By John Ikani
Mali’s military-dominated Government on Monday launched a four-day national forum on returning the country to civilian rule following the country’s August 2020 coup.
The authorities have showcased the ‘National Conference on Reform’ as a chance for the public to foster change, but major groups have already slammed the project and said they will boycott it.
The meeting “will make an unflinching assessment of the state of the nation (and) draw the best lessons from it,” Mali’s transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goita, said at an opening ceremony.
“It will also be your task to make concrete proposals, to devise a solution for ending the crisis,” he said.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Mali has enjoyed only brief spells of political stability since it gained independence from France in 1960.
In August 2020, officers led by Goita toppled the country’s elected Government under President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, after weeks of street protests over perceived corruption and his handling of a bloody jihadist insurgency.
Under pressure from France and Mali’s neighbours, Goita pledged Mali would return to civilian rule in February 2022 after holding presidential and legislative elections. But in May this year, he staged a de facto second coup, forcing out an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable.
Mali has a long history of national consultations to discuss problems and recommend solutions. On December 12, Goita told the West African regional bloc ECOWAS that he would provide it with a new election schedule by January 31.
However, several major parties and social organisations have snubbed the process this time, demanding swift elections or criticising the discussions as fruitless.
The national forum follows meetings at a local level, which were held in 51 out of 60 areas, the exceptions being in the jihadist-hit northern regions of Kidal and Menaka. They were also held in 26 foreign locations for the Malian diaspora.
Mali spiralled into bloodshed in 2012 when Tuareg rebels launched an insurgency in northern Mali, abetted by jihadists. After being scattered by French military intervention, the jihadists regrouped and took their campaign into central Mali, an ethnic powder keg, and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.