Mali’s transitional calendar ignored; siege on media, civil society intensified

The transitional government in Mali was supposed to have ended on march 26, 2024. But the much-anticipated deadline for a return to constitutional order has passed in a casual manner, with the military government, which was formed after the August 2020 coup, still ensconced on the throne.

The government has not only conveniently forgotten their transitional calendar and it commitments to return the country to democratic rule by March 6, 2024, they also have actually taken a series of anti-democratic measures in the past few months that suggest an attempt at consolidating their grip on power.

Dissolution of associations

Since December 2023, at least four organisations have been dissolved, including the country’s umbrella students’ union. The others are, Coordination des mouvements, associations et sympathisants d’imam Mahmoud Dicko (CMAS) and the Observatoire pour les élections et la bonne gouvernance au Mali.

On December 20, 2023, the transitional government dissolved the elections monitoring and pro-democracy coalition, Observatoire pour les élections et la bonne gouvernance.  According to the junta, the civil society group had failed to declare their sources of funding to the authorities as required by law. Additionally, the government accused the president of the group of making pronouncements likely to disturb public order, including his predictions about the turnout figures for the proposed June 2023 referendum”

“The president of this organisation is fond of making statements likely to disturb public order, including predictions regarding the turnout figures for the June 2023 referendum,” the government alleged in a statement.

In a space of two weeks, the military regime dissolved three more organisations, beginning with the February 28, dissolution of the political organization Kaoural Renewal (Kaoural Renouveau), citing “defamatory and subversive remarks” against the junta.

A week later, on March 6,  the junta dissolved la Coordination des Mouvements, Associations et Sympathisants de l’Imam Mahmoud Dicko, a coalition of organisations supportive of charismatic Muslim cleric Imam Dicko. The firebrand cleric shook the foundations of the last civilian government by mobilising the public for a series of demonstrations, leading to the military takeover. In recent times, he has been outspoken in his call for the departure of the military in favour of a civilian administration, drawing the ire of the junta. The authorities said the activities of the group that backs the imam pose a threat to public security. They accuse the organisation of seeking to destabilise the government, citing Imam Dicko’s “official meetings” with “foreign authorities”, a reference to the cleric’s sojourn in Algeria since January 2024.

On March 13, 2024, exactly one week after its last strike, the Council of Ministers dissolved the Pupils and Students’ Association of Mali (AEEM), a major school and university students’ organisation. The government accused the umbrella students’ union of “provoking disruptions of classes, killings, murder and the destruction of public and private property through demonstrations.”

The accusation related to clashes between different factions of the students’ organisation on February 28 which the government said resulted in the death of a young student and injuries to several others.

However, a faction of the Association des élèves et étudiants du Mali (AEEM) is defying the government, refusing to accept the dissolution. In a statement issued on March 21, it said it “strongly condemned any attempt to muzzle the voices of pupils and students by depriving them of their freedom of association.”

Meanwhile, the National Office of the AEEM has said it is considering a legal challenge to the dissolution.

Another group that has been hit by the crackdown is the Synergie d’Action pour le Mali. The coalition of political parties, pressure groups and civil society organisations proposing “a new path”, has barely found its feet since its formation in mid-February when it was silenced.  While it has escaped the spate of dissolutions, it has been crippled with a ban on all its activities in the capital.

“In view of the security situation and possible threats to public order, the activities of the group called Synergie d’action pour le Mali have been formally banned in the entire district of Bamako,” read a March 25, 2024 order signed by Abdoulaye Coulibaly, governor of Bamako.

Technically, they are still recognised but practically, they cannot function, given that Bamako is its headquarters and the nerve centre of political activities in the country.

Crackdown on critical voices

Mali endured one of the most repressive years in 2023, with several media houses sanctioned and junta critics arrested. The last case occurred on December 19, 2023, when the Malian authorities arrested Chouala Bayaya Haïdara on accusations of undermining the State’s reputation and public order. The arrest came after the social media activist published a video in which he strongly criticised the prolonged detention of certain public figures.

The authorities have continued where they had left off in 2023, with a massive crackdown on opposition groups and critical voices. On January 4, 2024, they arrested Imam Bandiougou Traoré, in Bamako. The outspoken cleric was detained following a sermon in which he denounced alleged misappropriation of funds meant for a festival in Kayes (city in western Mali). He had also highlighted the deteriorating nature of roads in the region. The imam has become famous on social media for his preaching against bad governance and, above all, power outages. On Monday 11 March, the first day of Ramadan, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, 16 months suspended and a fine of 500,000 FCFA. Having already been detained for two months, the fiery preacher was released on the same day.

