Mali’s prime minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga resigns amid pressure over growing insecurity

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Fear over faith as the Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga and his entire government resigned amid the country’s growing insecurity. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta said he will name a new prime minister “very soon.”

For years, Mali has struggled to rein in an extremism problem that has destabilized the West African nation and aggravated tensions between its various ethnic communities.

This week, fed up with what they called a failure to control the security situation, lawmakers said they planned to submit a no-confidence motion against their government — and Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga and his entire government promptly resigned. The development paves the way for new leadership in Mali at a time when experts say a solution is urgently needed for the country’s growing insecurity.

“A prime minister will be named very soon and a new government will be put in place after consultations with all political forces,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta said in a statement, without explaining Maïga’s departure.

Maïga did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. But public pressure against him ramped up after an attack on a village in central Mali last month left more than 150 people dead. The attack appeared to have stemmed from tensions between the Fulani, who are traditionally Muslim herders, and other local groups.

In Mali, extremists have recruited some Fulani by preying upon widespread feelings of marginalization within their herding communities. In response, armed self-defense groups from other ethnic communities have at times carried out attacks against the Fulani.

One such group is believed to have been behind last month’s attack. A number of the victims were children, and in Mali, many saw the extraordinary death toll as evidence that the government was not doing enough to quell violence and save civilian lives — even with the help of a U.N. peacekeeping mission that is supposed to help stabilize the country. Earlier this year, gunmen attacked a military base in the same region where the massacre took place, killing more than a dozen soldiers.

Maïga visited Washington just days after the attack on civilians, and in an interview with The Washington Post at the time, he said he was in the United States in part to request additional security assistance for the fight against extremism in Mali.

He also warned that a weakened Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could prompt fighters to shift their focus to the Sahel, where porous borders and lax security have provided fertile ground for extremist groups. In 2012, al-Qaeda-linked extremists took control of part of the country, although a French-led operation eventually beat them back.

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“The United States should have the same engagement in the Sahel as it does in the Middle East,” he said at the time. “Malian security is the essential key to international security.”

Mali is a sprawling nation that shares borders with seven countries, a number of which are dealing with their own security issues. The government lacks the manpower to cover its territory, and many civilians have lost confidence in government troops amid accusations that they have killed villagers suspected of terrorist activity without giving them a fair trial. Such abuses outrage communities and can drive more people into the ranks of the extremists, human rights experts warn.

But even before last month’s deadly attack, frustrations were mounting against Maïga’s leadership.

Alexis Arieff, a specialist in African affairs at the Congressional Research Service, warned against oversimplifying the attack as the result of Maïga’s departure.

“The pressures on Maïga and on President Keïta to get rid of Maïga predate the recent massacre,” she said. “A sense of insecurity in central Mali may well be leading popular frustration against the government, but there are also a lot of other political dynamics at play.”

Abdoul Salam Bello, a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said last month’s attack does offer insight into “the capacity of the state as an institution to provide protection to all citizens.” As it grapples with insecurity, Mali needs to prioritize early-warning systems that can mitigate the risks of these attacks and focus on national reconciliation, he said.

Joshua Meservey, an Africa analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said the country’s next leaders must also focus on strengthening the country’s armed forces.

“The Malian military is terribly inept,” he said. “That needs to be dramatically reformed.”

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