“So the military acted. Some will term what it did as a coup d’etat. But this would be inaccurate. This political intervention came in response to a crisis; it was not its cause.” – Richard Haass (Egypt’s second chance)
On Tuesday, August 18, 2020, former Malian President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse were arrested and detained at gunpoint by soldiers and forced to resign shortly after. The coup culminates months of simmering political crisis following Keita’s re-election in 2018. An election the opposition said was marred by irregularities.
In April, the decision taken by the country’s Constitutional Court over parliamentary elections held the previous month, sparked protests across the country. The protests aggravated to demands for Keita’s resignation. He was accused of corruption and mismanaging the country’s already dire economy and long-standing problem of insecurity.
“Malians are happy in a way but for the most part, they are indifferent. The population love that the military ousted Keita, because he was the problem, and has been for a long time. He wasn’t there to lead. He was there to fill his pockets and that of his family. There was too much corruption and a lack of leadership,” says Cheick N., a resident of Bamako.
He continues, “The country was on autopilot; public officials could do whatever they wanted with impunity. And so Malians were fed up. That’s why we are not really moved by the coup. President Keita was captured on Tuesday, the following day, people went on with their lives like nothing happened.”
But even with Keita out of the way, the future of Mali hangs on a balance. Currently, there appears to be a division between the junta and M5-RFP (Movement of June 5 – Rally of Patriotic Forces), an alliance consisting Mali’s main opposition parties and civil society groups. The M5-RFP had championed the protests and demands for Keita’s resignation and publicly backed the coup two weeks ago, but its members were left out of a planned forum to discuss the country’s political future. The forum did not hold.
There have also been debates over the duration of transition to civilian rule and who will head the transitional government – a civilian or a military personnel? The junta proposed a three-year transition to democracy, but ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is demanding a quick establishment of a democratic government within 12 months. Negotiations are ongoing.
“The future isn’t clear, we don’t know which way we are headed at the moment. We don’t know how the military will lead things to bring back a constitutional president. Initially, they said that they will not hold on to power, but what’s frightening now is that they’ve changed tune, debating whether the transition should be led by a civilian or someone from the military. That’s a problem,” says Cheick.
Impact of the coup on Mali’s economy
Usurping a democratic process, for whatever reason, does not inspire confidence, no matter how frequently it is done. In less than a decade, Mali has had two political coups; one in 2012 and another two weeks ago. These political interruptions have had adverse effects on the country’s economic growth, affecting the growth path of real GDP per capita.
Coups slow economic growth. Political instability often makes businesses and investors nervous, weakening their confidence over time. Anxiety over the current situation in Mali could discourage capital inflow from overseas. Evidence from researches and observations over the years suggests a predictable political environment is key for economic growth.
Research by Erik Meyersson, a professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) on the development effect of coups show they often reverse important economic reforms, increase a country’s debt, and usher in economic crises. Results from his research show that in more democratic countries, a successful coup decreased annual growth in income per capita by as much as one percent to 1.3 percent over a decade.
An analysis by political scientist, Jay Ulfelder, also backs Meyersson’s research. According to Ufelder, on average, coups slow economic growth by 2.1 percentage points the year they happen, 1.3 points the following year, and 0.2 points two years after. After the coup in 2012, Mali posted a 1.5 percent or 1.2 percent contraction of its real GDP in the first quarter of 2013.
At the time, Cheikh Diop, a World Bank economist in Bamako, said the decline in GDP would have been more drastic had it not been for the increase in the prices of gold and cotton in international markets, and a rebound in agricultural production in Mali that year. Gold represents 80 percent of Mali’s export earnings, and cotton is its second-largest export.
Given the current situation in Mali, ECOWAS has suspended the country from its institutions and implemented an embargo, thus putting more strain on an already ailing economy. The impact of this embargo is quite significant for a landlocked country that is heavily dependent on imports.
“Things can get quite hard for Mali. This is the second embargo in less than a decade. We have no access to the sea or imports and our economy depends largely on imports,” says Alhassane Soukouna, a Malian business lawyer. “Two of Mali’s strongest partners in the ECOWAS region are Ivory Coast and Senegal. Most of Mali’s imported goods come from these countries; 20 percent of imports come from Senegal and nine percent of imports come from Côte d’Ivoire,” he says.
The embargo also isolates Mali financially. International transactions and financing are barred, especially within the West African CFA franc zone. ATM machines for those with visa cards are blocked as well. “This creates difficulty for the country. It blocks financing at the level of the BCEAO, it blocks refinancing of the economy at the national level, monetary creation, there’s also a question of banknotes,” Hamadoun Bah, secretary-general, National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (SYNABEF) told RFI a week ago.
Soukouna says the coup will scare investors who were preparing to invest in Mali and halt certain investments. “Investors may probably postpone their planned projects because of the current instability and atmosphere of uncertainty, taking their time to see how the situation will evolve in the next few months,” he says.
However, he believes investors would probably react differently when it comes to planned projects in specific fields because they often make financial commitments early on. “Ongoing projects notably in the fields of energy, mining and infrastructure should follow due course despite the coup as financial investments are made at an earlier stage of such projects,” he says.
Cheick says the Malian economy is “quite bad”, and that everything is in “slow-motion” currently. “In terms of importation and exportation, things are slow. Nothing has been coming into the country for about two months now. And the coup has made things a bit harder with the embargo placed by ECOWAS. Things are more expensive in the market, necessities are getting more expensive,” he says.
Earlier in the year, the World Bank had predicted that Mali could have difficulty sustaining itself financially in the context of global uncertainty (COVID-19 and its effects) and risk aversion on the part of investors. The bank suggested that the Malian government “redirect expenditure toward public health services and take steps to increase its sources of revenue, including revenue from international technical and financial partners.” Although the ‘uncertainty’ of a coup was not envisioned, the recent turn of events makes the bank’s prediction more likely.
However, Soukouna believes the coup is for the best. “I think the coup will definitely lead to better things for Malians because it was preceded by massive demonstrations. Every president or leader that comes after is well aware of the power the citizens wield and would act right to avoid being ousted. This is a significant guarantee for civil society,” Soukouna says. For now, citizens and international partners of the Sahelian country have their eyes on the junta to see what direction it steers the boat, and their expectations are many in a context of multifaceted crisis.