Mali: towards the end of the gerontocracy?

Ras Bath, Madou ka journal, Master Soumi are among others, the figures of a Malian civil society that will have left its mark on the latest political news in Mali. With several associations and civil society groups, they have set up the “Platform Ante a Bana, Touche pas à ma Constitution”. This is the civil society which seems to have more intellectual means than the first known in democratic Mali. If certain figures, such as Ras Bath, Madou ka journal are new on the stage, others like Master Soumi, Ramses da Maarfa belong to the old school. These rapper activists of the old generation remind us of Tata pound, Fanga fing and other figures of the first years of democratic Mali. Threatened, censored and often imprisoned, they did not cease to assure the old democracy from below during the Konaré and ATT regimes. Then, with this question of review of the Malian Constitution of 1992, weapons seem more than ever sharpened. Supported by various civil society organizations, the juniors are tightening their tone.
The hopes aroused by the arrival of IBK in power did not divert these guardians from their mission. From the elections of 2013 to the present day, the Malians have witnessed an inflation of scandals: to justify the purchase of the new presidential plane, the military equipment business, the abandonment of Kidal to the CMA, payment of Mali’s contribution to the UN, etc. The negotiations in Algiers then mobilized an almost phantom civil society, acquired to the cause of an IBK who had become residual.
The adulterated fertilizers helped to germinate in the regions of the Center of the country what Jean-Hervé Jezequel called in a recent report of the International Crisis Group, “the factory of the insurrection”. The center is torn between inter-communal violence and jihadism, a consequence of the inability of the IBK regime to assert itself and to mesh its territory. Amadou Kouffa reinforces every day his hold on the banks of the Bani in the interior delta of the Niger, the area of ​​the former Fulani Empire of the Macina which is the object of all the fantasies of Kouffa but also of many others. Perpetuating the nostalgia of a past where the rules of conduct and management of public affairs were dictated by the Sheik, a great connoisseur of the divine law but also very imprinted with the values ​​of the local custom. That’s how Sheik Amadou, the founder of this theocratic empire, continues to make the specter of domination by the sword over the inhabitants of the interior delta of the Niger.
The same wind of insurrection in the name of Islam had also caressed parts of the southern and western regions of Mali (Sikasso and Kayes). The successive failures of the governments, the princely attitudes of a Karim Keita, the continuous rearrangements of the State apparatus by men who serve the president by becoming the new griots like a Kassoum Tapo, an Amadou Goita or the Right Honorable President of the Constitutional Court of Mali. Lastly, the systematic use of traditional and religious authorities, set up as a true institution of the Republic (religious leaders, founding family of Bamako, old griots) have fostered the reluctance of young people and their opposition to elders. The latter now have as their only argument the age. In the name of age, at age alone, they challenge any form of questioning.

The Senate or politicization of religious leaders and customary leaders
One of the flagship measures of the new reform project is the granting of official, constitutional status to religious and customary leaders. In any case, this is what some defenders of the reform project and maintaining the nomination of one third of the Senate by the president of the republic say. An anatomy of the mechanisms of power and the logics of domination in Mali clearly shows that these categories enjoy unconditional authority among the popular strata of Mali. They are sometimes more important than politicians. Some like Haidara, have a wider audience than any Malian politician. Like the Sheriff of Nioro or Mahmoud Dicko, Cardinal Zerbo, among others.
These personalities through their popularity can strongly influence political decisions or even votes. Thus the mobilizations carried out by Mahmoud Dicko in August 2009 against the family code [1], the Mawlud rallies initiated by Haïdara showed the capacity of mobilization of these personalities who have gradually become indispensable to the public life of Mali. Their role as essential actors in the political life of the Nation has asserted itself in time and the elections of 2013 have given rise to a transformation of these figures into “big Malian voters”. Sabati 2012 is the best example of an electoral mobilization sponsored by the religious.

This multipolarity of power and the government of public life cannot be suitable for regimes of a totality type like the very presidential regime of Mali. The politician may then think that reserving one-third of the Senate for these figures is a politicization of these religious and traditional leaders. A politicization that flexibly removes their power to mediate in the sphere of public life. Once put outside of this framework and entered a political institution like the Senate, politicians will have their hands free. They will no longer have to face popular opposition or influential personalities of society that weigh with the populations. Since being a member of the Senate also means taking sides in the exercise of power. All the disgrace enjoyed by the honorable Members of Parliament of Mali derives its legitimacy only from their status as members of parliament. The question of whether entry into the Senate suspends the status of religious or customary leader is questionable, since both may conflict.

Subtly, politicians are putting in place the other forms of legitimacy and political poles in order to be able to dominate, all the domination. This, in turn, engendering partisan dependency patterns. Therefore, behind a noble intention to give religious leaders and customary leaders a role of official representation in a constitutional body, it can hide a plan that first weakens them and then destroys them forever. Even today, although sometimes challenged, these personalities enjoy all their legitimacy and play a role of moderator and mediators between the populations and the politicians. Could this continue after they enter the Senate?

This politicization through integration in the Senate can be analyzed as a way of discrediting these personalities by making them dependent on the political system they will now have to serve. Can we be a party and judge? Who will act as moderator? Who will mediate between the population and politicians in Mali? The case of the Mediator of the Republic is an eloquent example. Institutional figure certainly, but what mediation can it do?

