Sosyal Medya


Mali's Constitutional Bill Delayed Amidst "Secularism" Controversy

Oumar Tandjigora*

The junta revoked the constitution of Mali after the coup in 2020. The old constitution contained two articles that were unacceptable to the masses. While the first article stipulated secularism, the second article declared French as the country’s official language. The first article disregards the concerns of the majority of the people (95%) to protect their religious values, and the second article ignores the language sovereignty and culture of the people. Furthermore, while conservative Muslims oppose secularism, some nationalists (Pan-Africanists) generally oppose French as an official language.
One of the notable proposals in the new constitution project is to replace French with “local languages” and to downgrade the official language to a “working language.” However, despite this change and some explanations about secularism, no substantial amendments have been made. As a result, the new constitution project fails to differ significantly from the old constitution concerning secularism and religion. Consequently, the Mali Imams Association rejected the new constitution’s classification of Mali as a “secular state.” In a meeting held in Bamako earlier this month (March), the Imams argued that the term “secularism” is often used by authorities to justify discriminatory actions against people with certain religious or ideological beliefs. Instead, they suggested replacing the term “secularism” in the constitution with the expression “Mali, a state with multiple religious and sectarian unity.” Since the authority continues to defend the secularism clause, the imams have called on citizens to vote “no” on the constitutional bill.
The Mali Imams Association’s call posed a significant hindrance to the public presentation of the constitutional bill. Following the revision of the bill by President Assimi Goita in late February, some articles of the first draft sparked discussions on the streets of Mali.
The committee overseeing the writing of the constitution stated that some articles had been changed, some had been combined, some had been removed from the first draft, and others had been rewritten. The number of articles in the constitutional bill was reduced from 195 to 191.
With the referendum date fast approaching, there is a growing concern among the nation’s citizens regarding the authorities’ silence on the constitutional bill that will be put up for a public vote. These mounting concerns are not only limited to the referendum but also extend to the authorities’ commitment to the 2024 local, legislative, and presidential elections.
Following the agreement between Mali’s interim authorities and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the interim period was extended to two years, and a referendum on a new constitution was scheduled for March 19, 2023.
However, to this date, the Presidency has failed to publish the drafted constitution in the national gazette. Another very concerning fact is that the committee to serve in the referendum has not even been formed yet, even though it was supposed to be called at least 45 days before the referendum, that is, on February 17.
At a time of uncertainty about whether the government of Mali will adhere to its commitments, a civil society organization proposed to postpone the constitutional referendum without affecting other election dates. According to the Malian Election Observation Coalition (COCEM), the referendum should be held next June in order to give officials time to distribute new national identity cards and update voter registration on a new administrative basis.
However, suppose the date of the referendum is postponed. In that case, the dates of other elections will also be postponed, increasing concerns about whether the Malian government will adhere to its commitment to transfer power to civilians after the 2024 presidential elections.
These concerns have been further escalated by recent statements from the President of the Malian Constitutional Court, Amadou Ousmane Touré, who said, “The necessary conditions have not yet been met to organize any elections.”
Following all these statements, today (03/10/2023), the transitional government announced that the referendum scheduled for March 19, 2023, as part of the timeline for political and institutional reforms, will take place with a slight delay, and the new referendum date will be determined after consultation with the Independent Electoral Management Authority and all other stakeholders in the election process.
In conclusion, most of the population currently supports the transitional government in Mali. Therefore, ignoring the demands of conservative Muslims to meet the demands of nationalists in the new constitution project could lead to instability in the country. In addition, the secular authority is adamant about keeping its status, shying from the accusation of favouritism towards Islam. Additionally, many Muslims prefer to remain neutral or silent in these debates about secularism. Otherwise, taking the side of the conservative wing of this group could result in the removal of secularism, as well as the acceleration of the new constitution project.
Ultimately, we can observe that the main reason why nations conveniently enact laws against Islam and Muslims is due to our continuing lack of unity in terms of priorities and intellect. Additionally, our unquenchable thirst for pursuing worldly benefits and desires has yielded us no advantage. Allah reminds us in Surah Anfal verse no: 46 that: 
“And obey Allāh and His Messenger, and do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allāh is with the patient.”
*The article was translated by Rikesh Luitel

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