Pollster Sidiki Guindo has just unveiled results from a phone survey of 1144 Bamako residents conducted between September 30 and October 3 (see full results here).
The results will surely warm the heart of Mali’s president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, because they show strong support for him and his interim government. Over 87 percent of Bamakois surveyed claim to be satisfied with the management of the country under Goïta’s administration–almost evenly split between “very satisfied” and “somewhat satisfied.” And 91 percent of those surveyed said that they have favorable opinions of the colonel himself.
More good news for Col. Goïta: nearly four out of five Bamakois surveyed support extending Mali’s political transition, which would mean delaying the elections for a new civilian government that had been anticipated for February 2022. Goïta’s prime minister (who has a 77 percent approval rating in this survey) and allies have been making noises about such an extension for several weeks now. Two-thirds of survey respondents in favor of a delay said that the transition should be extended by a year or more.
On the Malian government’s efforts to hire mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor, 78 percent of Bamakois express support. After removing the 14 percent of people in the sample who’d never heard of Wagner, the percentage of support for bringing in these mercenaries exceeds 90 percent. And 90 percent express favorable views of Russia in general.
By contrast, Bamakois are highly wary of France: 91 percent have unfavorable views of Mali’s former colonial power, and 90 percent have unfavorable views of Operation Barkhane.
Given these results, one could reasonably expect Wagner’s men to receive a warm welcome in Mali. But it’s worth remembering that opinions in Bamako frequently diverge from those in the provinces. Notably, there has consistently been far more public support for Barkhane in Gao, where the force actually operates, than in the capital city, 1000 km away.
Moreover, the Malian government’s negotiations with Wagner could just be a way to extract concessions from France (as Alex Thurston argues convincingly). I’ve written before about high levels of public support for Russia in Bamako–levels with which Guindo’s latest poll is fully consistent. Pro-Russia demonstrators have again taken to the city’s streets in recent weeks. But it remains quite plausible that Col. Goïta and his regime have been loudly talking about hiring Russian mercenaries not because they actually intend to do so, but as a strategy of extraversion. Mali’s overtures to Wagner have been highly unsettling to officials in Paris and throughout the European Union, whose policies have been predicated on a speedy return to civilian rule.
This Goïta fellow is starting to look like a savvy political operator. But can he actually keep his country from falling apart?