Five West African heads of state descended on Mali to try and resolve a political crisis that is destabilizing the region.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara and his counterparts from Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and Niger traveled to the Malian capital, Bamako, on Thursday. They held talks with officials including Mahmoud Dicko, a religious leader who’s appealed for calm after a crackdown on opposition protests on July 10 left at least 10 people dead.
The visit comes after the Economic Community of West African States on July 19 proposed embattled Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita form a unity government with his opponents. The opposition rejected that plan as it wants the 75-year-old-leader, whose mandate expires in 2023, to step down.
Keita has faced nationwide protests in recent months over his administration’s failure to deal with an Islamist insurgency, political tensions over a disputed parliamentary election in March, and the worsening coronavirus outbreak. Mali is a linchpin in a five-nation, European Union-backed effort to combat the militants, who are carrying out an increasing number of attacks in the region.
The nation has struggled to regain control over its territory following a 2012 Tuareg uprising in the north that preceded the Islamist insurgency. The United Nations has 15,000 peacekeepers in the country, while France has more than 5,000 soldiers in the region battling militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.