BAMAKO (Globe Afrique) – Mali’s government has delayed a critical vote on a referendum, which was originally planned for last week, but still plans to go ahead with it this year. Activists in the country are unsettled by provisions in the referendum that would enable the president to nominate a quarter of the Senate and remove the prime minister at will.
Malians have become increasingly disillusioned with President Keita’s government, as insecurity has worsened significantly over the past year and is spreading beyond the desert north to the south and center, including the capital city Bamako.
Globe Afrique observed that thousands of Malians took to the streets last Saturday to protest against the planned referendum on the constitutional changes that would give extra powers to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, create new regions and recognize the Tuareg’s ethnic homeland.
“We don’t need a revised constitution. We need the state to liberate the north and center of Mali and to take account of people’s aspirations,” says local councilor Sonore Sidibe, a protester at the march, where several other protesters held up placards saying ‘no’ to the constitution, and some brandished red cards and called for the President Keita to resign.
Presidential elections in the country are scheduled for late 2018, and although President Keita has not said whether or not he will run, there are widespread speculations that he might.
Some Malians are angered about concessions to the rebels, whose 2012 uprising enabled allied jihadists to take over parts of the north and use them as a launch pad for regional attacks. French forces intervened and scattered the Islamists and Tuareg rebels the following year.
The constitutional changes concerning new regions in the country are supposed to happen as part of a 2015 peace deal aiming to end the separatist Tuareg movement. It will also recognize their claims to a degree of autonomy by officially labeling the northern desert regions by their Tuareg name, ‘Azawad’.
“This constitution is heading towards federalism,” said demonstrator Moussa Ouattara. “That’s a victory to the separatists who want an Islamic Republic of Azawad.”
The peace deal has so far failed to quell unrest in the north, where rival pro and anti-government factions are locked in a violent power struggle for years.