300 dead in three months: jihadism hits military coup plotters hard in Africa | International

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It happened last Saturday night. Armed men on motorcycles entered the town of Seytenga, in northern Burkina Faso, and killed at least 79 people, according to the latest government balance, released on Tuesday. This is the latest in a long series of jihadist attacks that have caused at least 300 deaths in the last three months in this country. On the same day, in neighboring Mali, two Customs officials and six civilians were killed by terrorists in an attack in Kutiala, as radicals have launched an offensive to shoot down control of several towns in the Ménaka region. Jihadism hits the military regimes that were born just a few months ago with uprisings that were precisely aimed at combating their advance.

The intensity of the jihadist attacks coincides with the withdrawal of the French military from Mali. This Monday they handed over the Ménaka base to the Malian Army and it is expected that at the end of July they will do the same with the Gao base, the last point where there are soldiers from Operation Barkhane led by Paris. El-Ghassim Wane, United Nations emissary for Mali, expressed his fear of a possible attack on the city of Ménaka itself, where there are more than 5,000 refugees from the violence. Both the Government of Burkina Faso and that of Mali, in the latter case with the support of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner company, regularly announce the elimination of jihadists, allegedly members of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and the Province of the Islamic State in the Sahel, the two most active groups in the region.

The wave of coups that West Africa has suffered in recent months, in countries such as Guinea-Conakry, Burkina Faso and Mali, gave birth to military regimes committed to a return to democracy within a reasonable time. However, the transitions get bogged down and the military boards slack off and give themselves up to three years, as in the case of Mali, to cede power to civilians, with the danger that popular support for the military coups begins to fade as as the new leaders show their inability to achieve their goals, such as curbing jihadism. The difficult economic situation that was first brought about by covid-19 and now by the war in Ukraine, with the rise in food and fuel prices, is emerging as a new destabilizing element.

unacceptable deadlines

On Monday, June 6, a decree signed by Colonel Assimi Goïta, in command in Mali since the August 2020 coup, set a date for his departure from power: March 2024. That is, three and a half years of regime military in the event that this promise is fulfilled. In neighboring Guinea-Conakry, Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya has given himself 36 months to turn the tables on civilians after an election, the same time stipulated by Lieutenant Colonel Damiba in Burkina Faso. The Economic Community of West African States (Cedeao) considers these deadlines unacceptable, but has reacted differently in each case: harsh sanctions on Mali and doubts about what to do with the other two countries, on which it will make a decision next 3 of July.

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In Mali and Burkina Faso, the military seized power with the declared objective of defeating the jihadist violence that is advancing in both territories. However, large areas of both countries remain outside the control of the State and in them the armed groups carry out attacks, attacks and constant confrontations. “There is no progress in security and it seems symptomatic to me from the point of view that the response cannot be only military, it also has to do with the protection of civilians and a more constructive state presence,” says Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni , regional manager of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Therefore, patience begins to run out. In Mali, the influential imam Mahmud Dicko, who is seen as the inspiration behind the demonstrations that forced the 2020 coup and a staunch advocate of regime change, two weeks ago called the military in power “arrogant” and the movement citizen who welcomed the fall of President Keita with open arms is already asking for heads. “There is a rapid disappointment that is proportional to the high expectations that were created with the arrival of the military,” adds Théroux-Bénoni. According to him, “popular support for the coups was more to find a way out of the previous regimes than a blank check for the new leaders; they were rather perceived as a vehicle for liberation.”

Mahmoud Dicko gives a speech calling for the resignation of Mali’s then president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in Bamako in August 2020.STRINGER (Reuters)

In the opinion of Gilles Yabi, founder of the Wathi think tank, “spectacular or profound results cannot be expected after a few months, whether by a military or civilian power; the deterioration of the security situation is such that no political power can provide quick or convincing solutions. It is early to say if they are going to fail or succeed, there is a lot of uncertainty.” In Guinea-Conakry, the motivation for the coup in September 2021 was not jihadism, but the attempt of the previous president, Alpha Condé, to stay in power and the political repression that he launched. However, the divorce between the political class that applauded the coup and the military that carried it out is complete nine months later.

democratic backsliding

“Signs abound of possible democratic backsliding in some West African countries,” says Ghanaian researcher Gyimah-Boadi, co-founder of Afrobarometer, in a recent report for the Kofi Annan Foundation. In the opinion of this expert, there is a crisis of the Western model of democracy stimulated by internal factors, such as the impossibility of peaceful alternations and the efforts of presidents to cling to power, and external factors, with the opportunism of jihadist violence at the head. The regional head of the ISS agrees that the coups are just the symptom of a deeper crisis. “The population is demanding a real democracy and not just a façade. Meanwhile, Cedeao offers a double standard: it condemns military uprisings, but does not react to constitutional coups”, says Théroux-Bénoni.

Added to this volatility are the consequences of the war in Ukraine. At the end of May, a demonstration against the rise in gasoline prices ended with one person dying from a gunshot wound in Conakry, where the military has prohibited any protest on the street. In addition, last Wednesday, Senegalese opposition protesters included the rise in the cost of basic necessities among their complaints during a protest in Dakar. The covid-19 first and the war in Ukraine later have triggered the prices of oil, bread or rice, and instability is beginning to be noticed. “It’s an added element,” says this expert, which is going to put even more pressure on African governments, especially those that lack democratic legitimacy.

Two other African countries that have experienced recent coups, Chad and Sudan, face similar problems, although in a different context. The national dialogue process to launch a democratic transition in Chad is stalled, especially around the point of reforming the Armed Forces, which is one of the demands of rebel groups and political parties. In Sudan, the military overthrew Omar al Bashir in 2019, but they are reluctant to leave power and violently repress the continuous citizen demonstrations demanding elections and democracy.

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