Peace, protests, and multipolarity in Mali

Carla Schraml

Supporters hold a poster of Mali's transition president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, as they participate in a demonstration called by Mali transitional government after ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) imposed sanctions in Bamako, Mali, January 14, 2022. | Photo © picture alliance / REUTERS | Paul Lorgerie.

The transitional military government in Mali, which came to power in May 2021, is one of three authoritarian governments that recently withdrew from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

It also recently ended the 2015 peace deal, brokered by Algeria and supported by the UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), ECOWAS, and others. In 2023, MINUSMA was even asked to leave the country.

In the established multipolar world order, China and Russia are crucially shaping politics and security approaches in West Africa and Mali. This is evident in the presence of Wagner troops, and Russia’s political and financial backing of the current Malian transitional military regime.

In the recent past, global and regional institutions and related missions, such as MINUSMA and ECOWAS, but also individual states as e.g. France, were confronted with a lack of legitimacy, mass protests, and tense political relationships with the military regime in Mali. Thousands of Malians have been protesting against imposed sanctions, MINUSMA, ECOWAS and France. The protests are fuelled by enhanced anti-western political discourse and are instrumentalised by the current regime.


Many of the protest movements, which have become increasingly present worldwide in the last 15 years, explicitly pursue claims to enhance democracy, pluralism, and peace. Just and peaceful societies are also often the long-term objectives of internal and external peacemakers. However, external actors, diplomats, special envoys, and mediators – and security actors even more so – are often skeptical about engaging with social movements and including them in peace processes as conflict actors in their own right. This is due to cultural reservations, tradeoffs regarding their impartiality, and practical challenges such as legitimate representation and leadership.

Mali has emerged as a case that highlights the growing challenges of engaging with social protests against the background of multipolarity. When the Mali government renounced the 2015 deal at the beginning of 2024, it announced its replacement with an “Inter-Malian Dialogue”, intended to be nationally driven and owned. The 2015 peace agreement was perceived to lack impact on the ground with most of the agreed political and institutional reforms stuck, hampering the willingness of armed actors to disarm and demobilise. As a process which focused on political elites and armed actors, parts of the Malian population – in particular in the South but increasingly in the North – have been sceptical towards the deal.

“The inclusion of authentic grassroots voices from civil society and protest movements would have been and will be key to a process bringing peace and stability to Mali”, emphasises Fatima al Ansar, founder of Tilwalte Peace Network and Malian political analyst.

However, against the backdrop of a highly polarised political situation in the country and wider region and growing anti-western sentiment, protest movements are contested and the engagement with them even more complicated:

  1. Civil society in Mali is strongly divided between those supporting and rejecting the current military regime. Protest movements are perceived to be strongly politically aligned and instrumentalised, which weakens their legitimacy, in particular in the eye of those pursuing different political goals;
  2. Furthermore, in the current political situation, any official or unofficial engagement from external formal peace-making actors associated with “the West” is seen as pursuing a hidden and foreign agenda. This would delegitimise the objectives of the movements and endanger actors on the ground;
  3. Civil society and protest movements need to be even more careful not to be co-opted by political actors and goals, and carefully identify the peace and dialogue processes that could degrade them to “tokens”.

While multipolarity may complicate efforts to include grassroots movements in formal peace processes, their participation remains fundamental for building sustainable peace and fostering stability in the country.

On 17 April we will be discussing this complexity and a possible way forward at our panel on "Protest and Peace" with experts including Véronique Dudouet, Senior Advisor at Berghof; Fatima al Ansar, founder of Tilwalte Peace Network and political analyst; Cornelis Johannes (Kees) Matthijssen, former Force Commander for MINUSMA, and Annette Weber, EU Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.

The event will be livestreamed and available to watch on our homepage.


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