Africa Watch – Maintaining the act

Africa Watch – Maintaining the act

The 49 Ivoirien soldiers convicted of undermining Mali’s state security and conspiracy against the government have been pardoned by the military junta leader, Colonel Assimi Goita. The pardon comes one week after 46 of the soldiers were sentenced to 20 years in prison. The three women who had been freed in early September were tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Government spokesperson, Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, shared the news on national Malian television. This gesture by Colonel Goita is promoted as a way to keep the peace between the neighbouring countries.

“This gesture, once again, demonstrates his attachment to peace, dialogue, pan-Africanism, and the preservation of fraternal and secular relations with the countries of the region,” added Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga.

The 49 soldiers were detained in July when they went to work for Sahelian Aviation Services, a private company contracted to work in Mali by the United Nations. The 1 January 2023 deadline that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set for Mali to release the soldiers was missed, but ECOWAS decided not to sanction the country.

Mali’s adoption of the tough man approach to stave off international pressure does just enough to reduce attention on its democratic backsliding. It, however, scratches the surface in helping to address its considerable security challenges, particularly in areas of the north that have been lost to armed groups and rebels. The arrest and conviction of the Ivoirien soldiers happened in the shadow of a geopolitical standoff between Mali and its former Western partners, led by France.

Although France’s influence on its former West African colonies is facing strong challenges from alternative, non-Western foreign influence in the region, France has maintained its grip on its biggest regional ally, Côte d’Ivoire. Abidjan’s support for French military operations in the greater Sahel makes it a prime target for Mali, whose leader, Goita is grasping at straws to ensure regime survival in a world where even its neighbours have given it the cold shoulder.

The soldiers’ arrest was to make a statement that borders on sovereignty. It was also a message that Bamako is ready to stick it to Paris. Releasing them just six months after their arrest does not necessarily show weakness or cracks in Goita’s government or his resolve. It indicates he may have found a way to extract concessions from ECOWAS and the West through the kind of horse trading that sometimes requires human lives as bait. Mali, under an indefinite military rule, may have just taken its first steps in reconnecting with the wider world. It will certainly not be the last.


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