Pr Marc Lavergne, Head Researcher, National Center for Scientific Research, University of Tours France

The Malian capital Bamako has been this 11th of July the theater of a bloody repression of the popular demonstrations against the President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. This mobilization is led by the M5 movement, a newly built coalition around the charismatic but mysterious Imam Mahmoud Dicko. This new leader is now endorsed by the regional West African Commission for economic development (CEDEAO) mediating the conflict. But the M5 coalition now rejects the CEDEAO’s mediation led by former Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck. Situation is thus, at the time of writing, in a stalemate.

Mali is since 2012 crippled by a war against ethnic based and radical Islamic warriors in its northern fringes ; the French army is trying to contain the encroachment of these armed groups, at a heavy cost : all efforts to strengthen the national army have failed, in Mali as in the neighboring countries, despite the G5 alliance.

So, sixty years after independence, the Sahelian states still rely on French military, economic and political support. They have not been able to strengthen a national feeling above tribal and ethnic fault lines. But what is now happening in Bamako is another result of French failure to build proper States led by legitimate and dedicated governments.

Development funds have been systematically diverted, leaving the bulk of the population with no education nor health care, and growing difficulties to meet ends, due to rapid demographic growth and diminishing land and water resources. : recent years have seen an increase of bloody local conflicts around land use and property.  The camel herding communities of the Sahara have resorted to cross border trafficking or joined self-appointed “Islamic” armed gangs to make a living.

This vast country of 20 million inhabitants is not deprived of natural resources, such as abundant gold mines and large cotton estates. But the country, as many others in the area, is run as a private property by corrupted urban elites. This is the root cause of the growing encroachment of political entrepreneurs using political Islam to ensure their leverage on the ordinary people.

The sudden rising of Imam Dicko may remind us of Imam Khomeiny’s soft stance while vying for power, and what ensued…It is high time, if not too late, for French authorities to change their approach on the Sahelian crises, and give way to legitimate and dedicated leaders, who could spare these countries the descent into chaos.