Bamako – Mali’s chief Muslim leaders on Sunday called for the resignation of Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga at a mass rally, accusing his government of failing to halt jihadist attacks and allowing “moral depravity”.
Huge crowds packed out a 60,000-seat stadium in the capital Bamako, with many veiled women sitting in stands separated from the male attendees, according to an AFP reporter.
“Muslims can’t let things go to waste. From now on, they will be vigilant and mobilise for their country, their religion and their dignity,” influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, who presides over the Islamic High Council (IHC), told his supporters.
“Mali needs a complete overhaul,” said the ultraconservative leader who organised Sunday’s event with Bouye Haidara, another leading Muslim.
Over the past decade, Dicko has emerged as one of Mali’s most prominent public figures, playing a key role in negotiations between the government and Islamist extremists.
He is also a proponent of Wahhabism which he studied extensively in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of this strict Sunni doctrine.
“We must fight corruption…. We must fight moral depravity. We are the guardians of morality,” added Issa Coulibaly, Dicko’s spokesman, speaking on the sidelines of the gathering.
In 2015, Dicko stirred controversy when he called jihadist attacks “divine punishment” for Mali adopting more liberal Western traditions.
“Our guide, our leader, is Mahmoud Dicko,” said minibus driver Moussa Dicko (no relation), adding that he had taken the day off to join the gathering at the stadium.
Last year, Prime Minister Maiga sparked outrage for supporting a plan to introduce sex education school books promoting a more tolerant view of homosexuality.
Homosexuality is not illegal but remains taboo in the Muslim-majority country. Members of the LGBT community often face discrimination and even physical punishment, according to civil society groups.
Dicko and his followers had slammed the Dutch-financed proposal for “wanting to teach homosexuality to school children”.
The government eventually bowed to the pressure and dropped the project in December.
“Our country is faced with a governance problem. This rally wants to draw attention to that. People need to talk to each other,” Dicko told AFP ahead of the event.
The imam’s political profile was boosted when he became a key mediator between the government and militants who took control of large swathes of the country’s north in 2012.
Despite French military intervention and a 2015 peace deal, jihadist attacks have continued and vast stretches of the landlocked Sahel nation remain out of state control, with violence also spilling into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Dicko, 64, has repeatedly pushed for dialogue to help solve the security crisis plaguing Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries.
In Sunday’s speech, he denounced the “terrorist attacks”, saying jihadism “has no place in Mali”.