The leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.
“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.
“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”
“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.
The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”
On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.
On Wednesday, August 19, Mali’s military personnel grouped under the National Committee for the Salvation of the People addressed the nation on state television.
“We are not holding on to power but we are holding on to the stability of the country.” Mali’s Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Ismail Wague said.
He announced the closure of borders and a 9 p.m. – 5 a.m. curfew.
The military officials also promised to organize within an agreed “reasonable timeframe” general elections that would “equip Mali with strong institutions, which are able to better manage our everyday lives and restore confidence between the government and the governed.”
In the August 19 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Dembélé urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”
Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”
“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.
He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”
Mali has reportedly experienced a surge in violence involving both civilians and the military since 2016, with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier.
In July, religious leaders in the West African nation appealed for calm and peaceful dialogue following days of violent protests and unrest in the country’s capital, Bamako.
“We are greatly concerned about the upsurge in violence in Bamako. We use this opportunity to launch an appeal for peace, with regard to all the damages caused. Mali does not deserve what is happening now,” Jean Cardinal Zerbo told Mali’s National Radio and Television, ORTM, July 14.
In the August 19 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Dembélé noted that “things cannot change if Malians themselves do not accept to change.”
As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.
He continued, “This dialogue must take into consideration our traditional African values that encourages justice and reconciliation.”
“Malians are true and faithful believers, Muslims or Christians alike; we must not forget that prayer is an effective weapon for forgiveness and reconciliation,” the President of CEM said.
He added, “The dialogue process can only succeed if we allow God to come into our lives, touch our hearts for us to be able to ensure the changes our country really needs,”
“We invite Malians not to relent in their prayers. Continue to pray for peace in our country, for forgiveness and reconciliation,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.