The latest (May 24) coup has not been well received by foreign aid donors. This includes France, which supplements the 12,000 UN/AU peacekeeping force with 5,100 French counterterrorism troops who operate throughout the region. The French helped form a similar regional counterterrorism organization, the 5,000 strong G5 force. This is a local auxiliary to the French Sahel counterterrorism force. G5 troops are supplied by Mali and four neighboring countries while the EU (European Union) supplies millions of dollars a year to provide the G5 troops with additional equipment, weapons, training and supplements to their pay. This enables the French force to operate wherever it detects the presence of Islamic terrorists and needs cooperation from local counterterrorism forces they know they can depend on. The least dependable G5 country was Mali, which explains why Islamic terror groups selected Mali as the best candidate for an African sanctuary.
Several of the political factions that made possible the 2020 coup, and the CNT (National Transitional Council) government, opposed any negotiation with Islamic terror groups. That was not an issue with the May coup leaders who replaced much of the leadership of the CNT, said they would continue to carry out its work, and do it successfully and with a lot less corruption. There are doubts among foreign aid donors and even many locals that the latest coup will solve problems or just create new ones.
France and the other donor nations; along with most African nations, agree that you cannot negotiate with the terrorists on anything of substance. This comes down to the fact that even moderate Islamic movements or governments have radical factions inspired by the many portions of Islamic scripture (the Koran) which define Infidels (non-Moslems) as a threat to Islam simply because they are people who will not become Moslems. Worse, Islam is the only major religion that does not specifically separate church and state. Islam does just opposite, declaring in the Koran that the best environment for Moslems is a government that uses Sharia (Islamic law) with unelected senior (respected) clerics as the ultimate political authorities. Most Moslems are willing to recognize civil authority but because portions of the Koran mandate religious intolerance, the radical factions have never gone away. These radicals consider any Moslems who do not agree with them as heretics, which makes them worse than infidels. In the late 20th century, more Moslem majority states agreed to encourage Islamic reform efforts to enable a fundamental change in Islam to address this perpetual fanatic problem. Saudi Arabia is part of this reform effort, which is important because Saudi Arabia is one of the few nations using Sharia law. The Saudis treats Islamic groups that oppose Saudi rule of Saudi Arabia as heretics and subject to execution by beheading. This often changes attitudes, but not always so the Saudis behead several heretics a year. Most Saudi judicial beheadings are for secular offenses like murder, rape and particularly for distribution of illegal drugs. The Saudi also prefer negotiations over violence to settle most disputes. One exception is Islamic terror groups. From the beginning the Saud clan were hostile to these fanatics and would only use them briefly, as an expedient and eventually turn on any such groups in the kingdom. The Saudis tried, with some success, to rehabilitate Saudis, especially young men, who had been drawn to Islamic terrorism. At the same time the Saudis will, and have, attacked uncooperative Islamic terror groups and driven them out of the kingdom, killing those who would not flee fast enough.
Corruption and religious fanaticism tend to go together. Islamic terror groups all promise to end corruption but none ever do that and many make it worse.
The latest Mali coup has a diplomatic problem because one of the local political groups that backs it, and previous clean government movements, is the populist J5M (June 5Movement) that carried out months of demonstrations in the capital to make the August 2020 coup possible and force a corrupt president out. J5M criticized the composition of the 121 member CNT because of the 22 army officers on it, in addition to some shady civilians. Most of the CNT members are less suspect and do represent a wide spectrum of groups. Nevertheless, J5M declared a boycott against the CNT and refused to cooperate with it. J5M represents civilians who seek a less corrupt and more effective government and do not see a military dictatorship making a difference.
The main leader of J5M is Moslem cleric Mahmoud Dicko. He has been the de-facto spokesman for J5M and managed to maintain that position. Dicko is a popular senior imam (Moslem cleric) who studied Islam in Saudi Arabia and came to be chairman of Mali’s High Islamic Council. Despite (or because of) his education in Saudi religious schools, which stress the need for Islamic law, Dicko openly backs a secular government, but one run by honest, or a lot more honest than now, politicians and officials. Imams like Dicko are one reason Islamic terrorist beliefs have not spread to the majority of Malians, most (95 percent) of them Moslem. Many foreign students in Saudi religious schools note that for all its piety Saudi Arabia is very corrupt as are most other Arab oil states. There were some exceptions but without all that oil wealth many Arab governments would be undergoing the same political pain Mali is suffering.
