In response to mounting tensions in the northern regions, Mali’s ruling junta has decided to cancel the upcoming festivities commemorating the country’s independence. In a statement released late on Wednesday, the council of ministers, acting on junta leader Assimi Goita’s directive, announced that the anniversary would be observed with a somber tone, emphasizing a spirit of national rejuvenation.
Mali, a former French colony, attained its independence on September 22, 1960. Initially, the junta, which ascended to power following consecutive coups in 2020 and 2021, had planned a grand celebration for this historic event. However, Goita has directed the government to reallocate the funds designated for the aid of victims of recent attacks and their families.
Mali has faced turmoil since 2012 due to separatist and Salafist uprisings in the north. This week, the predominantly Tuareg armed groups have resumed hostilities, escalating an already precarious security situation. This development poses a significant challenge to Mali’s already stretched military forces and questions the junta’s claims of successfully addressing the dire security situation.
On Tuesday, separatist groups launched an offensive against army positions in Bourem, a garrison town, with the military reporting successful repulsion of the attack. Both sides provided conflicting reports of the events, but both acknowledged numerous casualties.
The resurgence of Tuareg’s military activities coincides with a series of attacks mainly attributed to the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance known as the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM). Additionally, this surge aligns with the ongoing withdrawal of the United Nations stabilization mission, MINUSMA, which is being urged to leave by the junta after a decade of deployment.
Recent GSIM-claimed attacks have resulted in the deaths of numerous soldiers, including incidents in Bamba on September 7 and Gao on September 8. Furthermore, an attack on a passenger boat on the Niger River, attributed to jihadists, resulted in the tragic loss of numerous civilian lives just last week.
Goita conveyed his “profound concern” regarding the losses incurred due to “the brutal and inhumane assault on the boat and the attacks on the encampments in the towns of Bamba, Gao, and Bourem,” as stated by the council of ministers.
This marked his initial public comments on the boat attack.
On Wednesday, the council of ministers disclosed that it had deliberated on the potential activation of reservists.
It endorsed a preliminary decree aimed at “defining the status of reservists and outlining the terms of their activation,” according to the official statement.
Reservists are intended to offer “critical reinforcement in times of crisis, natural disasters, or during wartime,” it further emphasized.
The junta ousted France’s anti-jihadist force in 2022 and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in 2023, despite its official denials, amid widespread belief in its collaboration with the Russian paramilitary firm Wagner.
The gradual withdrawal of MINUSMA, slated to occur by December 31, is believed to have contributed to the escalation of tensions in the northern regions.
As peacekeepers gradually relinquish control of their bases to Malian authorities, separatist groups insist on their return to their authority, adding to the mounting tensions.
Anticipated tensions are expected to intensify further as the force departs from its encampment in Kidal, a stronghold of the Tuareg community.
“The Tessalit, Aguelhok, Kidal bases — we will take them,” Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga vowed on state television on Wednesday evening.