and teaching at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation. He recently penned an opinion article that first appeared in The Star: 11 June 2021.
On May 24, Malian interim Vice-President Assimi Goïta – the leader of the August 18 coup d’état that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta from power last year – sacked President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Minister of Defence Souleymane Doucouré.
They were subsequently arrested and detained, then released on May 27 this year after resigning.
This paved the way for Goïta to become the president of the transitional government and to appoint others to fill the vacant posts. Mali had experienced military take-overs in 2012 and last year.
Despite the militarisation of the government since August, armed attacks continued unabated across Mali.
In April this year, “heavily armed terrorists” had attacked the base of the UN Mission in Mali at Aguelhok, killing four peacekeepers and wounding others. In March, 33 soldiers died and 12 were wounded during an attack on a military post at Tessit. On June 6, about 160 people were killed by armed men at Solhan village in northern Burkina Faso. Last year, 4 000 people were killed in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. The conflict in Mali has claimed the lives of 190 peacekeepers, including 120 who were killed in hostile situations, which makes Mali the UN’s “most dangerous” peacekeeping operation in the world.
Goïta accused the ousted leaders of breaching the transitional charter – a document drawn up largely by the military – by mismanaging social tension in Mali, including a strike by the main union, and by dropping two of his allies from the government after a cabinet reshuffle.
The incident had echoes of the removal of the head of the Nigerian transitional government, Ernest Shonekan, through a palace coup on November 17,1993, by a military member of the transitional government. General Sanni Abacha. Shonekan had assumed power on August 23, 1993. Abacha stayed in power until his death in June 1998.
In my earlier article on “Securing the Sahel”, published by the Premium Times on October 21 last year, I had drawn attention to the danger of populating the Malian transitional government with serving and retired military personnel. While Goïta promised to continue the transition programme and hold elections as scheduled next year, his credibility has been weakened. As expected, the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) suspended Mali, while Paris, London, the UN Security Council, and the EU condemned the coup, threatening sanctions. Can mere suspension and a threat of sanctions force the military out of power? No, because this is military rule and not a transitional government.
In 2017, African leaders adopted the “AU Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”.
However, the guns keep blasting. Burkina Faso and Niger are under attack by jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State of Libyaand al- Qaeda. Last month, about 60 people were killed during an attack – carried out by suspected Allied Democratic Forces – in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Ethiopian premier, Abiy Ahmed Ali, embarked on a military offensive in November last year to “restore the rule of law” in Tigray by removing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who had attacked a federal military base. Ahmed Ali, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2019, continues with this crackdown on Tigray, and African leaders have desisted from reacting effectively. Between November last year and March this year, more than 2 000 people have been killed in about 150 massacres by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, paramilitaries, and local insurgents in Tigray and more than 2.2 million people have been displaced.
Nigeria has been confronted with conflict between herders and farmers, claiming more lives than Boko Haram’s atrocities. In January this year, Statista reported that Boko Haram’s attack led to the death of 32 800 Nigerians in eight northern states between 2011 and this year. While Boko Haram seemed to be the main instrument of death in Nigeria, the dreaded herders have taken over. More than 10 000 Nigerians have been killed and 300 000 displaced in the past decade due to conflict involving herders and farmers.
Mozambique is also becoming a harbour for terrorism, which is too close for Pretoria’s comfort. The hitherto domestic Islamist insurgent group operating in Mozambique’s north eastern Cabo Delgado province, drew global attention in March this year, when they attacked Palma in the northern part of the country. The BBC reported that the attack killed many foreigners working on a $20 billion (about R275bn) gas plant. More than 700 000 Mozambicans have been displaced internally due to the ensuing terrorism.
Any form of political instability in Mali will aggravate the volatility of the Sahel. While Paris has stationed 5 100-strong forces in the Sahel, there is a need for the AU and African states to rethink the militarisation of the region by non-African forces. What is wrong with Africa?
When will Africa resolve its own problem? It is hoped that both state and non-state actors, including the UN and Ecowas will realise why it is important to be more committed to the peace and security of the Sahel.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.