While democratic backsliding has become a question in some of the world’s biggest and most successful democracies, such as the United States, sometimes the countries which have been struggling with the creation of their own democracy are overlooked. One of these nations is the west African country of Mali, who has tried to democratize since its revolution in the 1990’s after a history of colonial rule by the French and a military led regime. To determine how successful this democracy has been, we are going to look at the three “legs” of democracy outlined by Lust and Waldner (2015). These three legs, free and fair elections, political and civil liberties, and accountability for politicians, are the most important pillars of democracy.
Free and Fair Elections?
Mali has had a history of coups as opposed to free elections, with five in recent history. However they did begin to have multi party elections after their March Revolution in 1991. Their most recent election was held in 2018, however it was shrouded in considerable controversy. The winner, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, won by a considerable margin in the runoff election, but only 34% of the electorate showed up to cast their vote. Additionally nearly 500 polling stations had to be closed due to protests by islamic jihadists. Unfortunately for Keita, there have been plenty of claims of election fraud and tampering. Keita’s campaign maintains that the accusations are completely false but regardless the 2018 election can hardly be a prime example of “free and fair.”
What’s more damaging to Mali’s case for free and fair elections is the fact that the nation has now had two more military coups d’etat in the past two years. The first of the coups came in August of 2020 following a military disagreement over promotions within the ranks. The coups did not come out of nowhere however, protests by the Malian people, calling for Keita’s resignation, had been going on for the entire summer. Keita did in fact resign the night of the coup and the military took over with a transitional president by the name of Bah N’Daw.
The 2020 coup was followed by another coup not nine months later in May of 2021. The transitional vice president Colonel Assima Goita led the 2021 coup overthrowing N’Daw. The biggest concern of this coup was the fact that it was not done in response to popular dissatisfaction and outcries. It instead was started because leading military politicians were angered due to the fact that N’Daw tried to create a civilian led government and did not reinstate military leaders to their old positions. N’Daw did this in response to international pressure in order to create a more democratic system. It’s clear given these military coups that Mali is currently not succeeding in having free and fair elections–the country seems to even be regressing.
Civil and Political Liberties?
Surprisingly, within the Malian Constitution there is indeed an extensive bill of rights in the very first section. It provides for a considerable amount of freedoms beyond that of even the United States Bill of Rights. Unfortunately due to the recent coups, Mali is not currently under constitutional law, but martial law, and the situation is quite concerning.
Freedom House, one of the leading authorities in defining and grading democracies, rates Mali currently as not free at all. They give Mali an 8/40 on political rights and a 24/60 on civil liberties. This is an incredibly poor score and reflects how detrimental the military coups on what was once the hopeful Malian democracy. The UN as well has voiced their concerns, saying that the transitional military government has completely failed at protecting the citizens of Mali’s basic human rights. Large parts of the nation are now fully under the control of violent extremists groups, who are abusing the Malian peoples. Mali is failing miserably in upholding the liberties leg of democracy.
Accountability of Politicians?
Similar to both previous legs, accountability for politicians and leading officials has taken a downturn following the military coups. Accountability for the elite class in Mali is all but non-existent. Corruption and nepotism are huge problems within the Malian government especially now that the military is consistently in control of the government. Despite the international illusion that Mali is governed by the people and their constitution helps to promote that, the elite instead promotes their own well-being.
The biggest barrier to accountability in Mali is it’s incredibly low literacy rate and its citizens lack of understanding of government. Mali’s literacy rate is at a depressing 30.76% as of 2020, which is astonishingly a decrease of 4.71% since 2018. A citizenry unable to read and understand their government cannot hold their elites accountable.
Evidence of Democratic Erosion?
Without a question Mali is democratically backsliding, and fast. It has everything to do with the constant military coups, especially the most recent which did not even concern the people. Despite Mali’s extensive constitution and their reputation as one of the more democratic West African countries, their democracy is in free fall. As long as the military remains in control and the regime in charge is consistently unstable, Mali’s democracy is in trouble.