Surveying public opinion in Mali is a difficult challenge. In this desert country twice the size of France, where jihadist groups and militias control more than two-thirds of the territory, the voice of citizens often remains confidential. The Mali-Meter, a poll published by the German Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, is one of the few barometers that continue to measure public opinion across the country every year. Its latest edition, the result of fieldwork carried out between March 8 and March 26 (two months before the May 24 coup) among 2,258 people in the eleven regional capitals of the country, was published in June.
Return of peace and security, youth employment, good harvests: the priorities of Malians have remained the same as in 2020. A sign that the problems persist. The war, confined to the northern part of the country between 2012 and 2015, then spread to the center and is now sliding south. It leaves behind young people with no future prospects and farmers often deprived of access to their fields by armed groups.
The Mali-Meter underlines the deep concern of the populations of the south, so far rather spared by conflicts. In Sikasso, more than half of the inhabitants believe that the level of insecurity has increased since the beginning of 2021. Nationally, they are on average four in ten to think so. The Sikassois fear that their region will become, after the north and the center, the new front of jihadism in Mali. The attack perpetrated at the end of May against the Bougouni checkpoint, located 170 km south of Bamako, underlines the increasingly increased risk of the capital being surrounded by jihadist groups.
“Instrumentalisation” of anti-French sentiment
Tired of seeing insecurity progress despite a strong international presence (15,000 peacekeepers within the UN mission, Minusma, 5,100 French soldiers within the “Barkhane” force and 5,000 men from the G5 Sahel Joint Force), the majority of Malians surveyed (28.6%) say they do not trust any of these international actors to stabilize the country. The men of “Barkhane” are the least credible in their eyes since only 9% of them say they trust the French.
It is in the south of Mali, where the terrorist footprint is weakest, that the disenchantment with the French soldiers is greatest. Thus, in Bamako, three in five people say they are dissatisfied with the work of “Barkhane”, against only one in five in the region of Gao, the epicenter of jihadist conflicts and French military action.
“The fact that the populations least confronted with ‘Barkhane’ and the realities of its action are the most critical underlines a certain instrumentalisation of anti-French sentiment by political movements”, analysis Lamine Savane, teacher-researcher at the University of Ségou. According to him, Malian politicians “Curse France and urge the Bamakois to demonstrate against its presence so that their own responsibility in this crisis is less scrutinized”.
The national armed forces, for their part, won the massive support of those surveyed, with a satisfaction ratio that peaked at 93.3%, or 1.2 points more than in the previous Mali-Meter, in March 2020. However, the last year, security forces are believed to be responsible for the deaths of 322 civilians, compared to 87 in 2019, according to the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled). For Lamine Savane, this paradox underlines the importance of nationalist sentiment : “The majority of Malians are ready to support their army at all costs, by concealing its failures and by placing the responsibility on others. “
Justice at the head of the most corrupt authorities
Politically too, Malians show strong support for the transitional authorities set up after the first coup, on August 18, 2020, which deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, known as “IBK”.
Thus, two thirds of those polled say they are satisfied with the management of the transition – an opinion gathered two months before the second putsch, perpetrated on May 24 by the men led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, the current president of the transition. “We must put this support into perspective, says Lamine Savane. This displayed confidence just means that the Malians prefer the putschists to the IBK regime. They tell themselves that the military cannot do worse than IBK, so they support them, despite a social and security situation which is far from improving. “
In the spring of 2020, a sea of people took to the streets to demand the departure of IBK, whose clan was accused of corruption and nepotism. The putschists do not seem to have succeeded in curbing the phenomenon, since more than nine out of ten respondents believe that the level of corruption remains high in the country. As in the previous survey, justice comes at the top of the most corrupt authorities, according to respondents in Mali-Meter.
And it is in the north that this lack of confidence is most glaring. There, more than one in two Malians think that justice is ineffective in trying criminals. Since the start of the war, the magistrates, like the rest of the representatives of the State, have continued to flee the north of the country. As of April 30, only 14% of civilian administrators were there, according to the UN. Faced with the persistent absence of the State, the citizens of the north increasingly resort to traditional mechanisms for managing daily life. Starting with justice, administered by Islamic judges in several localities.