A dangerous déjà vu in Mali

A dangerous déjà vu in Mali

Malians woke up on Wednesday without a government. Although details are still murky, we do know a group of soldiers detained President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and forced him to step down. The rebel troops have promised a return to democracy — but isn't that what coup masterminds always say right after seizing power?


How did we get here, what happens now, and who's watching?

Mali's political crisis. Mali, a vast mineral-rich and mostly arid nation in Western Africa, is one of the continent's poorest countries. It also has one of the world's youngest populations (the median age in 2020 is just 16.3) and is extremely vulnerable to climate change as it borders the Sahara.

To make matters worse, years of political instability have opened the way for Islamic militants to take over parts of Malian territory. French troops arrived almost a decade ago to bolster a disgruntled local military that still struggles to keep al-Qaeda and the Islamic State at bay. Attacks have been rising recently, and the violence has spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Keïta was quite popular when he first voted into power in 2013, less so when he was reelected two years ago, as allegations of corruption and election fraud have eroded his support. The current crisis started in March, when the opposition won big in a parliamentary election, but Mali's constitutional court overturned part of the tally and awarded extra seats to allies of the president.

That brought thousands of Malians to the streets to call for Keïta's ouster. They were unofficially led by Mahmoud Dicko, a popular cleric known as the "Imam of the People" whom many now view as the only figure capable of uniting the country. As the unrest deepened, Keïta tentatively accepted a power-sharing agreement proposed by other West African nations, but the Malian opposition rejected the idea, leaving the country in a deadlock that rebel soldiers attempted to break yesterday by deposing the president.

What happens now? The rebels say they are committed to handing over power to a civilian caretaker government that will call a fresh election. But many fear the sudden military takeover creates an opening for further chaos.

The key figure to watch is Dicko, who could play kingmaker despite earlier refusals to seek political power directly himself. The imam announced his departure from politics after meeting with the coup leaders on Wednesday, but will continue to be influential behind the scenes.

Who's watching outside Mali? France sees its former colony as a key battleground in its "Forever War" against Islamist armed groups in the region. Other EU countries and the US are concerned about further deterioration of security in the region, which could stoke a fresh refugee crisis that might affect Europe.

Regional organizations like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States are also worried further regional instability, but lack the tools to do much about it. And although there is no word (yet) from either al-Qaeda or ISIS, both stand to benefit from any uncertainty to make further inroads in Mali.

The thing is, we've been here before. Eight years ago, a similar coup created a power vacuum for jihadis to take control of most of northern Mali... until they were expelled by French soldiers. Could it happen again now, or will the military and the protesters restore political stability before Islamic militants exploit the situation to wreak further havoc?

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

More Show less

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

More Show less

Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

More Show less

50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

More Show less

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal