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23.09.2020 Mali

Mali faces recession, political crisis after coup

By Amaury Hauchard
Demonstrators show their support for the military three days after rebel officers ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.  By ANNIE RISEMBERG (AFP)
LISTEN SEP 23, 2020
Demonstrators show their support for the military three days after rebel officers ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. By ANNIE RISEMBERG (AFP)

Mali faces mountainous economic and political challenges more than a month after the military coup that toppled president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, analysts say.

Plagued by graft and poverty, the Sahel state was already battling a severe downturn, aggravated by a jihadist insurgency and ethnic violence, when the military seized control on August 18.

Mali is now barrelling into a recession as the coronavirus pandemic and sanctions imposed by its neighbours take effect, economist Etienne Fakaba Sissoko said.

The 15-nation bloc ECOWAS, fearing the restive country could spiral into chaos, immediately shuttered Mali's borders and imposed trade restrictions, putting pressure on the junta to swiftly hand over power.

The impact on the landlocked, undiversified, under-industrialised and import-dependent economy will be severe, said Fakaba Sissoko, a professor of economics at the University of Bamako and a former presidential adviser.

"The immediate consequence is a reduction in public expenditure. This has a direct impact on the population," he said.

After a 2012 putsch which overthrew then president Amadou Toumani Toure, a trade embargo which lasted one week sent the country's economy plummeting into recession.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had in May revised Mali's growth rate for 2020 from five percent down to less than one percent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"If we add the sanctions to this, there is no doubt that we will unfortunately be in recession. Mali will not escape recession," Sissoko said.

'Crisis of morality'

Compounding the country's political problems is a "crisis of morality" sparked by the issue of the return to civilian rule, said Lamine Savane, a researcher in political science at the University of Segou.

A group of officials selected by the junta have chosen a 70-year-old retired colonel, Bah Ndaw, as interim president, with the junta's leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, as vice president.

The transitional government would stay in place for a maximum of 18 months until nationwide elections take place.

Ndaw is due to be sworn in Friday, when ECOWAS is also likely to decide whether to lift the sanctions, the bloc's mediator, former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, said on Wednesday.

The long wrangle over the transition could drain the dynamism for accountability and justice, said Savane.

The so-called June 5 Movement, or M5, an alliance of political parties, trade unions, religious figures and NGOs, has pushed repeatedly for equal status with the junta in the interim government.

But Savane said the lure of top jobs sapped and divided the M5, prompting some to look the other way when it came to issues that were once at the heart of their movement.

These are the same mistakes which were made in 2012, Savane said, which plunged Mali into crisis for years.

That coup was followed by an insurrection in the north of the country which developed into a jihadist insurgency that now threatens neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Calls against corruption and impunity during this year's protests have quieted, and some of the most-criticised figures of Keita's regime, including his son Karim and intelligence service chief Moussa Diawara, have escaped accountability, Savane noted.

"These people aren't being troubled," he said. "This raises the question of whether those who took power really want to change things."

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