The dangerous frustration of the Malian army

REPORT – The military coup that swept away President Keïta in August is also explained by the feeling of abandonment of the troops.

Malian soldiers carry, on September 6, the coffins of ten of their fallen comrades.  The sense of abandonment of the fallen soldiers and their relatives sharpened the anger of the troops, as the losses accumulated in increasingly harsh attacks.
Malian soldiers carry, on September 6, the coffins of ten of their fallen comrades. The sense of abandonment of the fallen soldiers and their relatives sharpened the anger of the troops, as the losses accumulated in increasingly harsh attacks. STRINGER/REUTERS

From our special correspondent in Bamako

A long decayed wall, of an uncertain yellow, bars the plain at the exit of Bamako. A slightly twisted barrier and a handful of soldiers guard the gate which pierces this wall. Visitors are filtered through it entering the Soundiata-Keïta barracks in Kati, a garrison town bordering the Malian capital, a complex of old military buildings, dilapidated low-cost housing and concrete block huts as found everywhere in Mali. The place is unlike the beating heart of a force at war for eight years to reclaim its territory. “The army is the most effective organization in Mali and the one in which the populations still have confidence. But it’s also a tense and very frustrated body ”, says Marc-André Boisvert, academic specializing in the Malian army.

The coup d’état which, on August 18, overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, known as IBK, was therefore only half surprised. The moment was unexpected, in the midst of popular protest,

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Mahmoud Dicko, the Salafist imam at the bedside of Mali

STORY – In his country in crisis, the religious of Bamako has the favors of the street and is listened to by politicians, soldiers and diplomats.

Imam Mahmoud Dicko arrives to deliver a speech at a ceremony in memory of Malians killed by security forces during protests against Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on August 28 in Bamako.
Imam Mahmoud Dicko arrives to deliver a speech at a ceremony in memory of Malians killed by security forces during protests against Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on August 28 in Bamako. ANNIE RISEMBERG / AFP

Special envoy to Bamako

The white faux leather sofa, pierced with large and equally fake diamonds, is the only vaguely luxurious pageantry in Imam Mahmoud Dicko’s living room. In front of this small dark room stretches out a large courtyard covered with poor concrete, as there are thousands of in Bamako. It is full of women coming and going with a bowl in hand. The men, far from being all bearded, wait in a tin covered courtyard, waiting for the hour of prayer or a hypothetical meeting. This most banal decor in no way detracts from the power of the imam. The religious, gray goatee and clever smile, is undoubtedly one of the most influential men in Mali. And no one ignores the words from his mosque in Badalabougou. “He displays a modesty which brings him closer to average Malians and opposes him to a political class considered rich and corrupt”, underlines a diplomat.

The August 18 coup, where a handful of soldiers overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta

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In Mali, the junta unveils its “charter” for the transition

The result of a compromise with parties and civil society, this document provides for the appointment of a president for eighteen months.

Colonel Assimi Goïta, new leader of Mali, during a meeting with the heads of state of the region during a summit in Accra (Ghana) on September 15.
Colonel Assimi Goïta, new leader of Mali, during a meeting with the heads of state of the region during a summit in Accra (Ghana) on September 15. FRANCIS KOKOROKO / REUTERS

Special envoy to Bamako

Assimi Goïta arrived in Ghana in his colonel’s uniform. The head of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), president of Mali since August 18 and the putsch against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), did not seem to want to depart from his habits, even to go and meet the leaders of State of the region gathered for a summit in Accra. It was for the military, young officers unknown in the palaces, to accept the charter drawn up last weekend to lead a transition in Mali. The ECOWAS, the regional organization, had not hidden its annoyance against this coup and maintains economic sanctions against Mali. “We speak calmly to ECOWAS. We have no interest in alienating it ”, assures someone close to the junta.

The strategy was only relatively successful, while the exact content of the discussions remained unclear on Tuesday. Heads of State are said to have been annoyed, in particular by the

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Revolution in Mali: An imam teaches fear

The coup in Mali follows months of protests against President Keïta. The movement was built by Imam Mahmoud Dicko.

Imam Mahmoud Dicko benefits from the coup in Mali against President Keïta Photo: Matthieu Rosier / reuters

COTONOU taz | Getting an appointment with Imam Mahmoud Dicko in Bamako is not always easy. Two years ago, after several inquiries, he canceled at short notice. It was shortly before the presidential election that there was another duel between incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé. His assistant announced that he did not want to speak publicly directly before the polls.

Five years earlier – after the Tuareg rebellion, coup d’état, occupation of the north by Islamist groups and military intervention by the French – it was completely different. Together with other religious opinion leaders, the now 66-year-old openly supported the election winner Keïta.

The former support has long since turned into the opposite. The protest movement M5-RFP (Movement of June 5th / Collection of Patriotic Forces), an association of civil society and parts of the political opposition, has put the government on the defensive with demonstrations in Bamako in recent weeks. Your leading figure: Imam Dicko.

Mali’s army has now granted its wish to get rid of President Keïta today rather than tomorrow and deposed the president. Now all eyes are on the protest movement and its imam.

