West African Leaders Are Struggling to Solve Mali’s Growing Political Crisis

Fourteen demonstrators were killed as thousands of young people took to the streets demanding the resignation of President Keita following accusations of election fraud.
Demonstrators gathering in Independence square in Bamako
An aerial view shows protesters gathering for a demonstration in the Independence square in Bamako on June 19, 2020. Photo by MICHELE CATTANI / AFP via Getty Images.

On Monday, the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the region’s main political and economic union, reiterated their call for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali to accept their recommendations for ending the country’s political crisis or face sanctions.

Keita, 75, has been under pressure to resign following accusations of election fraud and voter intimidation during April’s parliamentary elections. Protests were sparked after the results of the vote, which were largely won by the opposition party, URD, were overturned by the constitutional court in favour of Keita’s Rally For Mali. The president’s unwillingness to budge has provoked demonstrations across the capital, Bamako, over the past month, with 14 people killed following clashes with the police.


The largest protest started on the 5th of June as part of the Rally of Patriotic Forces, as tens of thousands of mostly young Malians went out on the streets of Bamako, calling for Keita’s resignation. This was followed by a second protest on the 19th of June, and a series of demonstrations through July.

Protesters have occupied state institutions including the National Assembly; the state broadcaster, ORTM; and radio stations. Keita, elected in 2013, is serving his second five-year term, which is expected to end in 2023.

Earlier this month, demonstrations turned deadly when government forces including the Malian anti-terrorist special forces, FORSAT, used tear gas and live bullets, killing at least 14 people and injuring 150.

In a statement issued after yesterdays virtual meeting, ECOWAS called on “all Malians, in their diversity, to take a leap to protect their country from the serious dangers to which it is exposed today.”

Last week, five West African heads of state visited Bamako in an unsuccessful attempt at resolving the crisis. The impasse has further frustrated protestors who have called for fresh demonstrations in August, after the Muslim holiday of Aid al-Adha.

So far, the ECOWAS leadership – which includes the leaders of the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana and Senegal – have opposed the push for Keita’s resignation, calling it unconstitutional. Instead, they have proposed a national unity government made up of 50 percent ruling party, 30 percent opposition leaders and 20 percent civil society – a plan that the opposition has rejected. Following the ECOWAS recommendations, the presidency announced six new ministers late on Monday, including Ministers of Defence and Finance.


Voter fraud may have sparked the protests but there have been underlying issues of corruption in Mali for years. Earlier this year, the president’s son, Karim Keita, was forced to resign from his position as the chair of the parliament’s Defence Committee in a nepotism scandal.

In a country where half of the 20 million population lives in extreme poverty and an already troubled economy has been further devastated by the coronavirus, it’s easy to understand why tensions have boiled over.

The United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, and other regional leaders have called for restraint and the release of arrested protestors. ECOWAS has called for a rapid establishment of a commission of inquiry to determine those responsible for the recent deaths.

“We call for a prompt, transparent, impartial and thorough investigation into allegations of excessive use of force by the Malian security forces on demonstrators in protests organised by the 5 June Movement,” the United Nations said in a statement last week.

ECOWAS has a history of getting involved in regional politics, especially in Mali. It was an intervention by the regional body in 2012 that helped return power to civilian rule after a military coup gave way for a takeover in the country’s northern region. The West African nation has been rocked by conflict since 2012, largely triggered by the vacuum left in Libya after the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Elections that followed brought in Keita as the country’s democratic leader in 2013.


The deposed extremists, including some affiliated to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other separatists groups, have been resilient and continuously launched attacks on the Malian military and UN peacekeepers. Malian troops have also been accused of extrajudicial killings and abuses.

There are thousands of United Nations and French military personnel in Mali, yet they haven’t been able to stem the violence. Attacks have grown five-fold in the past five years to over 4,000 dead.

The violence has gradually spread to the centre of the country and even neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and there is fear the insurgency could spread to Senegal and Guinea. The Sahel region wants to restore peace in Mali. which is one step closer to a secure region.