On March 2, 2024, an army officer, Colonel Alpha Yaya Sangaré, was arrested after authoring a book highlighting abuses against civilians by the army in its anti-insurgency campaign. Published late 2023, the 400-page book titled Mali: Le défi du terrorisme en Afrique (The Challenge of Terrorism in Africa), documented alleged abuses by the army during anti-terrorist operations. Following the book’s official launch on February 24, 2024, the authorities issued a statement on March 1 rejecting the incriminating portions. A day later, some unidentified men in civilian clothes picked Sangaré from his home in Bamako and drove off to an unknown destination.

A similar critical publication landed the economist Etienne Fakaba Sissoko in trouble. On March 25, 2024, Sissoko was arrested at his home by the police in connection with his recent book, in which he denounces what he called the propaganda and lies of the Malian transitional authorities. On march 27, he was charged with undermining the State’s reputation, insults, false comments likely to disturb the public peace, and subsequently remanded in custody. It is the second time in two years that the economist and researcher has been harassed for his opinions. In 2022, he was imprisoned over his analysis in several media interviews about the possible impact on Mali of the economic sanctions imposed by the regional block ECOWAS, following the coup.

On March 11, 2024, Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, popularly known as Ras Bath, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, of which nine were suspended. He was arrested in March 2023, after comments he made regarding the death of former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, accusing the authorities of refusing the political prisoner badly needed medical care.

Ban on political party activities media censorship

The military authorities in Mali have banned the activities of political parties and all activities of political nature in the country as the junta continues its squeeze on the civic space.

The Minister of State and Government Spokesman, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, announced the decision taken by the governing council to suspend all activities of political parties and citizens’ associations in Mali. He explained that the decision titled Decree no. 0230 of April 10, 2024, was a measure to ensure public order and a climate of serenity ahead of the Inter-Malian Dialogue for Peace and National Reconciliation.

A day after the ban on political activities, the Malian media regulator, la Haute Autorité de la Communication (HAC) added to the restriction by issuing a gag order to the media regarding coverage of the activities of political parties.

In the order issued on April 11, 2024, the HAC urged “all media (radio, TV, print and online newspapers) to stop all broadcasting and publication of political party activities and activities of a political nature by associations.”

Rejection, outrage and condemnation

The call by the media regulator has been rejected by the media actors in Mali.  In a statement dated April 11, 2024, Maison de la Presse, the umbrella body of media organisations and journalists in Mali, called on “the press in Mali as a whole not to submit to the injunctions of the HAC, urging its members “to stand firm, united and mobilised to defend citizen’s right to information”. The statement from the Maison de la Press followed a meeting of all its constituents at its headquarters in Bamako.

In another rare show of dissent, the National Human Rights Commission (Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme – CNDH) has dared express disapproval.

“These restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms, rather than calming the social climate, represent potential factors for unrest and tension, which the country does not need,” said Aguibou Bouare, chairman of CNDH. Mr. Bouare said his outfit responsibilities under Article 5 of the CNDH Law n°2016-036 of July 7, 2016, to “give opinions or make recommendations to the attention of the government or any competent authority on all matters relating to human rights.”


The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) finds the above developments in Mali quite concerning. We recognise that the country is facing a security emergency that requires some tough decisions by the government. However, those decisions should be legitimate and proportionate, which is largely not the case in the above instances.

The accusation of subversion and underming public order levelled against political groups and critics is only the opinion of the regime, which is not backed by evidence and upheld by any court. It therefore amounts to the government using its opinion to criminalize the opinion of its critics.

The repression risks escalating hostilities and distrust between the government and civil society, the Malian people and political actors who are key to establishing a government that reflects the will of the people. It is a contradiction that a government that has embarked on a national dialogue to build peace, unity, political stability and sustainable development, is witch-hunting its natural interlocutors. The transitional government can succeed only through engagement with civil society and political groups, especially those perceived to hold divergent opinion as to the way forward. The current onslaught against these groups risks polarizing, rather than uniting the country which desperately needs to forge a united front out of its various diversities to overcome the challenge of armed conflict, political instability and underdevelopment.

In this regard, we urge the Malian authorities to release all the detained prisoners of conscience, lift the ban on political activities, reverse the decision to dissolve perceived anti-government political and civil organisations and uphold press freedom as well as the right of citizens to access information and express their opinions on public issues.

The MFWA also calls on the junta to launch of a broad political process leading to the adoption of a credible roadmap for a return to constitutional order. We advise that the authorities embark on this initiative with international and regional facilitation, given the international community’s stakes in Mali’s peace, stability and progress.

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