The truce-seeking trip of the President Muhammadu Buhari to the Malian capital of Bamako on Thursday ended without a deal to soothe the country’s escalating political crisis.
In Bamako with Buhari on Thursday were former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as Presidents Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, Macky Sall of Senegal, Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, and the host, Ibrahim Keita of Mali.
The West African leaders had gathered to find a solution to the worsening political crisis in the Sahelian country.
But Buhari’s day-long meeting with the leaders ended in a stalemate as protest movements clamoured for the resignation of Keita amid a long-running jihadist insurgency that threatens to throw the country into chaos.
After the intervention failed to seal a deal, Issoufou, upon deliberation with his counterparts, said the Economic Community of West African States would hold a summit on Monday with the hope of reaching a compromise between the warring factions.
“Nothing has moved for the movement,” said one of the protest leaders, Imam Dicko, after holding talks with the presidents.
Earlier as the leaders arrived on Thursday morning, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside the airport.
“We’re here to demand the Keita resignation and ensure our comrades who have been killed are not forgotten,” said Yaya Sylla, a young protester.
The June 5 Movement, named after the date when the protests began, has tapped into deep anger over Keita’s perceived failure to tackle the dire economy, corruption and the eight-year jihadist revolt.
Malians are also incensed at the disputed outcome of long-delayed parliamentary elections in March and April that handed victory to Keita’s party.
The summit came on the heels of a five-day mediation mission from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, which ended on Sunday without reconciling the two sides.
The West African leaders discussed proposed solutions that had been crafted in behind-the-scenes talks between the president and opposition this week.
The Institute for Security Studies think-tank warned on Thursday that there was an “unfavourable prejudice” towards the presidents, however, with some perceiving the leaders as protecting their own narrow interests.
“The search for solutions will have to take into account the need to improve the daily lives of Malians,” the think-tank said.
Keita, who came to power in 2013, has come under increasing pressure to end Mali’s long-running jihadist conflict.
The poor nation of some 20 million people has been struggling to contain an insurgency that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since 2012, despite the presence of foreign troops.
In the latest violence, a French soldier was killed and two others were wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in northern Mali on Thursday, according to France’s presidency and the French army.
But much of the current tension was sparked in April, when the constitutional court tossed out 31 results from the parliamentary elections, benefiting Keita’s party and sparking protests.
Tensions then ratcheted up into a crisis on July 10 when an anti-Keita rally organised by the June 5 Movement turned violent.
Three days of clashes between protesters and security forces left 11 dead and 158 injured in the worst political unrest Mali had seen in years.
Seeking a way out, ECOWAS mediators suggested forming a new unity government including opposition members and appointing new constitutional court judges who could potentially re-examine disputed election results.
But the June 5 Movement had already rejected any outcome that did not involve Keita’s departure.