How accurate is the perception of Mali as one of the most advanced African countries with regard to democratic oversight of the security sector? This chapter argues that although Mali has come a long way (and in some respects presents examples of civil-military relations that other countries could learn from), weaknesses in parliamentary oversight remain. Old habits of secrecy and corruption, an unwillingness to assert the role of parliament in relation to the executive, a lack of resources, and parliamentarians’ lack of expertise need to be addressed. It is important to promote a new culture of parliamentary oversight, linking this to broader regional and sub-regional security regimes and best practices.
The adoption in 1997 of the Code of Conduct of the Armed Forces and Security of Mali aimed to anchor the country’s security architecture in democratic principles. Published in a pocket-sized booklet and widely vulgarised, the code impresses on members of the armed forces their obligations to the democratically elected civilian authority and to all civilians. The principles of civilian oversight were further strengthened by measures including the institution of the principle of a civilian head of the ministry of armed forces, the separation of policing from military functions, an emphasis on professionalism, and the creation of joint civilian and military discussion groups.
Today, Mali evidences healthy democratic practices sustained by a culture and history imbued with democratic values – values that appear to be shared by elites. Contrary to many of its neighbours, security in Mali is no longer about regime security, or the personal security of the president. Mali’s military officers seem receptive to civilian political supremacy and control.
However, there are weaknesses in relation to security oversight. While the committee on defence has asked members of the military hierarchy security-related questions and attempted to play its oversight role, parliamentary supervision and control over all aspects of the budgetary process is weak. Further:
- The old habit of consciously or unconsciously ‘deferring’ to the executive branch and to the leaders of the security apparatus remains. Mali, like other former French colonies, has inherited a strong presidential system in which the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches is weighted in favour of the former.
- Most parliamentarians have very limited knowledge of security issues, and have not yet developed the expertise that experience affords. For example, when in 2003 soldiers engaged in punitive expeditions against police stations and some civilian communities, these incidents were not investigated by parliament.
- The role of the national assembly in overseeing all aspects of foreign aid with defence and security implications must be adapted to reflect democratic values and practices. The parliament seems to have played no significant role in Mali’s increasing engagement with the United States as part of its anti-terrorist programmes, even though US aid represents a substantial part of the financing of Mali’s armed and security forces.
- Corruption and a culture of secrecy persist. Some parliamentarians abuse their positions for personal gain.
Mali must embrace a new culture of parliamentary oversight and strengthen relations with ECOWAS. It is important to move toward national and sub-regional coordination of security policies and practices and parliamentary supervision of the security sector.
- Increasing parliamentarians’ knowledge through training and long tenure on the defence committee will be an important step, although in itself insufficient.
- Mali’s president and prime minister could adopt the custom of formally consulting the defence committee in the process of appointing the minister of the armed forces and senior military personnel.
- ECOWAS instruments and the political will behind them must be harnessed. Regionalisation of oversight (using mechanisms such as the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons) could help to coordinate and control military spending, and achieve economies of scale.