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Catholic Priest in Mali Says People Want End of Political Unrest, Return to Normalcy

Map showing the various regions in Mali. Credit: Public Domain

People in Mali want to see the end of the ongoing political unrest and a return of normalcy in the country’s top leadership, a Catholic Priest who has weighed in on the current political situation in the country has said.

Mali is currently under the leadership of Colonel Assimi Goita who led two coups in a span of nine months, first ousting the country’s elected President last August and, most recently, the interim leaders who were to head the country’s transitional government.

In a report to Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide, Secretary General of the Union of Catholic Priests of Mali, Fr. Edmond Dembele, says, “People want to return to normalcy and, above all, they ask the army to take care of security and to contain the penetration of jihadists, and not to waste time on political-military quarrels.”

Following the latest coup of May 24, Mali’s constitutional court named Colonel Goita transitional president of Mali until the West African nation holds elections to replace the country’s elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who was ousted in August last year.

The move has attracted criticism and condemnation from all over, with the Catholic Church leaders in the country naming it “seizure of power outside the legal process.”

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In their collective statement that was circulated May 27, the members of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) said that they were following “with great concern and sadness” the events that took place in the country following the establishment of a new government on May 24.

This was the day that the country’s interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested following a cabinet restructuring that Colonel Goita said he was not consulted about, and stripped of their power while in detention.

In their May 27 message, the Catholic Church leaders of the West African country said, “The Bishops in Mali, conscious of the need for a strong executive and a reconciled and reinforced army, strongly condemn the seizure of power outside the legal process… We firmly condemn the current crisis resulting from personal calculations far from the concerns of the people and the interests of Mali.”

Fr. Dembele told Agenzia Fides that after the May 28 appointment of Colonel Goita, the colonel immediately organized meetings with civil societies and political parties to explain the difficulties he had encountered with President Ndaw since the coup last year.

“It is necessary that the situation is brought back under control to restore the country’s stability and, in particular, so that the army can deal with the jihadist presence in the center and north of the country,” the Priest said.

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Fortunately, he said, the coup did not result in any deaths and only a few clashes were experienced.

Fr. Dembele told Agenzia Fides that in the days that followed the coup, demonstrations for or against the coup were held without incident.

At 80 percent, Mali is majorly a Muslim country where Christians account for only 5 percent. A majority of these are Catholics, who Fr. Dembele says are highly respected for their role in the country’s peaceful coexistence.

He shares that until less than a decade ago, the country enjoyed a good degree of religious coexistence.

According to the Catholic Priest, problems in the country arose with the arrival of jihadists in 2012. “Since then, things have changed, although the dialogue and the coexistence in society have not undergone any substantial changes,” he says.

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“It must be said that here, Islamic terrorist groups do not attack churches or Christians, their targets are the state and the army,” the Priest says of jihadists in the country who, he adds, are fragmented with contradicting objectives.

“(The jihadists) are perceived as foreigners to our culture and their objectives are somewhat confused, between those who are primarily interested in the conquest of power and those who rather aim to Islamize Mali,” Fr. Dembele has been quoted as saying.

Explaining the role of the Catholic Church in peacebuilding in the country, the Priest says, “She is very important and her voice: in particular, that of Cardinal Jean Zerbo is very much listened to by all, without distinction of faith and belonging.”

Cardinal Zerbo, Fr. Dembele says, is seen by Malians as “a national authority that honors our country in the world.”

“The Church in general is seen as an institution that is on the side of the people, thanks to a history of great closeness which goes back in particular to the first Malian Bishop Luc Auguste Sangaré,” Fr. Dembele said of the Catholic Bishop who died in 1998, having distinguished himself among the few voices who, according to the Priest, courageously told the truth to the country’s President.