By Aaron Minkoff
Killing protesters is not a solution to hold power; instead, it becomes the protester’s solution to kill the dictator to take power. One gunshot can turn a protest into a revolution than a civil war. That is a lesson few dictators of the Twitter and VPN era, more often than not, fail to learn. Since writing, over 11 protesters have been killed and nearly 200 injured by the deployment of the Anti-Terrorism Special Forces in the Capital of Mali, Bamako. The Special Forces unit falls under the command of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The State of Mali is the latest scene of protest turned deadly at the hands of the government security forces by the command of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. The protesters’ demands remain all too similar to the other Arab Spring 2.0 states from 2018 through July 2020. People are disgruntled by the status quo, which is represented by the government’s mismanagement in taxation, voting, security, and the most fundamental issue of all; the ability for families to simply put food on the table. COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurities and unveiled the incompetence of leaders to hold true to their most basic functions, even in developing states fighting active insurgencies, people expect, at least, the bare minimum of services and security from the state, or people will seek out alternatives to fill that role.
The ouster of President Keïta is now the symbol of a structure that has failed the Mali people, and thus any attempts at reform are viewed as an empty change of face to a corrupt institution. The M5 movement (June 5th movement) demands that the President steps down, for the National Assembly to be dissolved, and a transitional government to be formed in place of the current system of governance. Street blockades and civil unrest have continued, without let-up, turning Bamako to a standstill. The state-run news agency was also unspared of violence as protesters took charge of the building. President Keïta chose to offer reforms such as the disbandment of The Constitutional Court after protesters claimed voter fraud occurred in the latest election in April 2020. The plea for real reform and secondary elections fell on deaf ears as the President instead escalated the protest by the use of violence on the people who have continued to occupy the streets.
The killing of protesters can not be brushed under the rug in the current social media age. The President has no control over the spread of mass information as he would have had during the time of the Dictator Moussa Traoré who held power from 1968-1991. Information on protest is not conducted only through word of mouth. As with the first Arab Spring, people used VPN tools for bypassing blocked content and communication applications such as Twitter, WhatsApp, and WeChat; the protests live in everyone’s pocket. The violent response by the government, the deaths, injuries, and funerals are then spread throughout social media, further intensifying the movements as every person has access to the grimmest scenarios that take place on the protest frontlines. This begs the question of the utilization of the Anti-Terrorism Taskforce in quashing protests in conjunction with one of the protesters’ key demands: security.
African Nations, the French government, with the support of the United States, and the United Nations have been conducting anti-terrorism operations in the central and northern Sahara desert ever since the regional capital of Timbuktu, Timbuktu was briefly occupied by Al-Queda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2012. The Anti-Terrorism Taskforce used to kill protesters is trained and funded by the Western Allies along with deployments of Special Forces from each respective country. The question now is, can the French government, the American government, and broader international community knowingly work with, train, and fund a military organization that is tasked with crowd control in the capital that resulted in deaths and severe injury of the Mali people. The answer is, it’s complicated. Sanctioning the government for its actions would only serve to create greater instability and harm amongst the populations and strengthen the fighting, recruitment capabilities, and morale of the Terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Islamic State). This would be counterproductive in establishing security and detrimental to the alliance between Washington, Paris, and Bamako. The Mali government is a critical ally in The Global War on Terrorism, but that should not be an excuse to brush aside human rights violations.
In order to solve this issue, the global community must put continued international political pressure on President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, with the African Union in the lead. The historical precedence for successful international pressure on Mali is found with the Signing of the 2015 United Nations Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (APR). The commanders of the Anti-Terrorism Special Forces Unit that issued the order for the use of live rounds on protesters, and the government politicians that sanctioned the application, should be fired if not prosecuted. Additionally, popular allegations of voter fraud caused by the now-disbanded Constitutional Court is a serious threat to the democratic process. Elections with international observers must take place to ensure continued democracy in Mali. Transparency of the implementation of meaningful reforms that compromise with the demands of the protesters must take place. The Mali government must take steps to create employment prospects, reduce food insecurities, and combat the underlying cause of extremists rather than waste resources and public trust combatting protesters. The APR failed in its follow-through of tackling tribal disagreements that further deuterated the security situation. Furthermore, Traoré was ousted in a military coup in 1991 after months of popular democratic protest that brought a system of a fragile democracy to Mali. Traorés brutal crackdown and killing of protesters is a historical example and a clear warning to President Keïta of the resolve of the Mali people in their demand for democracy.