Challenging the tradition: “yes, you are old but no more than Mali”.

As a reminder, one of the most known forms of domination in Africa is that of the social elders on the social juniors. In the case of our country, elders are the mass of political entrepreneurs, party CEOs. Then there are the religious, generally dismissed from official affairs by those who inherited the colonial authority. These elites, who went to the French school, had from the outset taken over the high political responsibilities, the official language being French, the justification was the easiest. This domination of the “franchising” can also be seen as a form of revenge of the juniors since it was necessary for French colonialism to take place so that they then take over the domination.

Indeed, the colonial regime found Muslim aristocracies in the loop of Niger, sometimes dating back to the time of the last West African empires. The mastery of the Koranic text and sometimes of the Arabic language was one of the means of exercise by excellence of the domination of the popular masses, illiterate in their majority. So, no longer able to enjoy the status of Cadi, “viziers”, as in the good old days, Arabic speakers have become obsolete in independent Mali. At the same time, they switched to the social juniors category. If they are not always considered illiterate, they did not count as literate until the early 2000s. The equivalence of diplomas from madrasas to those of State schools arriving later in 2010

Another category of scholars evicted by the heirs of the colonizers became Islamic preachers. This figure enjoys a certain notoriety among the popular masses, Muslims in their majority and who see in the political and administrative leaders the substitutes of the “whites”, “disbelievers”. In a society where social and political order are interwoven, becoming an Islamic preacher, a preacher is also becoming a holder of the dominant of order. Some have carved out the status of “spiritual guide” to become modern and speak in French, the language of modernity.

These rapidly formed profiles belong to the world of tradition [3]. Observing the current state of the relationship between politics and the population requires new readings. Many Malians make direct and sometimes severe criticisms towards the political authorities. This has a long history and these heroes too. But to elaborate criticisms of these political authorities by naming them and using words and qualifiers as “rude, unworthy, irresponsible” announces a change of course in criticism. It is however this habit that is put forward by Ras Bath and all other actors and users of social networks.

These forms of questioning of the authorities shock in a society that considers itself to be “respectful of elders and authorities, faw and famaw”. To shock, is also the vocation of the Rasta and his “generation”, as he likes to designate his supporters. His motto “shock to educate” paints his attitude in his video columns, posted regularly on YouTube and Facebook. The other novelty in the invective of Ras Bath is the direct questioning of the said religious leaders. At the beginning, when Timbine was calling them drug addicts, things were still being understood. But in a statement made public in various newspapers, one of these leaders, Haïdara, reiterates the same qualifications as “drug addicts, cannabis smokers” to qualify those who question their position on a particular social issue.

Directly questioning the spiritual guide Ousmane Madani Haidara, the president of the Islamic High Council Mahmoud Dicko or the “mighty” sheriff of Nioro is not a familiar act in Mali. These latter enjoy a social and religious authority and a respect which gives them a certain popularity among the greatest number of Malians, and speak to them in some certain tones, shocks. The tone ended up shocking anyway. This explains the “declaration of the Muslim community of Mali”. Religious leaders openly talk to social networking users. No reference is made to a specific user, but we believe that these are the activists we mentioned above namely Ras Bath, Madou Ka Journal at the top and others. This statement “urges users of social networks to strictly respect our customs, traditions, morals and other societal values” [4]. But should we also agree on what these customs, traditions, morals and other societal values ​​of the Malians are. Who determines them and in the name what legitimacy? What is certain, these elements risk not having an echo with the young people who have decided to put an end to the cult of the personality of which some of these leaders are the undisputed masters.

However, for some time now, a line seems to be emerging: these entrepreneurs whose heart of the trade is the use of the verb in the name of religion have chosen a camp. The role of mediators was replaced by the support of the IBK regime and the quest of maintaining their hegemony over the popular masses by taking advantage of their ignorance. This explains the criticisms of the president of the Islamic High Council of Mali when he affirms that Mali does not have respectable people. Some people give themselves the freedom to attack everyone regardless of their age and personality. Thus a period when respect was related to being old and surrounded by thousands of people seems to be over. Malian youth is connected to the world. Facebook and YouTube social networks give them the right to speak in a country where channels of communication are held by those in power. Thus, diving into these technologies is an essential factor to be taken into consideration if we want to understand the movements currently under way in Mali.

However, one of the characteristics of the current contestation, especially on the part of the youth, is to denounce any breach of ethical and moral codes. This gives the impression of a desire for re-education of the elders by the juniors. Because they consider that elders only aim for their own interests. Some, like Madou ka Journal, go further by stating that for the country, there should be no consideration other than respect for the interests of the people.

Thus, the crack is almost consumed between the elders and the young. If the respect remains, the questioning also settled. For Mali, everyone can be questioned from now on. Religious leaders such as Ousmane Madani Haïdara, Mahmoud Dicko to the founding families of Bamako, the Niare, the Touré, criticism no longer hesitates to question. The young activists who are driving the protests in Mali are opening a new era: the one that demands rigor in public affairs and ethics in the political and social life of those responsible. A rigor and a code of ethics valid for both elders and juniors.

Master in Social Sciences and Politics (COSM, Comparative Analysis of Mediterranean Societies),
Faculty of Governance, Economics and Social Sciences
Department of Culture, Politics and Society,

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of