Mahmoud Dicko, the influential Muslim leader seen as the driving force behind Mali’s protest movement, has said the country’s political crisis could be resolved without the president stepping down, offering a more moderate solution than other opposition leaders.
For weeks, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been locked in a tense standoff with a disparate opposition alliance that has staged mass demonstrations calling for his resignation amid growing anger over perceived corruption, alleged electoral malpractice and a worsening security situation.
The crisis has raised concerns around further instability in a country at the heart of the fight against armed groups in West Africa’s Sahel region, prompting mediation efforts by regional leaders that have so far been unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, opposition leaders under the umbrella of the M5-RFP or June 5 Movement, reiterated calls for Keita’s resignation, again rejecting a compromise floated by the West African regional group ECOWAS.
But in an interview with Reuters news agency on Wednesday, Dicko, who has led the protests even though he is not a coalition member, took a softer line.
“I think we can find a solution without going as far as the resignation of the president. Aside from his resignation, there are lots of things that can be done,” he said.
Asked if he would be satisfied by the replacement of Prime Minister Boubou Cisse, who has been heavily criticised for his handling of the protests, Dicko said that change by itself would not resolve the crisis but could be part of a compromise.
In recent weeks, Dicko’s speeches denouncing Keita’s governance have electrified protesters, and allies and detractors alike see him as the galvanising force behind the demonstrations. Yet some of the president’s allies think he is open to compromise and believe the protests would collapse without him.
Despite his divergences with other protest leaders, Dicko denied there were tensions within the opposition.
“There is no division. There is only a movement in which there are democrats who know that their differences are a strength,” he said.
Although dissatisfaction over the country’s economic woes, corruption and worsening security situation has been simmering for a while, the spark for the current crisis was a decision by the Constitutional Court in April to overturn the results of parliamentary polls for 31 seats, in a move that saw candidates with Keita’s party get re-elected.
The protests turned violent earlier this month when three days of clashes between security forces and protesters left at least 11 people dead.
Earlier this week, the opposition coalition formally rejected a plan proposed by West African leaders for ending the political crisis.
The ECOWAS plan recommended that the 31 members of parliament whose elections were contested step down and that by-elections be held. It also called for the creation of a government of national unity that would include members of M5-RFP and said there should be an inquiry on the deaths earlier this month.
But the coalition said the proposals did not “correspond to the expectations and aspirations of the people of Mali”, demanding “the resignation of Mr Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and his regime more than ever”.
According to the alliance, protests will restart on August 3 if their demands are not met.