Many Mali politicians and economic leaders don’t trust Dicko, feeling that he must be in touch with Islamic terror group leaders and is really willing to try a religious government. Dicko has never expressed support for that, and more Malians believe him rather than less popular and trusted politicians and other prominent Malians. Imams like Dicko put themselves in danger by taking the initiative to negotiate some matters with Islamic terrorists, like getting hostages released or temporary agreements that would halt attacks on innocent Moslems. Islamic terrorists justify the deaths of these civilians by designation them as “involuntary martyrs' ', something that does not earn more support from local Moslem civilians. Imams like Dicko are often seen as traitors to Islam and marked for death. It’s not only difficult to deal with Islamic terror groups, but for imams it is often fatal. At the same time foreign aid supporters, whether they are infidels or Moslems, are uneasy about dealing with Islamic clerics like Dicko, even though some nations have developed ways to do it effectively. Israel is one example, and the Israeli approach is similar in some ways to what the Saudis have developed. The methods used by the Israelis and Saudis are not solutions but effective adaptations for dealing with troublesome Islamic clergy. This adaptation is no magic bullet and requires a deep knowledge of local customs and building personal relationships with the families or clans that produce a lot of imams. There is no one, local or foreign, in Mali who can effectively deal with clerics like Dicko. This is a common problem in most nations that are Moslem majority or have large Moslem minorities. The main problem with the new coup group is what they want beyond the elusive clean and efficient elected officials to run the government.
The CNT that was recently overthrown had until March 2022 to organize new elections and disappear. The coup participants believe the CNT is already dominated by the corrupt and likely to produce another corrupt government. The CNT is composed of 121 members generally agreed to represent the Mali population and institutions. The CNT elected a president and vice-president who were both army colonels who were not part of the 2020 coup. The CNT was to serve as a temporary legislative group to determine and approve measures required to maintain order and organize the 2022 elections. The CNT had already failed to deliver during its first eight months in power. The most recent (just before the coup) issue was the failure of the CNT to revive corruption investigations and prosecutions of military and political leaders that foreign aid donors insisted on if Mali wanted to keep receiving aid. Despite the importance of acting on this issue, the CNT produced only excuses. Any deals being made were for the accused to buy their way out of punishment for corruption. It took time to fabricate a plausible reason to drop the prosecution.
There was a similar furor back in February when the CNT angered France by insisting it would negotiate with some of the local Islamic terror groups in order to make possible elections in early 2022. France does not believe such negotiations are possible. The CNT government argued that this deplorable Islamic terror group's track record of exploiting agreements would not apply here because the CNT wants to address the non-religious grievances of Islamic terrorists in central Mali, where the violence is basically about economic disputes between the aggressive Fulani and other tribes.
French criticism could not be ignored as France is the backbone of foreign counter-terrorism and peacekeeping efforts as well as foreign aid in general. France wants the CNT government to concentrate on reducing the rampant corruption in government. This is what most Mali voters see as the primary problem. Many of those who have turned to Islamic terrorism agree. The CNT was forced to agree with the French but since March there has been no progress in dealing with the corruption. That appears to be what triggered the May 2021 coup.
When faced with this pressure a favorite ploy of corrupt African politicians is to blame foreigners for all the problems the local politicians have caused. The corruption is perpetuated because senior politicians share the looted aid with their followers and especially members of their clan or tribe.
Most Malians have come to realize that accepting these excuses just perpetuates corruption. Many members of the CNT realize that but they also feel some very up close and personal pressure from their key supporters, who are often clan or tribal elders that do not want to lose the income corruption provides. This has always been a problem, especially in Africa, where tribal identity often supersedes any national loyalty and dedication to the common good. It is easier to agree that corruption is a major problem than it is to actually do something about it.
France and other foreign aid donors are trying to figure out exactly what colonel Goita, the coup leader, is up to.
June 4, 2021: The World Bank announced it would halt payments to Mali because of the May coup. The World Bank provides loans that pay for many economic or infrastructure programs in Mali. The cash is not delivered all at once in stages as it is needed.
June 3, 2021: France announced it was suspending cooperation with the Mali military because of the May coup.
May 30, 2021: In the south, about 100 kilometers from the borders with neighbors Ivory Coast and Guinea, unidentified gunmen attacked a road checkpoint before dawn. Five people were killed and Islamic terrorists from up north were believed responsible. Islamic terror groups operate in this part of Mali, but usually unarmed and dealing with the drug and people smuggling operations that bring in the cash to keep Islamic terror groups operating. For this reason, Islamic terror groups are also subject to corruption and captured al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) administrative documents reveal that the more successful Islamic terror groups recognize the internal corruption problem and try to deal with it. That leads to the identification and execution of the guilty but does not eliminate the corruption. After all, Islamic terror groups focus on recruiting fanatics. The global economic decline caused by covid19, more than the virus itself, caused a reduction in violence in Mali since last year, which allowed more Malians to concentrate on the even older and more pervasive corruption problem.
May 24, 2021: There was another military coup. Some of the same army officers who were responsible for the August 2020 coup decided the current effort to form a new government was a failure and took action. This included colonel Assimi Goita, who had become one of the two vice presidents of the interim government. After today’s coup Goita became president of the interim government.