50,000 protesters mobilized

The Imam comes from an influential Timbuktu family and studied in Saudi Arabia. He then went to Bamako, where in 2008 he became chairman of the religious authority “High Islamic Council of Mali” (HCIM) and thus one of the most influential religious opinion leaders. To this day he speaks out in public for a secular state. Nevertheless, there has been constant speculation about his proximity to Saudi Wahhabism.

How much influence he has – in Mali, almost 95 percent of the 19.5 million inhabitants * profess Islam – Imam Dicko demonstrated early on. In order to prevent an “un-Islamic” reform of the family law in 2009, he and other imams mobilized 50,000 demonstrators. To this day, when asked whether religious opinion leaders should speak out against the widespread female genital mutilation in Mali, he almost annoyed them. Time would fix that, he says.

Since last year Dicko has a new movement, the “Coordination Office for Movements, Associations and Sympathizers of Imam Dicko” (CMAS). In Bamako, small CMAS district offices are often noticed. At the headquarters in Magnambougou Faso Kanu, Dicko is also happy to welcome journalists. He is sitting on a light brown leather sofa and, unlike in public appearances, appears calm and often curt when asked. The CMAS is not a political party, but simply a movement, he says.

But its political impact is significant. In April 2019, he ran a campaign to force the resignation of Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga. Dicko also succeeded in mobilizing many thousands of people in the most recent demonstrations – in a country that has recently seen mainly disinterest, disappointment and a lack of trust in politics. This is exactly what the Imam benefits from today. Not politics but the religious are seen as those who can lead Mali out of the crisis.

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Putsch in Mali: a setback in the fight against terrorism

“Outgoing President of the Republic”. This designation was faded in on Malian television late Tuesday evening while the previous head of government Ibrahim Boubacar Keita read out his resignation. That was politely phrased. What Mali is experiencing these days is a classic coup.

“Do I really have a choice?” Keita asked in his speech. He was taken to a suburban military camp after his arrest in the capital, Bamako. He wanted to prevent bloodshed, said the politician, who, despite the adverse circumstances, adhered to the Covid-19 measures and wore a protective mask.

After seven years, the president resigned from the highest office of the West African country by force and without much resistance. Parliament and government were dissolved and the borders closed. The crisis in the West African country had been worsening for months. Experienced observers in the country did not expect it to take on such proportions and that the military would intervene in this way.

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The world of photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi

Whe exhibition of the British-Nigerian photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi in the Martin-Gropius-Bau is closed. Nevertheless, the artist comes to the museum for the digital preparation of his show “Six Songs, Swirling Gracefully in the Taut Air”. Here Akinbiyi wonders how the “Social Distancing” command is accepted without being contradicted. Why, he asks, nobody actually designed a face mask made of transparent material: “How can we communicate with each other when we cover our faces?”

Without an audience, but with a lot of time, Akinbiyi leads through the six rooms of the exhibition, whose dramaturgy he developed together with the curator Natasha Ginwalda. Each room is dedicated to what he calls six of the “songs”. The first is charmingly titled “Photography, Tobacco, Sweets, Condoms and other Configurations”: pictures from more than four decades, taken in different cities around the world, which could hardly be more different and which Akinbode still knows how to put together seamlessly.

Is it “Togo” or “To Go”?

In addition, he uncovers strange constellations. In one photo, a passport photo machine in East Germany coincides with a billboard full of portraits that appear to be spit out of the same machine and appear enlarged into monstrousness. The viewer does not know exactly how to decipher the facade of a photo shop in Malian Bamako: Does the business name Togo refer to the West African country from which the owner of the shop comes, as Akinbiyi says, or can you get a “Studio Photo To Go” there? The picture of a toilet bowl standing on the side of the road is just as playful. The scribbled “Fuck Duchamp” suggests that it is more than illegally dumped garbage.

A look at the escapes of the exhibition shows how the music is held up as a metaphor. The pictures are compiled into songs with longer or shorter sentences and pauses. Akinbiyi never wanted to be a musician, but always a writer. Born in Oxford in 1946, he grew up in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos; later he studied literature in Munich and Heidelberg before moving to Berlin, where he has lived for more than thirty years. Ever since he bought his first camera in the 1970s, he has been writing with light.





Photo gallery



For this purpose, Akinbiyi was always in Lagos, Johannesburg, Bamako and Chicago to devote himself to long-term projects in these cities. But it was only with the Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikungs initiative, which Akinbiyi’s photos were exhibited in 2017 as part of documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, that his work became known to a larger audience. It is difficult for his work, which is characterized by soft nuances, to be heard, especially in large exhibitions. It’s different in the retrospective at Gropius-Bau.

Another “song” is called “Lagos: All Roads”. Here the form principle of the meeting of symbols in space becomes tangible in another way: when grown structures disintegrate and are replaced by new architectures; when billboards and signs struggle for attention; when the traffic cuts through the city and the people go about their business apparently unaffected. The black and white picture stories are kept together by recurring overhead lines with which the picture spaces are structured graphically.

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