Mali’s military government proposed in December a 5-year extension of the transition to civilian rule, after originally agreeing to a period of 18 months. Protesters gathered Saturday in Bamako to call for a return to democracy, ahead of an ECOWAS meeting about Mali Sunday in Accra. This is the first public demonstration since the government’s announcement of a 5-year plan, a contrast to the many pro-military demonstrations that have been held this year.
About 100 protesters gathered Sunday afternoon at Bamako’s Martyrs monument to demand a swift return to civilian rule, after Mali’s military government proposed a 5-year transition plan in December with the next presidential elections in 2026.
The Martyrs Monument commemorates March 26, 1991, when government soldiers fired on pro-democracy protesters, killing many.
This assembly marks the first anti-transition demonstration since the government announced the 5-year plan.
Ibrahim Kalilou Thera, one of the demonstration organizers, said military leaders proposed a 5-year transition period without consulting the people.
“In reality, if they had proposed at least a transition of a short period of six months, the people could have understood,” he said. “But we can tell that these people don’t have the will to organize elections. Not for February, because they could have organized for February. But there weren’t prior arrangements, there weren’t preparations, there wasn’t the political will.”
Sina Thera, 23, a student at the University of Bamako, originally was in support of the military government when they first took power in August 2020 in a coup d’Etat that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The August 2020 coup followed months of anti-government protests in Bamako, some that ended in the killing of protesters by security forces.
When the current military leaders first came to power, they were met by large crowds and widespread support in the streets of Bamako.
He says that before, he supported them a lot, because they came to finish the fight started by the Malian population. “Once the fight is done, though, and the fight was victorious … it’s time. The promise they made is very sacred. They set a deadline,” he said.
A coalition of major political parties rejected the military government’s 5-year transition proposition earlier this week.
Mohamed Ag Assory, a political analyst and consultant, says it’s not so important whether or not the march Saturday has a large number of people, because for months there was a complete lack of opposition.
“Some time ago, there were only supporters of the transition that could be seen here and there. There’s now an emergence of a new pole, a new opposition that’s organizing itself, and people listen to what they’re saying, it’s just the beginning. There have been press conferences, now they’re starting to demonstrate on the ground, and I think there will be more actions in the future in this sense,” he said.
He adds that everything will depend, however, on what happens this Sunday when the Economic Community of West African States —ECOWAS, a 15-nation regional bloc with a mandate to promote economic integration — will be holding an extraordinary summit on Mali in Accra January 9, which may lead to an agreement between ECOWAS leaders and Mali’s military government on a shortened transition period.